Thoughts on: New(ish) Directions for Vocational Interests Research

474-icf-logo-cl*This is a guest post written by Joel A. DiGirolamo, Director of Coaching Science for the International Coach Federation.

I enjoyed reading the thought-provoking paper “New(ish) Directions for Vocational Interests Research”by Hogan and Sherman. It is jam-packed with concepts, models, and logic that offer fodder for many thought exercises.

I certainly agree with the assertion that “values are the real underlying subject matter of vocational psychology.” When looking more broadly, however, it seems to me that the following hierarchy exists:

Traits & Needs

Values, Beliefs

Attitudes & Interests

For example, imagine two individuals, Carrie and Linda, both with a trait or need to nurture. Now imagine that Carrie has a value or belief that strong security is necessary to nurture individuals. Linda, on the other hand, values inclusion in order nurture those on the periphery of a society. Taken to the next level, we can imagine that Carrie’s security value or belief could promote her taking on a conservative attitude and an interest in the military. Meanwhile, Linda’s inclusion value might cultivate a liberal attitude and an interest in protecting immigrants. Thus, we see that a common trait or need can manifest itself in significantly different behaviors. This example also illustrates Allport’s assertion that traits tend to be nondirectional and attitudes tend to be directional.

The statement, “In our view, people don’t have traits, they have goals, intentions, and agendas, and it is these motivational terms that explain their behavior—which traits describe,” greatly depicts the role of traits and the idea that motivation is really a moderator. We all have traits, needs, etc., but it is motivation that gets us off the sofa and is therefore a moderator toward action or behaviors.

Many theories and research studies related to interests and job satisfaction have been written over many decades. I believe there is a confounding factor in the motivation to work a specific job, however. As many describe, higher satisfaction is somewhat correlated with interests. Yet this doesn’t seem to account for those individuals who take specific jobs solely for the money they make. These individuals may be financially satisfied with their jobs but are not satisfying their intrinsic desires. I’ve always felt that individuals work either for meaning or money and that some are fortunate to derive both from their job.

In a related view, the table below is how I look at an individual’s job satisfaction in relationship to employer job satisfaction, which I am using as a proxy for job performance. In the top two quadrants, the employee may find meaning in their work and thus happy with their job even if they are not doing it well. The lower right quadrant may be a person who is working solely for money and thus unhappy with their job, but their employer is happy with what they are doing. The people in the lower left quadrant may be those individuals some refer to as unemployable. They’re both incompetent and unhappy.

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As we look back at the material covered in the Hogan and Sherman piece, we can get a sense of deep understanding as to where interests that lead to job satisfaction come from. Backtracking from interests to values to needs and traits can bring greater understanding as to what may be driving an individual’s job satisfaction and possible conflicts therein. Returning to my example of the individual who takes a specific job simply for the money, we could easily imagine that this individual has a need for financial security. Perhaps they also have a trait of wanting to help people and have a good set of mathematical and financial skills. Maybe they have an interest in both financial work and helping others to become more financially stable. However, the only job they currently can find that they view as financially secure is one that does not help others, creating a possible internal conflict between the need for financial security and helping people. When queried as to their job satisfaction, it is easy to see how this internal conflict could leak out into conflicting measures of job satisfaction.

And so, we see the value this piece brings to bear; it highlights and takes a fresh, clear look at vocational interests in the context of the traits, needs, values, beliefs, attitudes, and interests. It is my hope that this piece enlivens and brings greater depth to the discussion on vocational interests.