New research suggests employers should inquire about an interviewee’s vocational interests to ensure that they hire the best person for the job.
Traditionally, employers have asked prospective employees to complete extensive tests and questionnaires to get a better sense of what those employees might be like in an office setting.
Researchers say a different factor — employee interests — may be a better way to predict who will perform well on the job.
Inquiry on vocational interests has not been emphasized by employers because researchers and employers have not been confident that job performance was directly linked to an individual’s interests.
“Interests had been ignored in personnel/organizational and educational research until very recently because their validity for predicting performance and tenure at work and in school was misunderstood,” said psychological scientist Christopher Nye, Ph.D., of Bowling Green University.
To better understand the relationship, Nye and his colleagues from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign decided to conduct a comprehensive study to examine whether interested employees and students are more likely to perform well and stay in a job or academic program.
For the study, researchers looked at existing research on vocational interests and used a statistical technique known as meta-analysis to combine the results of the studies to obtain a better picture of the topic as a whole.
Nye and his co-authors suspected that one reason that previous studies had produced mixed findings was because they defined interests in different ways.
The key, they hypothesized, is not a person’s overall interest in a particular kind of work but how their profile of interests across various types of work matches with the profile of skills and tasks involved in a particular job.
The researchers surmised that this match — known as person-environment fit — would be a much better predictor of performance on the job or in school than the general interest measures used in some previous studies.
A survey of the literature on work, vocational interests, job performance, and academic achievement yielded 60 studies, published from 1942 to 2011, that the researchers were able to include in their meta-analysis. Combined, the 60 studies had a total sample size of 15,301 participants.
Researchers discovered that while overall interests were moderately correlated with performance and persistence at work and in school, measures that accounted for the person-environment fit were stronger predictors of performance than interest scores alone.
Employees’ whose interest profiles matched their job profiles were more likely to perform better, help others in the organization, and stay with the company longer.
Students whose interest profiles matched the profile of their major were more likely to remain in their program and get good grades.
Investigators say the findings confirm the often quoted belief of visionary Steve Jobs — that “the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”
According to Nye, these new findings add another dimension: those who love what they do are also more likely to be successful at it.
“These findings are important,” Nye said, “because they suggest that organizations may benefit from considering applicants’ interests prior to making hiring decisions.”
Nye and his colleagues hope to continue their research by examining how best to measure the fit between a persons’ interests and a job.
“Existing measures of fit between interests and organizations or schools are very broad and crude,” Nye said.
Experts say that additional study is required to better define what it means to have a “good” fit.
An employment practice of matching individual characteristics with job tasks will help employers and academics better understand individual characteristics linked to optimal job performance.
The study is published in the journal of Perspectives on Psychological Science.