At one point or another, many of us have been stuck with a job that wasn’t necessarily in our field of interest. That can be bad for the employee in question, of course — but a new psychological study shows that it’s bad for business, as well. Employees who are interested in their jobs consistently perform better than their surly peers. They are more likely to help out coworkers; are less likely to leave their jobs; and even commit less deviant behavior in the workplace, according to the study.
If this seems obvious, well, it kind of is. But the fact is, hiring decision often don’t take this into account — and the presumption that someone who gets a job is fundamentally interested in that job may in fact be holding back office productivity. A more thoughtful approach to the application and hiring process is likely to yield both more satisfied employees and better workers.
“People aren’t always in jobs they’re actually interested in,” said Chris Nye, a psychology professor at Bowling Green State University who helped lead the study. “Maybe it’s just implicitly assumed if someone’s applying for a job, they’re interested in it — but that doesn’t seem to be the case.”
(MORE: Finding a Job in 2012: Real-Life Success Stories)
From the psychologists’ perspective, “interest” is something different than selling yourself in a job interview by telling your would-be boss how passionate you are about the company. Each of us has a deep-seated set of values and personality traits that make us predisposed to excel in some occupations and struggle in others. Without specific data evaluating the interests of employees and how those interests match the needs of a job, the hiring process can often be extremely subjective.
There are various metrics for measuring someone’s interests. One well-respected methodology is the use of Holland Codes, named after a psychologist who studied the science behind vocational choices. After taking a survey — think Myers-Briggs, but based around occupation instead of personality — prospective hires are ranked in six vocational categories:
- Realistic workers, or Doers, like jobs that are tactile, physical or mechanical. They include cooks, police officers and athletic trainers.
- Investigative workers, or Thinkers, excel in areas that are scholarly, scientific or medical. They include doctors, lawyers and professors.
- Artistic workers, or Creators, enjoy working with ideas, abstractions and concepts. They include musicians, PR specialists and publication editors.
- Social workers, or Helpers, enjoy tasks that involve teamwork and improving society. They include nurses, social workers and flight attendants.
- Enterprising workers, or Persuaders, are natural leaders and strong public speakers. They include businessmen, politicians, and detectives.
- Conventional workers, or Organizers, are reliable and detail-oriented. They include secretaries, emergency dispatchers and accountants.
The key to the new study is the idea that no one is just a Doer, a Thinker or a Creator — and no job in today’s fast-paced world requires only one of these skill sets. The three highest-rated categories of these six form a person’s “interest profile.” Finding a job that looks for those skills is likely to create a scenario where a worker can really thrive. A U.S. Department of Labor website provides a test where people can find out their interest profile and find occupations that match well with it.
People have been taking career surveys for generations to help guide their career paths. Nye’s study, however, contends that these should not only be used by applicants to decide where to apply, but should also be used by employers to help decide who to hire.
(MORE: 10 Questions for Sigourney Weaver)
Nye said evaluating applicant compatibility with a position through testing would provide a counterbalance to more subjective parts of the hiring process, like a typical job interview. “They’re doing things that are based on subjective valuations rather than actually matching people to the jobs they’re hiring for,” he said. “Interest profiles would provide one way of making it more objective.”
Could we be looking at a future where applicants are screened by their interest profile? Imagine a job listing that only accepted people with “Enterprising” interests.
Nye said such a scenario isn’t likely. However, he said he’s already noted a lot of misuse of interest scores. “Sometimes organizations or researchers will use the interest measure, but they’ll just look at how high someone’s score is,” he said. “It has more to do with how well their profile fits with the profile of the job.”
He said for employers to get the most out of interest profiles requires some upfront planning on their end. “There’s a lot of responsibility on the organization to find out what type of interests match the particular job, and then go find applicants that fit with that profile. This study shows that it can add a lot of benefit.”