When it comes to how to choose the right career, experts are agreed that personality matters as much in career choice as it does in life.
Choosing a career path (or changing one) is, for most of us, a confusing and anxiety-riddled experience. We’re told to ‘follow your passion’ or ‘do what you love’, but, for the most part, this is not very useful advice. Add to this the fact that research suggests that human beings are remarkably bad at predicting how they will feel when doing something in the future and it’s not hard to see why, when it comes to choosing a vocation, many of us are paralysed by fear.
While the anticipated work environment is important, it’s more the individual that should be considered when making a career decision insists Clinical Psychologist Robin Scott. According to Scott, former conductor of SACAP’s Introduction to Psychology module (part of the college’s Bachelor of Psychology Degree), individual traits that need to be evaluated when making such lifelong decisions include ‘our intelligence and education (our preferred skill acquisition methods), our values (the things which we consider most important), our interests (that which we find most appealing/engaging), and our personalities (our enduring and stable preferences in terms of decision-making and engaging the outer world).
Career assessment, then, helps to clarify our intelligence, values, interests and personality and match these to a specific working environment. ‘Career assessment is a process based on research which indicates that certain types of individuals and certain types of career environments can be matched in order to increase satisfaction for the individual, and productivity in the work environment,’ explains Scott.
And experts are agreed that personality matters as much in career choice as it does in life. How you get along with other people, how you respond to circumstances and events, and the decisions you make concerning your career, have a lot to do with your personality and how you use it, says Scott. ‘The better you understand your personality, the more effective you are likely to be as a friend, student, neighbour, employee, or boss,’ he adds.
Scott refers to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) – a widely used personality-profiling instrument – as an essential tool for those conducting career assessments. ‘The MBTI indicates long-standing personality preferences in four empirically validated personality dichotomies: extroversion-introversion, sensing-feeling, thinking-feeling, and judging-perceiving,’ he explains.
But the problem with this and many other assessment tools is that they don’t actually predict performance. These tests will tell you about attributes that indicate what you like to do, but they tell you very little about whether you are good at it, or how to improve if you’re not.
Fortunately, there is a way of grouping people into types on the basis of a personality attribute that does predict performance: motivation. Motivational focus affects how we approach life’s challenges and demands and psychologists identify two types of motivational focus that can be used to predict performance: promotion focus and prevention focus.
Promotion-focused people see their goals as creating a path to gain or advance and concentrate on the rewards that will accrue when they achieve them. They are eager and they play to win, and they’re usually also comfortable taking chances. They generally work quickly, dream big and think creatively.
Prevention-focused people, in contrast, see their goals as responsibilities, and they concentrate on staying safe. They worry about what might go wrong if they don’t work hard enough or aren’t careful enough. They are vigilant and play to not lose, to hang on to what they have, to maintain the status quo. They are often more risk-averse, but their work is also more thorough, accurate, and carefully considered than their promotion-focused colleagues.
Although everyone is concerned at various times with both promotion and prevention, most of us have a dominant motivational focus. It affects what we pay attention to, what we value, and how we feel when we succeed or fail. It determines our strengths and weaknesses, both personally and professionally.
Says Scott, ‘An understanding of both individual personality and one’s dominant motivational focus is key to a psychologically good career “fit”, whereby the needs of the worker are best matched with the demands of the working environment.’
And, as Scott points out, a good fit is about more than generating a decent income: ‘Most people spend the majority of their productive lives at work, so general life satisfaction can be greatly influenced by their satisfaction within their chosen career. Furthermore, careers are requiring increasingly greater initial resource output in terms of finances and studying, prior to commencement, therefore requiring careful thought before committing to a chosen path.’
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