Steven Simon, Ph.D.
If you’re looking for passion and meaning in your work, it’s important to be interested in what you do. In fact, if you have mediocre or no interest, you might have difficulty getting up every morning to face doing it! On the other hand, if you have pretty intense interest, you will look forward to going to work every day. So, if you’re thinking about a change in job or career or selecting your first career, how can you choose a direction that will sustain your interest and passion over the long term?
Figuring out your career interests can be tricky. If you think about it you can probably identify things you like to do and some that you don’t….and you probably have thought about some jobs that would seem really interesting to do….maybe more interesting than what you do now. However, for one thing, it’s not likely that you will remember all of the things you are interested in that could correspond to related jobs. Furthermore, without some exploration, you are probably not aware of the full range of the job options consistent with your total interest pattern. Without that information, it would be difficult to consider all the alternatives and make an informed decision on the job or career content that would generate a long term sense of passion and meaningfulness.
We also believe that in order to maximize long term passion and meaning in your work, your interests should synchronize favorably with other factors. That is, your interests should be consistent with your best skills and your best-fit work environment. If you are looking for a new job, following that path then allows you to target job opportunities that will bring you the satisfaction from what you do, where you do it, and the resulting appreciation from your employer, customers, clients, patients etc. This is what we call the “intersection principle. Of course there are other factors that must be considered, such as salary and the realities of pursuing and finding stable work in the right location. However, the intersection principle forces focus first on expanding the possibilities for finding maximum passion and meaningfulness, and then narrowing decisions later, as necessary. You can find out more about the intersection principle in our article or video on this topic.
Using the intersection principle, interests should be assessed in terms of career and job options; and then, with respect to best skills and best-fit environment. Here’s a guide for doing it yourself:
1. For self-assessment of career and job options, John Holland’s personality theory provides a well-researched framework for exploration*. Career interests are organized as one or a combination of 6 “personality types”. Single and combined types correspond to the working environments of groups of related occupations. This approach is consistent with the “intersection principle” since it relates your interests to corresponding best-fit work environments. The “Self Directed Search (SDS)”, originally developed by Holland, is the best tool for this self-assessment. You can complete this inventory, at low cost, online and get a detailed interpretation of results at http://www.self-directed-search.com/. The report includes links to occupations and related career information associated with your interests. A free version of a similar inventory is available at http://www.mynextmove.org/explore/ip. The paid version gives the most comprehensive interpretive information per Holland’s theory. Both assessments provide convenient links to the U.S. Department of Labor’s ONET database of occupational information and other helpful resources for purposes of career and job exploration based on inventory results.
2. Do a review of your interests with respect to your strongest skills. That is, of your strong skills, which ones do you enjoy using most? Factor out your mediocre or weaker skills. If you are developing skills you anticipate will become strong, include those. For example, if you have strong skills in creating software programs, in product marketing, and will soon have strong skills in using accounting software, which of these skills do you get the most enjoyment out of using? You can do this assessment without any further tools as long as you have done a good skills-assessment that includes your hidden skills. Hidden skills are those that you have developed from work experience, school, or training. However, they are “hidden” because you have forgotten about them. They are not in your immediate awareness. A career counselor or consultant can help you identify your hidden skills or you can refer to our blog article on that topic.
3. Consider the industries where you might prefer to work. Working in an industry environment for which you have an affinity, should enhance the meaning you feel for what you do. For instance, using the example above, if you wanted to use your best skills in product sales, you have knowledge of software development, your career interests are consistent with sales and marketing jobs, AND you have a special affinity for the entertainment industry, you could possibly target your job search toward corporate sales work in electronic gaming software. Skills and interests in occupations can often transfer across industries, so there may be several targeting possibilities by industry. You can find an easy to use classification of industries and related occupations at http://www.onetonline.org/find/industry. A more expansive list of industries can be found at https://www.osha.gov/pls/imis/sic_manual.html.
Remember, assessment of interests is just one phase of applying the intersection principle for finding long term passion and meaning in your work. Once you are able to identify the career or jobs to pursue, you may still need to take steps to get or strengthen skills which you are most interested in using. When you are ready, then a full assessment of your best-fit environment should be done as you move toward identifying the specific employment settings and job opportunities you will pursue.
*The Development, Evolution, and Status of Holland’s Theory of Vocational Personalities: Reflections and Future Directions for Counseling Psychology.” Journal of Counseling Psychology, Vol 57(1), 2010, 11-22.
Note: The author has had no business associations with any of the publishers or sponsors of materials cited above, other than to purchase and/or use testing materials for professional purposes.
Steven Simon is President/CEO and a Career Consultant with Human Services Outcomes, Inc. (HSO). He has a Ph.D. in counseling, a master’s in rehabilitation counseling and over 40 years of experience in helping people find passion and meaning in their work, managing other career and vocational rehabilitation professionals, and teaching others to provide/manage career and job services. The “intersection principle” was developed collaboratively with Bonnie Simon. Read our blog or view our video on how to find a job that brings passion and meaningfulness to your work.