What Motivates People to Pursue Dream Jobs?

What inspires students to take action and truly pursue their dream jobs?

According to new research, they need a vivid and detailed picture depicting their future success. Simply knowing that they have the right grades or skills doesn’t seem to motivate.

“Students who have chronic self-doubt may need an extra boost to pursue the dreams they are certainly able to achieve,” said study author Dr. Patrick Carroll, assistant professor of psychology at Ohio State University’s Lima campus.

“This study finds that what they really need is a vivid picture of what will happen if they succeed.”

The study, published in the journal Basic and Applied Social Psychology, involved 67 undergraduate business and psychology students at Ohio State.

The college participants signed up to learn about a faux new master’s degree program in business psychology that would train them for “high-paying consulting positions as business psychologists.”

The goal was to get students interested in the (fake) program in order to observe their reactions to varying levels of validation to their new career dreams. (The researchers followed a protocol to help students who may have been disappointed that there wasn’t a real program.)

The students read a brochure about the business psychologist program and then filled out several questionnaires.

They were asked to rate their self-confidence that they could become a business psychologist, whether they were excited about the possibility of this career, whether they thought they could be admitted to the business psychology program, and whether they intended to apply. They were also asked their overall GPA.

The participants were then divided into four groups. Students in the control group were given an information sheet indicating no GPA requirement for the program. The other three groups were given sheets indicating the GPA requirement was .10 below whatever they had listed as their own GPA.

In one of these groups, a “career adviser” simply pointed out that the students’ GPA was higher than the requirement. In another group, the students were given slightly stronger validation: The adviser told the participants that they were exactly what the program was looking for and that it was unlikely they would be rejected if they applied.

The last group received the most validation: Not only were they told that they were qualified and unlikely to be rejected, but the adviser added that it was likely that they would be accepted with full funding and excel in the program and would graduate with several job offers in business psychology.

In the end, the students once again filled out forms asking how confident and excited they were about becoming business psychologists and whether they expected they would be admitted. In addition, the students were given the opportunity to actually apply to the program.

The results were striking. The students in the control group and those who were simply told their GPA exceeded the program requirements showed no self-confidence related to becoming a business psychologist and were unlikely to apply to the program or even ask for more information.

“Even when students learn that they exceed some external admissions requirement to become a business psychologist, they still have to decide whether that means they should pursue that career dream instead of any others,” Carroll said.

“They may need more validation than that to pursue this career goal.”

However, when the adviser clearly detailed the vivid prospect of success, the students were excited about pursuing the new career.

In fact, students who were given the most vivid validation had higher levels of self-confidence immediately after meeting with the adviser. They were also more likely to actually apply to the new program.

“Self-confidence played a key role here. Students felt more confident that they could really be successful as a business psychologist when they received a detailed picture from their adviser,” Carroll said.

“Sometimes students have the grades, the motivation, and the ability but simply lack the necessary self-confidence to wholeheartedly invest in the pursuit of a realistic new goal,” he said.

“This work shows how parents, teachers, and counselors can steer students into the right direction to achieve their dreams.”

Source: Ohio State University, Lima

Confident student thinking about her career photo by shutterstock.