Career Motivation

Career MotivationCareer motivation is the desire to exert effort to enhance career goals. It is a multidimensional construct that combines elements of needs, interests, and personality characteristics that reflect the stimulus, direction, and persistence of career-related behaviors. Career motivation is organized into three domains. Career insight is the stimulus or energizing component. This is people’s ability to be realistic about themselves and their careers. People who are high in career insight have an accurate understanding of their strengths and weaknesses and set clear career goals. Career identity is the direction component. This is the extent to which people define themselves by their careers. People who are high in career identity are highly involved in their jobs, their organizations, and/or their professions. They strive for advancement, recognition, and a leadership role. Career resilience is the persistence component. This is the ability to adapt to changing conditions and overcome career barriers. People who are high in career resilience believe in themselves, need to achieve, and are willing to take reasonable risks to do so.

Resilience, insight, and identity have their foundation in trait factor career theories. Resilience is conceptually related to the need for reassurance, the ability to face barriers, hardiness, self-efficacy, agency (being assertive, instrumental, and interpersonally facile), mastery motivation, and achievement motivation. Career insight is conceptually similar to self-concept, feedback orientation, and openness. Career identity is conceptually linked to job commitment, organizational commitment, and organizational citizenship.

The model proposes that resilience results from reinforcement contingencies during childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood. As a result, resilience is less likely to change, but it can be supported by positive reinforcement and chances to learn and achieve. Career insight and identity are the result of information processing and can be more easily affected by feedback and changes in situational conditions. Career insight is affected by support for goal setting, including information about alternative career paths, advice in establishing career goals, organizational flexibility, opportunities for change, and clarity of organizational processes, such as appraisal and promotion decisions. Career identity is influenced by encouragement of professionalism, reinforcement for organizational commitment (e.g., pay bonuses and pensions), leadership opportunities, and programs that recognize and reward excellent performance.

Prospective and retrospective rationality explain how situational conditions influence the career motivation domains and career-related behaviors. Prospective rationality suggests that situational conditions affect career resilience, insight, and identity, which, in turn, influence career behaviors. Retrospective rationality argues that behaviors influence feelings of career motivation and perceptions of current conditions. So people who are resilient and high in career identity and who take action to support their career goals (for instance, participate in employee development activities) are likely to perceive favorable situational conditions.

The three career motivation domains form different patterns of career development. Career resilience sets the stage for meaningful career insight (e.g., receptiveness to feedback), which, in turn, influences establishing an achievable career identity. People who are resilient at the start of their careers are likely to use information about themselves and the environment to develop accurate career insight and realistic career identity. They will be able to overcome career barriers and, if necessary, redirect their careers. Failure or severe negative feedback may undermine resilience. Career coaches may help people put these negative experiences in perspective, gain insight into themselves and the situation, and discover alternative directions for career satisfaction and success. People who lack confidence from the start and fail are not likely to break away from an ineffective pattern of career motivation (low resilience, insight, and identity). They are likely to have low or unrealistic career goals and are good candidates for career or psychological counseling.

Career motivation has been measured by developmental assessment centers and questionnaires. A developmental assessment center includes a personal history form, a detailed background interview, personality instruments, interest inventories, exercises on life and career decisions (e.g., reactions to hypothetical job choices), and a career projectives test that asks for reactions to ambiguous pictures of career-related topics. Assessors record and evaluate participants’ scores, reactions, and behaviors and rate them on the career motivation domains. The results are fed back to participants as input for career-planning discussions.

Career motivation survey items have also been developed to measure behaviors and attitudes that reflect the three domains. For example, a measure of career insight includes these items: “I have a specific plan for achieving my career goal,” and “I have realistic career goals.” A measure of career identity includes this item: “I am very involved in my job,” and “I spend free time on activities that will help my job.” A measure of career resilience includes this item: “I believe other people when they tell me that I have done a good job,” and “I am able to adapt to changing circumstances.” Research has found convergent validity for different measures of career motivation.

Research has been conducted on the antecedents and consequences of career motivation. Career mentoring has a positive influence on performance by first affecting career motivation; that is, career motivation mediates the relationship between mentoring and performance. Individuals who are higher in career motivation benefit more from training than those who are low in career motivation. Older workers show as much career motivation as younger workers. People who believe that mentoring and new skill development are appropriate for older people have higher career motivation. Part-time workers are higher in career resilience than are full-time workers, perhaps because part-time workers have to adapt to changing work schedules and responsibilities. Career resilience is related to career persistence, and career insight is negatively related to turnover intentions. Overall, situational conditions can strengthen or lessen career motivation components, as the model predicts.

The model has been used to generate guidelines to support career development. Career resilience is rein­forced through opportunities for achievement, rewards for innovation, interpersonal concern, and positive reinforcement for excellent work. Career insight is supported by providing career information and performance feedback and encouraging goal setting. Career identity is supported by providing job challenge, chances for professional growth, and opportunities for leadership and advancement.

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