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How To Figure Out If You’re In The Wrong Job

There are five common motives that impact the type of job you should have.

How To Figure Out If You’re In The Wrong Job
[Photo: jacoblund/iStock]

Ever have to psych yourself up to go to work? If that’s the case more often than not, your job might not align with your personal motives, says Carter Cast, author of The Right (and Wrong) Stuff: How Brilliant Careers are Made and Unmade.

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Strengths are your natural skillsets, and motives are the place from which you draw energy, says Cast. They differ from values, which are what’s important to you. “If you ask someone what their values are, they can rattle them off quickly,” he says. “Motives are much harder to identify because we’re often not conscious of them. They’re the river that flows under us.”

A mismatch in job and motives will wear you down and eventually cause you to fail to live up to your potential, says Cast. “Currently, the assumption is that if you took this job, it’s the right job for you,” says Cast. “But people who are smart, don’t have a skill gap, and are good interpersonally will underperform if they don’t have energy for position.”

While employers often assess and measure for competency and strengths, they most likely don’t assess how energized you are by the job. Understanding your motives falls on employees, who need to determine if the job fits, says Cast. Based on the work of Hay Group and Harvard psychologist David McClelland, he identified five common motives, and how they impact the type of job you should seek:

Achievement

Achievement is the need to constantly improve your performance and accomplish goals that are meaningful to you. If you’re highly motivated by achievement, you prefer working in environments with clear performance indicators and tangible progress that can be seen on an ongoing basis, says Cast. You seek feedback in order to improve and advance, and set clear goals, organizing your work effort and measuring your progress.

Affiliation

Affiliation is a need for maintaining close, friendly relationships with others, such as in team situations. If you’re highly motivated by affiliation, you’re a team player who is a good listener and sensitive to perspectives of others. You enjoy building team spirit to accomplish goals. Your boss often considers you to be a good barometer for the cultural climate of the team or department and utilizes your inclusive nature to further develop the team’s sense of fellowship.

Power

Power involves the need to have influence over others. It can be expressed personally or institutionally. People oriented toward personal power generally seek status and recognition and try to control others, while those with an institutional power drive try to organize the efforts of a team to further the company’s goals. At your best, the power motive pushes you to empower others and move toward accomplishing group goals.

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Autonomy

Autonomy is the need to control your own work and determine its direction. You prefer having discretion over the task you do, the time you do it, the methods you use, and the team with which you work. Having a motive of autonomy doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll do everything yourself; it can simply mean that you can are able to structure your work.

Purpose

Purpose is the need to do work that is tied to a higher cause. You choose organizations and assignments that connect your work to social good that aligns with an important personal value. You are drawn to a place where the purpose is bigger than the product, a place that uses its resources and profits to offer assistance to those in need.

Make Sure Your Motives Match Your Job

To find a good match, list a job’s activities. Give each a green, yellow, or red light–green meaning you enjoy doing it, red meaning you don’t, and yellow meaning you’re ambivalent. Be deliberate and reflective. If you give 70% a green light, 20% a yellow, and 10% a red, the job is a match to your motives, says Cast. Your job should be aligned with your motive structure.

You will likely have more than one motive. Successful management consultants, for example, are typically high in the achievement and power motives and lower in the affiliation motive. Entrepreneurial founders usually have a high achievement motive, and are often motivated by a sense of purpose, as well, says Cast.

Cast suffered his own personal mismatch when he was tapped to be the CEO of Walmart.com. “My interest has always been being a good marketer, and I love to be close to the product,” he says. “The job was offered to me because my boss thought I had leadership qualities. My motives, however, are high on achievement and high on autonomy.”

An important component to being a CEO is having a high power motive, and Cast says that’s a motive where he’s low. “You have to be able to influence other people and wield that power to cajole people into doing what you needed then to do,” he says.

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While Cast performed his duties, he was exhausted all of the time. “In hindsight I realized that just because you can do a job doesn’t mean you should do a job,” he says. “I bought into the progression of my career; it seemed like the next logical step to grab the brass ring.”

By better understanding your drives and motives, you can work your way into positions that match your inherent needs, says Cast. “When you find those positions, the chances are good that you’ll perform well,” he says.

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