Knowing Your Motivation Can Help You Find the Right Career
Wednesday, April 10, 2013

When offering career guidance, many experts advise people to follow a passion. However, that isn’t as simple as it sounds.  

In the HBR Blog Network post, “The Key to Choosing the Right Career” author Heidi Halvorson contends that choosing an occupation that “fits well with your skills and values…and provides a good motivational fit for you” might work out just as well.  

Halvorson is associate director for the Motivation Science Center at the Columbia University Business School and author of Nine Things Successful People Do Differently. In her latest book Focus: Use Different Ways of Seeing the World to Power Influence and Success, she and coauthor Columbia Business School's Tory Higgins describe two ways people can be motivated to reach their goals: promotion and prevention.  


Promotion-focused people view work as “opportunities for advancement, achievement and rewards,” writes Halvorson. They are typically creative, abstract thinkers who embrace risk. Whereas, prevention-focused people view their work and goals as “being about security,” she explains.  These folks are often detail-oriented, analytic thinkers who are good at anticipating problems.  

Understanding your dominant focus (promotion or prevention), can help people evaluate how well-suited they are motivationally to different kinds of careers or different positions in their organizations. For example, Halvorson recommends that promotion-focused workers may want to consider “fast-paced industries where products and services are rapidly changing, and where the ability to identify opportunities will be essential, like the tech sector or social media.” Prevention-focused workers may want to consider careers where thoroughness and attention to detail are valued, such as those involving contracts, large amounts of data, and so forth.

Read the complete HBR blog post to learn more on how understanding your motivational focus can help you find the right career,

About the Author

Ryann K. Ellis is an editor for the Association of Talent Development (ATD). She has been covering workplace learning and performance for ATD (formerly the American Society for Training & Development) since 1995. She currently manages ATD's Community of Practice blogs, as well as ATD's government-focused magazine, The Public Manager. Contact her at 

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