The Perfect ‘Job Match’ That Makes You Happy – Can You Rely on Tests and Questionnaires (alone)?

Rather than using the results of personality tests as ‘ultimate answer’, they can provide a starting point, especially when you feel completely lost. Personality tests can help, they can offer you some good and often new insight and prod you in the right direction. But you will still need to do the bulk of the work to narrow down the jobs further. 

You all have likely taken one of those job matching tests to find out: ‘what is your ideal job or career?’, where you fill out a questionnaire of 50 or so questions and are then presented with a list of jobs that could suit you.

It’s fun to take these kinds of questionnaires. They are easy, fast, and you get an instant result. They seem to solve the problem of ‘what career should I choose’, almost instantly.

But like most things in life, building a satisfying career is often not easy, and definitely not instant. It takes a lot of fine-tuning and adjusting to get to the kind of career that you find best suited to you, whatever that means to you.

In how far can these questionnaires, personality tests help you?

Personality tests can help, they can offer you some good and often new insight and prod you in the right direction.  

But usually, you are presented with a rather long list of job or career options and you will still need to do the bulk of the work to narrow down the jobs further. Sometimes, a job that could’ve been a good match for you isn’t even listed in the results and if you don’t look carefully, you might oversee great opportunities.

So relying too much and solely on these kinds of tests to find your ‘ideal’ job or ‘ideal’ career can set you up for disappointment. 

While they offer some value, they have their place in career development and should be considered carefully. Rather than using the results as ‘ultimate answer’, they can provide a starting point, especially when you feel completely lost.  

But let’s just assume that you do find the ‘right’ job match. 

Will this job make you happy? Maybe, yes. But surprisingly, it may not make as much of a difference as we thought. 

Julia Yates in Career Coaching Handbook says that it’s intuitively obvious that having a job that matches your interest, skills, and values, is going to make you more fulfilled at work. But countless empirical studies show that while it does make a difference, the difference is small, with a correlation of around .25 (Spokane, Meier, Catalano, 2000, Person–environment congruence and Holland’s theory of careers: A review and reconsideration)

In research, the term ‘congruence’ is used to compare how someone measures on an interest inventory and one’s chosen occupational field. 

In simple terms, congruence describes to what degree your interest and your job or field of work match. 

It makes sense that we will be happier at work if our job is aligned with our interests, values, and skills. 

And by taking a quick and simple test, we’ll get a list of jobs or careers that match our talents, skills, and personality. 

The main problems or things to note about these test in general include: 

– Which personality traits are analyzed? Which aspects of a job do you measure? 

– Comparability of jobs: In addition to that we have the problem that Job A is not the same everywhere in the real world. While on paper the job descriptions may be similar, in reality, they might differ largely depending on actual company and level of seniority in a job. Further, in a fast-changing environment nowadays, the demands in jobs have and will continue to shift.

– Static approach: Not a ‘one-time-done thing’. Personality and interests change over time. You might get different results at different points in your life. E.g. when you took a test during/right after high school, after university, and after 10 years in your job. 

If you take a test once and decided that ‘A’ is your ideal job match for the rest of your life, then don’t be surprised if at one point you find yourself lost. You need to periodically check-in to re-assess if you’re still where you want to be. 

 – The validity of the result will depend a lot on the accuracy of your self-knowledge. Whether or not you can correctly assess your competence (if competence is asked for, e.g. if a question ‘I can compose songs’ is asked) and your interest levels. 

Usually, the more life experience you have, or the more ‘prior’ experience before taking the test, the more accurate it will be. 

Or else, how would you know whether or not you like to ‘lay hardwood flooring’ if you’ve never tried anything close to it? It was only after I did a lot of editing for my film trailer and youtube videos that I ‘knew’ I enjoyed editing.

Other factors that also play a role in job satisfaction according to research are work factors, personality, life situation, among others. I would add to those expectations and self-image.

You might have the ‘perfect’ job according to theory – e.g. interior designer, but how satisfied you will be in that job will depend on your personality, to begin with, how you tend to experience things as well as work factors. 

In an extreme case, you could feel happier in a job that is less of a match but has the ideal work factors compared to one that is an ideal match but doesn’t meet the work factors that matter to you. 

Here is an example of someone I know, who is very artistic. He has a background in Graphic Design and also loves to paint as a hobby. He is now an Accountant at a film company, but if he were to take a personality or job matching test, his results would likely point to more artistic jobs. 

Would he had been happier in a purely artistic job? Maybe yes? But maybe not. Let’s look at the could-be scenario first.

He could’ve become a full-time artist and graphic designer. Working self-employed creating paintings and even selling some once in a while, and also freelance on the side designing name cards for companies. 

In fact, he worked as a graphic designer for some time. It is a creative job, but he felt miserable. He didn’t like the fact had to adjust what he would consider his ‘art’ to the client’s taste to a very high degree (you work in a creative field but don’t have creative freedom). 

After some career shifts, he now works in accounting in a film company. Accounting would not have been his ‘best match’. It might rank number 10 or so in terms of match or congruence. He does not directly work on the creative aspect, but on a daily basis he is involved with the product in one way or the other. He oversees budgets, costs, gets updates on the progress of the films. 

On paper, it’s not an obvious match, but he’s happy in the job. He loves his workplace, he has his own office, great colleagues, and a lot of autonomy. His pay is not bad. The working hours are fine so he gets some time to paint. And most important, it’s a move away from his previous job or career that he was not fond of.

This brings me to the next finding about ‘incongruence’, the opposite of congruence.

Yates also picked up an interesting finding regarding ‘incongruence’ according to Dik, Strife, Hansen (2010) in “The flip-side of Holland types congruence: Incongruence and job satisfaction” where they suggest that avoiding incongruence is more important than finding congruence

This seems to be similar to the principle of risk aversion where people prefer to avoid losses (e.g. not to lose $5) than to acquire equivalent gain (get an additional $5). Similarly, it seems to be a bigger deal for people to move away from a job that is a big mismatch than to move closer to a job which is a better match. 

“The evidence seems to be that moving away from an area that you’re reasonably interested in one that you’re very interested in only marginally improves your job satisfaction. In contrast, a shift from a sphere that you have no interest in whatsoever to one that you find reasonably engaging makes a far more dramatic difference. This is a particularly useful piece of information to bear in mind when working with career changers, or those who are unhappy in their current roles.” According to Julia Yates, Career Coaching Handbook.

If you find that your current job is an extreme mismatch with your personality, then it’s a good idea to consider changing something about it (when possible) or even leave the job altogether. 

If you force yourself to stay in a totally ‘incongruent job’, and become unhappy, then chances are that you will find ways to externally compensate that unhappiness. For example spending excessive money on food or shopping, or other activities that help you ‘bear’ with the situation.

“Incongruent individuals may remain in an incongruent environment and compensate for their incongruence using external sources of satisfaction and, thus, appear satisfied even though they remain in an incongruent environment, according to Spokane/Meier/Catalano (2000).

Picking a job from a list and pursuing it blindly is in a way like buying a suit off the rack. You pick one among the limited selection and go with the one with the color and measurements that suits you best – although not ideal.

Nowadays, however, there are plenty of ways to go about building your career. A more intentional and custom-made career. Instead of going for what is on the market, you can proactively shape your career.

If you take a tailored approach toward your career, you can try to build it in the way that not only matches your interest and skills, and personality, but also has the right work factors and working conditions. It takes time and maybe a lifelong project, but at the end likely to be more satisfying. 

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