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Part 2: Using the Strong with Clients of All Ages and Stages in Life

Part 2: Using the Strong with Clients of All Ages and Stages in Life

By Cheryl Hollatz-Wisely

[Read previous blog here]

“Daniel” (not his real name) was a high school senior. It was fall of his senior year, and while classmates were finishing up their college applications, Daniel was just starting to think about going to college. He had no idea where he wanted to go or what he might want to study. Daniel had a rather complex life, being gay and biracial, essentially raising his younger brother and sister, and working part time. He had no support at home for his high school work, let alone college planning. Here are the opening lines to his heart-wrenching college essay, which I shared a bit of at the end of my most recent blog.

Daniel’s college essay topic: “What has been your greatest learning experience outside the classroom?”

At nine years old I was dreading showing my mother my report card, one B was all it took to set her off. With courage I slowly went into her room. As I opened the door, I saw something no child of that age should ever see. I saw a man injecting a fluid into my mothers arm. Deep in the pit of my being I knew what it was. Heroin. Quickly, I closed the door. I hid in the bathroom, covering my ears as if that would help it all go away . . .

strong graphicDaniel wanted to take the Strong because he felt he’d never really had the time to have hobbies or interests, and he didn’t know what he wanted to study: teaching? nursing? counseling? He had some ideas but was concerned about how college would even fit into a life that was anything but easy.

As practitioners, the first thing we do when we process a client’s results is check the bottom of p. 10 of the standard Profile. There are found the administrative indexes, which help us see how the client took the Strong overall and if any response patterns are outside what is typical or normal. Daniel’s Likert response percentage totals (Strongly Like, Like, Indifferent, etc.) were all within normal bounds (see Table 1.4 of the Strong User’s Guide, p. 5). But his typicality index was 15, and he had omitted 14 items.  If he had omitted more than 15, no results would have been generated. And a typicality index of 17 is the lowest we can go and still consider the respondent to be “typical.” Daniel hadn’t done anything wrong, but it was going to be through the interpretation conversation that we would learn more about him and his atypical results.

The Strong is a powerful, and restricted, psychological instrument. It picks up on so much more than individuals’ interests—it reveals their mind-set and “where they are” when they take it. Even when the results are atypical, the Strong provides the foundation for delving into the deeper questions and conversations. I asked Daniel about how it was for him when he took the Strong. I learned that he was at home, and he had been stressed out that he wasn’t helping his little brother with his homework. And he was concerned that he hadn’t done a good job: “I don’t fit into a box very well . . . I felt like my answers were all over the place. And I just skipped the ones I didn’t know.”

As I looked at the Item Response Percentages table from p. 10 of his report, his responses to the occupations-related questions on the Strong seemed to indicate where his uncertainty surfaced the most.

report screen shot cheryl blog

Whenever presented with an occupational title on the Strong, Daniel had said he was “indifferent” 75% of the time or that he “disliked” the occupation the remaining 25% of the time. He hadn’t said he liked or strongly liked a single job that had been presented to him on the Strong. As we talked, I learned that he didn’t really know much at all about the world of work. All the adults in his life were either unemployed or underemployed, and it was only through his teachers and counselors at school that he got to see healthy, employed adults.

Whenever the results of the Strong seem off, I never assume that the assessment needs to be retaken or that some sort of error was made. The Strong is a powerful psychological instrument, giving us a glimpse into a client’s head and heart. And I know that with good open-ended questions on my part, the client will help make sense of anything that seems atypical. Through this conversion with Daniel, not only did he reveal that he really didn’t know much about the world of work, he also indicated that he was very interested in learning more about different jobs and career fields.

I showed him O*NET ( and how to use the Advanced Search option to generate job titles by basic interests (starting with the six Holland Themes). We focused on his highest General Occupational Themes (GOTs)—Artistic and Social—to explore work environments where he could be his Creative/Helper self. This gave us a starting list of many job titles requiring various educational levels (high school through to advanced degrees).

report screen shot cheryl blog 2

We spent time on the GOTs page of the College Profile, which has a list of majors that are connected to his Artistic and Social (AS) Themes. Additionally, we used his top basic interests to explore career fields and possible majors. Using the College Profile Basic Interest Scales (BISs) page, as well as the Where Do I Go Next? booklet and its BISs pages (pp. 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, 17), Daniel began to see how what he simply likes and enjoys can actually be used as a compass for exploring majors, programs of study, or even work activities. Daniel left our session with a worksheet to help him generate additional ideas related to his personality (based on the GOTs) and top interests (based on the BISs). We were starting at ground zero, but he was excited to be thinking about himself and his dreams for once!


These two students, Ana and Daniel, came from very different backgrounds and life circumstances. But they are important reminders about the intimate and important conversations that can emerge when we’re using career assessments. High school students are just growing into who they are, and they are learning about themselves and how they fit in the larger world. Each of the Strong Interest Inventory scales give us a different piece of information about a person. Depending on the age or the stage of a student’s or client’s life, we can weave the data and scales together in different ways to meet their career development needs. The focus with high school students is on the Strong’s General Occupational Themes and Basic Interest Scales. (Although, while the GOTs serve as gateway links to O*NET, it’s really too early in their career development to pinpoint suitable occupations.)

For me, there isn’t a better instrument to choose for the “What comes next?” question—be it the transition from high school to college, from training or employment, from college to grad school or employment, or from employment to a new career or retirement!


Read Cheryl’s previous blogs:


Cheryl Hollatz-Wisely is lead trainer for GS Consultants, founded by Judith Grutter. GS Consultants has provided webinars for CPP on the Strong and MBTI® assessment for almost a decade.



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