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  • Job Fit: Don’t Forget to Answer this Important Question

    venn diagramWhen you were growing up, did you ever have anyone offer you career advice that was probably well-intentioned but way off the mark?

    “You should be a ________.”

    Fill in the blank with whatever job suggestion someone gave you that made you want to scrunch up your face and say “Do you even know me?”

    Chances are, those who gave us that bizarre career advice saw something in either our abilities or personalities that led them to offer the suggestions that they did.

    You’re smart – you should be a doctor. 

    You like to argue – you should be a lawyer.

    You like to talk to everybody – you should be in sales.

    We actually have to give them some credit. Job fit is heavily dependent on those two factors. Research shows that people prefer jobs that are compatible with their personalities and abilities, which, I think, intuitively makes sense.

    Our abilities are a first-level screening guide to which jobs we would even be capable of doing. Do we have the cognitive abilities to be astrophysicists, accountants, or actuaries? General mental ability is one of the strongest predictors of job performance, according to the research of Rode, Arthaud-Day, Mooney, Near and Baldwin. We have an innate need to be intellectually challenged in our work, but the trick is to find a fit in which we are neither over – or under- challenged.

    Our personalities also need to mesh well with the requirements of the job to ensure a good job fit. In isolation, the presence of any particular personality trait (assertiveness, independence, sociability, etc.) is neither good or bad, but the degree to which a personality trait is found in an individual can significantly influence his or her success in a job. According to Profiles International, “individuals who possess the desired traits for a job tend to be more comfortable in the position than those who are forced to behave in a manner inconsistent with their personality.”

    The two factors above – abilities and personality – help us to answer two key questions when it comes to matching us up with potential jobs: Can we do the jobs and how will we do the jobs?

    There’s a third factor though that’s also critically important in determining job fit and ultimate satisfaction. And it answers a third key question: Do we want to do the job?

    The third factor has to do with our interests.

    As a kid, I was one of those nerds who loved school. I lived for report card days, because I loved seeing all of those A’s every time. (And, as a child of the 80’s, I got to cash in on those A’s at the local arcade, where they gave two tokens for every A. I had a date with Ms. PacMan for a solid two hours every six weeks with my report card loot!)

    So, I got lots of career advice as a result of getting good grades. I was good at math, so people told me I should be an engineer. I heard “You should be a doctor” more times than I could count. I always felt guilty for shrugging off those suggestions, because it seemed flattering that people would suggest such highly-regarded types of jobs for me, but… I just wasn’t interested.

    My favorite career suggestion came from my second and third grade teachers, who both recognized that I had a strong creative streak. They both encouraged me to become a writer, and that idea always made me beam. It made me happy to think about being a writer, because it was something that I knew I would actually enjoy doing.

    Our interests are the third piece of the puzzle that help us to choose the right careers.

    Phillip Ackerman and Eric Haggestad, in their Person- Job Fit research publication Intelligence, Personality, and Interests: Evidence for Overlapping Traits, tell us that “abilities, interests, and personality develop in tandem, such that ability level and personality dispositions determine the probability of success in a particular task domain, and interests determine the motivation to attempt the task.”

    I love that last statement: Interests determine the motivation to attempt the task.

    Go back to those weird job suggestions you got as a kid (or maybe even as an adult).

    Sure, maybe you have the ability or personality traits to do some of those jobs, but… if they’re just flat-out unappealing to you, then where will you find the motivation to attempt the tasks needed for the work?

    I could be an engineer, but then I’d have to do math for a living, which would kind of bum me out. I might be motivated by the paycheck for a while, but soon enough I’d get burned out and realize that I had sold out and not been true to my own interests.

    Just because you can do a certain kind of job doesn’t automatically mean that you should.

    We may feel that it’s a luxury to be able to do the kind of work that actually appeals to us. We “sell out” to work that pays well, offers prestigious titles, or fulfills some kind of expectation that others may have placed on us. But true success and career fulfillment come when all three areas intersect. Do we have the abilities to do the work? Do our personalities match the work and work environment? And are we actually interested in the work?

    Find the work that aligns all three, and you’re golden.


    LEGEND Talent Management helps to put the right people in the right jobs. We work with both companies and career coaches to help put people on the right paths to career satisfaction and success.