New Year, New Career? The Chicken And The Egg Of Career Choice

Remember when you planned your next steps after high school? It was probably a fairly straightforward chicken and egg choice – preferences and skills typically drive career selection. It is logical enough. Every day, businesses welcome new graduates – from all kinds of educational programs – and they hope they select well and effectively match candidate talents with job requirements.

The talent imperative

Snagging the best and the brightest continues to be a challenge because of the demand for skills and the limited supply of workers:

  • Glassdoor reports that for 76% of decision makers in the hiring process, the number one challenge is attracting the best talent.
  • Another study reports upwards of 60 million Baby Boomers will leave their jobs by 2025, however only about 40 million new workers will be available to take their places.
  • In addition, the study reports there will be 29% growth in fields like professional, scientific and technical services, resulting in the addition of 2 million new jobs to the U.S. economy.

Personality and career choice

It is long-accepted that personality shapes our decisions about our career path. In fact, no matter your age, you were probably instructed to consider your preferences, your strengths and your aptitudes in selecting a career. A classic book Do What You Love, the Money Will Follow reinforced that message.

But, new research from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaignpoints to the effect career choice has on personality. Rather than the chicken and the egg, the study focuses on the egg’s relationship to the chicken. It turns out when people choose a certain job path, it tends to shift their self-reported personality characteristics. Goethe said it well: “We are shaped and fashioned by what we love.”and apparently also by what we do.

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The study is relevant for leaders and teams because success at the organizational level is driven by people who fully use their gifts and talents. The implications seem obvious, but there is a counter-intuitive way of thinking about things as well. More on that in a moment.

First, if you believe personality should dictate career choice, leaders are wise to:

  • Stay attuned to people’s preferences for their work and work style to match the right job with the right desires among employees.
  • Establish systems where people can express and track their skills, knowledge and talents so they can be matched appropriately.
  • Maintain alignment between people’s expressed job desires and the opportunities that are made available to them.

But what if there is another alternative? In his book, Steal Like an Artist, Austin Kleon points out, “When the world looks different, our brains work harder.” When our brains work harder and when we are stretched and challenged, we are more likely to stay stimulated, interested and engaged. This is good for people and good for companies.

Perhaps it is better for companies to encourage people to shake up their choices and stretch their preferences. With this thinking, leaders should:

  • Encourage employees to develop new skills in unfamiliar areas.
  • Support cross-training initiatives or career rotation programs – especially in jobs requiring stretch.
  • Prompt employees to take new roles in different parts of the business.

Is it a chicken or an egg? It’s probably both. The career-personality/personality-career debate must end with opportunities. That is, plenty of opportunities for employees to go deep and go broad with their contributions and to excel at the familiar while also stretching toward new challenges.

[“source=forbes”]