vocational assessment

Interest Inventories

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Tabitha Monahan, M.A., CRC
Transition Specialist/Counselor

In the last Transition Thursday blog, Kelley Challen, Director of Transition Services at NESCA, discussed vocational assessments and aptitude testing. As Kelley stated, vocational assessments should be the start of the career exploration process, not the end. When most people think of vocational assessment, interest inventories and surveys are the first things that may come to mind. While each inventory asks and reports information differently, inventories generally ask individuals to rank how much they like the concept of a job or activity. Individuals are not supposed to consider whether they can do a task (such as in aptitude testing or skill inventories), but if completing the task seems enjoyable or of interest. Results are frequently displayed as occupational themes that help individuals have a starting point on a wide variety of jobs that may be worth exploring. The most well-known of which is based on the work of John Holland. Holland Codes are used as the basis of many well-known interest inventories (including the O*NET Interest Profiler). Other inventories that utilize different occupational themes may also loosely relate to Holland Codes. Thus, the information from multiple inventories may provide clarification of a person’s interest. As many of the shorter inventories have a limited number of activities per career cluster, it can be helpful to take more than one inventory to establish areas of interest. If a person has the same code (or sets of codes) in multiple inventories, it further indicates strong areas of interest. Frequently, however, results may indicate a different career code, indicating many areas of interest and the need for broader career exploration in order to develop a better sense of their working selves.

Most inventories indicate a career code of a person’s top 3 career clusters, e.g., RIC. What does that mean? It means that the individual identified that they would likely most enjoy careers that include interests in the Realistic, Investigative, and Conventual career themes. Examples of such jobs could include dental laboratory technicians, RV service technicians, computer support specialists, electricians, model makers, and many others (www.onetonline.org). The types of work and preferences for the different themes include:

Realistic – Individuals interested in this area like to work with things, use tools and machines and prefer physical, outdoors, and mechanical work.  They are doers and often described as persistent and practical.  They prefer a structured work environment.  Workers with high realistic interest are found in construction and skilled trades, production and manufacturing, agriculture, transportation, hospitality and recreation, food service, and natural resources.

Investigative – Individuals interested in this area like to work with ideas and data and prefer figuring out problems mentally.  They are thinkers and often described as curious, intellectual, and independent.  They favor jobs that require abstract thinking, research, and analysis.  Workers with high investigative interest are found in the life and physical sciences, health and behavioral sciences, applied technologies, academics, research and development, mathematics, and engineering.

Artistic – Individuals inter5ested in this area like to work with forms, designs, and patterns and prefer creative and self-expressive work.  Artistic individuals are creators and often described as imaginative and original.  They favor flexible and less predictable work environments.  Workers with high artistic interest are found in design, applied arts, architecture, culinary arts, performing arts, fine arts, education, communication and media, and fashion.

Social – Individuals interested in this area usually like to work with people and prefer helping, teaching, and healing work.  Social individuals are helpers and often described as supportive, understanding, patient, and generous.  They favor jobs that require listening, comforting, serving others, and advising.  Workers with high social interest are found in education, health and human services, recreation and fitness, safety and service, and religious vocations.

Enterprising – Individuals interested in this area alike to work with start-up ideas and new projects and prefer leading.  Enterprising individuals are persuaders and often described as confident, ambitious, and energetic.  They generally favor jobs that involve selling and achieving set goals.  Workers with high enterprising interest are often found in business and administration, marketing, finance and insurance, sales, regional planning, and law.

Conventional – Individuals interested in this area usually like to work with set procedures, data, and details and prefer clerical and computational work.  Conventional individuals are organizers and often described as organized, efficient, and careful.  They generally favor jobs that involve routine work with numbers, machines, and computers to meet required goals.  Workers with high conventional interest are found in accounting, banking, office work, and computer applications.

Definitions provided by/taken from the PICS-3 Administrator’s Guide 2020[i].

Knowing the types of careers which may be of interest is just the first step. An individual’s preferred work setting can make the difference in a person’s success. Having a preferred setting is also likely to increase work satisfaction. A great way to take an extensive and potentially overwhelming list of career options is to determine the most critical factors for that person. These aspects can be explored through informal conversations and worksheets or even more formal assessment measures. Basics, such as whether a person wants to spend most of their time standing or sitting, being inside or outside, or having a consistent schedule, can help the individual more easily decide which career options are worth a deeper look. From there, options, such as beginning salary, needed education and training, and career outlook, are important to consider. Research, including finding videos showing a typical day and tasks, informational interviewing, job shadowing, and internships, helps provide individuals with an extensive understanding of their career choices and determine the skills they need to build to meet their vocational goals. Be sure to check out the next Transition Thursday blog in our vocational assessment and career exploration series as it will go into more detail about these later career exploration activities.

[i] Picture Interest Career Survey-Third Edition.  Administrator’s Guide Robert P. Brady, EdD.  Published 2020 by JUST Publishing, Inc.


About the Author

Tabitha Monahan, M.A., CRC, is an experienced transition evaluator and vocational counselor. While she is well-versed in supporting a wide range of transition-aged youth, she is especially passionate and knowledgeable in helping clients and their families navigate the complex systems of adult services and benefits as well as medical and mental health systems. She is further adept in working individually with students of all abilities to empower self-advocacy and goal achievement.


To schedule an appointment with one of NESCA’s expert transition specialists or neuropsychologists, please complete our online intake form


Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton and Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.


Vocational Assessment and Transition Planning

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS
Director of Transition Services; Transition Specialist, NESCA

Transition planning is a complex process centered around helping students, typically who receive special education services, to set goals for their postsecondary adult lives and to engage in learning, services, and experiences that will help them to ultimately reach those goals. Assessment is a critical aspect of this process, both as a means for collecting baseline information about the student and measuring progress throughout the planning process. While transition planning focuses on outcomes in several key areas (e.g., further education and training, employment, independent living, community engagement, adult service involvement), many families who seek transition assessment and planning help are specifically concerned about employment. What can my child do? What career path is best for my daughter? Will my son be able to support himself? For these families, vocational assessment is a critical piece of the transition planning process. Yet, many families do not have a good understanding of what a vocational evaluation includes and the types of results and recommendations that can come from such evaluation.

Vocational assessment has a relatively simple definition. It is the process of gathering information about a student’s interests, abilities, and aptitudes as they relate to the student’s work potential.[i] However, there is not one universal test or process used to collect this information. In fact, any of the following types of tests might be part of vocational assessment:

  • Record review
  • Informal interview with the student
  • Informal interview with parents, teachers, or other professionals who know the student well
  • Observation of student in current familiar environments
  • Interest inventories (informal or formal)
  • Learning style inventories
  • Self-reported skill, ability and achievement inventories
  • Work preference and motivation assessments
  • Work-related behavior inventories
  • Employability/Life skills assessment
  • Formal aptitude assessment
  • Situational assessment of a student in a controlled work environment
  • Work samples
  • Functional assessment of simulated or real job tasks

Importantly, most students do not need to participate in all of the above types of assessments. In fact, a lot of the best information comes from the first few informal steps of the process, record review (which often includes rich data about a student’s cognitive skills, sensory and motor skills, perceptual skills, and learning style) and interviews with the student and adults familiar with the student. Ultimately, the purpose of vocational assessment is to develop a profile of the student’s interests, skills, and aptitudes and formulate measurable short- and long-term career goals. However, it is important to remember that participation in vocational assessment typically does not, and should not, result in identification of one specific career to pursue. That’s not how any of the tests, or the overall process, is designed. Instead, results of vocational assessment will suggest a variety of careers or career families that a student may be interested in exploring more in depth. It is an important starting point of career exploration, especially for students who are unsure about their career goals. Results can also be helpful for identifying where there is alignment in a student’s aptitudes and interests or where more exposure and instruction may be needed to support a student’s career development. The information that comes out of vocational assessment is an invaluable part of comprehensive transition assessment and planning for students with and without disabilities.

For more information about vocation assessment and transition assessment at NESCA, visit our transition services page and our transition FAQs.

Also, stay tuned for more blogs about vocational assessment this fall as my colleague Tabitha Monahan and I will be specifically breaking down some of the above types of testing in greater detail.

[i] Instructional Materials Laboratory. (1998).  Vocational assessment for students with special needs. Columbia, MO: Author.


About the Author
Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS, is NESCA’s Director of Transition Services, overseeing planning, consultation, evaluation, coaching, case management, training and program development services. Ms. Challen also provides expert witness testimony in legal proceedings related to special education. She is also the Assistant Director of NESCA, working under Dr. Ann Helmus to support day-to-day operations of the practice. Ms. Challen began facilitating programs for children and adolescents with special needs in 2004. After receiving her Master’s Degree and Certificate of Advanced Study in Risk and Prevention Counseling from Harvard Graduate School of Education, Ms. Challen spent several years at the MGH Aspire Program where she founded an array of social, life and career skill development programs for teens and young adults with Asperger’s Syndrome and related profiles. She additionally worked at the Northeast Arc as Program Director for the Spotlight Program, a drama-based social pragmatics program, serving youth with a wide range of diagnoses and collaborating with several school districts to design in-house social skills and transition programs. Ms. Challen is co-author of the chapter “Technologies to Support Interventions for Social- Emotional Intelligence, Self-Awareness, Personality Style, and Self-Regulation” for the book Technology Tools for Students with Autism. She is also a proud mother of two energetic boys, ages six and three. While Ms. Challen has special expertise in supporting students with Autism Spectrum Disorders, she provides support to individuals with a wide range of developmental and learning abilities, including students with complex medical needs.


Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com, call 617-658-9800 or complete our online Intake Form.

Preparing for the College Visit – for Juniors and Their Parents

By | NESCA Notes 2018



By: Dina Karlon, M.A.
NESCA Transition Specialist

So often students feel pressure to come up with a plan of what they want to do with their lives; college is expensive and it’s a big decision. I will say to you that while it feels overwhelming, there are things you can do to limit the stress. During the winter holiday season, college is likely one of the last things you want to think about as a junior or parent of a high school junior. But now is a great time to plan your college campus visits!  

While knowing what you want to do (and study) is important, it is not necessary to know that before deciding on a college. If you know you are going to college, you need to make sure it’s a place you can see yourself living at. Therefore, the feeling you get when on a campus is very important. That’s why I am suggesting you spend some time on it.  

Here are some tips for planning your winter and spring college visits: 

  1. School breaks are a perfect time to visit colleges. This is because colleges are in session when high schools have their breaks. You can always visit in the summer, but you will not get the same “feel” of how busy the campus is when the students are not there. 
  2. Register through the school website for the visit. Colleges do keep track of positive contacts from students (i.e., “points of contact”); it will demonstrate to the college that you are interested enough in the school to go and see it. If you just do a drive by or a self-directed visit, it doesn’t count with the college. You want them to know that you were on campus, so register!  
  3. What schools to look at? If you have narrowed your college list, you will know what schools to look at. If you have not, don’t worry. Just getting out there to see schools can help – you will be narrowing your search by visiting campuses as well. Remember, the feeling you get when you are on campus is just as important, probably more important, than anything else. If you are traveling out-of-state for the breaks, visit a college when you are out there. If you are staying home, do some local or in-state colleges – both 2- and/or 4-year schools.
  4. Remember when you go on a visit that they are trying to sell you the school. They should; that is their job! Your job is to be an educated consumer, so do your homework. Do a little bit of research before you go to the school. Treat it like a job interview – have a couple of questions that you want to ask. For example, ask: What kind of tutoring is there for students? Is it free? Who tutors? These are questions that may be of particular importance to you. One of my favorite questions is: How big is your commuter population? You may wonder, why is this important? Well, if it is a high number, that means that most people are not there during the weekend. If you are planning on being there on weekends, you don’t want to be alone. You want other students there. Schools that have a lot of people leave for the weekend are referred to as “suitcase colleges”. They are not as good for people who live on campus on weekends. 
  5. Go off the beaten path if you can. The student ambassadors giving the tour love the school and are likely being paid for the tour. They are often students with lengthy resumes about their involvement with the school (which is awesome but can feel intimidating). So if possible, talk with other students and ask them about their experience. 
  6. Eat in the cafeteria. You will likely be eating there for every meal (at least freshman year), so you want to know what that experience will be like. Are there a lot of options? Is it very busy? 
  7. Don’t schedule more than two visits in a day. Visiting schools can be exhausting and schools can all start to look alike after a while. Here is the itinerary: Visit one in the morning, eat lunch to debrief the first one (keep a notebook or digital notes/pictures), visit the second school in afternoon, and debrief that school during dinner or on the drive home. If you can do one a day, even better. But doing two in one day can be more time effective. Just don’t so more than two; you won’t remember them! 

So you went on a visit and you didn’t like the school. What a waste of time! You would never go there! Congratulations! You just started whittling your list and didn’t waste money going to a school that you wouldn’t be happy at. Also, you know more about what you do want to look for on your next college visit.  

On a personal note, I have two adult children of my own and have survived the college process. One of the college visits that stood out to me the most was one we attended on a cold, rainy, Friday afternoon. It was a college in a different state from where we live, so my daughter would be living there. Many people didn’t show up for the college visit (probably due to the timing and the weather). Because of that, we had our own tour guide. During the visit, the campus was very busy – students were walking around the campus on a late Friday rainy afternoon. It was clear that students were engaged and planning on being there for the weekend. My daughter ended up going there and enjoyed her college experience. There were obviously other factors that helped her with her choice, but that visit had a significant impact on her decision. 



About the Author:

Dina DiGregorio Karlon, M.A.  is a seasoned counselor specialized in transition issues. She has worked over 15 years as a school counselor in public high schools and has additional experience as a GED program coordinator, career center coordinator, and vocational assessment specialist. She has additionally worked for New Hampshire Vocational Rehabilitation as a rehabilitation counselor and also for the New Hampshire Department of Education.

At NESCA, Ms. Karlon offers coaching services as well as transition planning consultation to students, families, and fellow professionals in New Hampshire. In addition to her work at NESCA, Ms. Karlon is a Program Specialist for the New Hampshire Department of Education, specializing in the development of employability skills and job readiness skills for at-risk youth.  

When providing transition services, Ms. Karlon most enjoys the relationships that she is able to create with her clients and/or students and their families. She loves being part of helping them figure out their strengths and challenges and helping them realize their goals and dreams. Ms. Karlon knows that often the path after high school is not traveled from A to B, but rather it is A to E, to C, and then back to A. She works hard to help her clients view each setback as an opportunity for growth rather than a failure, to recognize their own strengths, and to overcome the barriers that may get in the way of setting goals, solving problems, and making progress. She brings extensive experience supporting clients with career and college planning and she is able to shift fluidly with clients along their paths in each of these domains. 


If you are interested in a consultation, pre-college coaching, or transition planning with Ms. Karlon, please complete NESCA’s intake form today and indicate interest in “Transition Consultation and Planning”




Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.