Turns out you don’t have to find the perfect job to be happy

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Whether they’re willing to admit it or not, millions of people wake up every day and report to a job that they never would have imagined themselves in years ago.

Life takes us all in unexpected directions, and while it’s important to aim high and dream big, tempering one’s expectations versus reality is an important part of growing up. Nobody gets what they want all the time, and most people end up working a job they’re not all that interested in at some point in their lives. 

Every comic book fan wants to work for Marvel, and every video game lover wants to work for Nintendo. In a perfect world, everyone would get their dream job, but that doesn’t mean other positions can’t provide fulfillment and satisfaction. That’s the gist of a new study just released by the University of Houston. Researchers there say job interest doesn’t predict job satisfaction to the degree most assume.

In short, the study concludes several other factors determine an individual’s level of satisfaction with their job beyond legitimate interest in that position’s subject matter. Rate of pay, as well as the quality of relationships with supervisors and co-workers, are just a few of those other factors.

“Our main finding was that interest fit significantly predicts satisfaction, but it’s not as strong of a relation as people expect,” says study co-leader Kevin Hoff, assistant professor of industrial-organizational psychology, in a university release. “Other things that lead to satisfaction include the organization you work for, your supervisor, colleagues and pay.” 

Hoff and his team analyzed an extensive dataset focusing on the relationship between initial interest fit and subsequent job satisfaction. All that data encompassed 65 years (1946-2016) worth of research on this topic. In all, 105 studies including 39,602 participants were examined.

Of course, if you’re offered your dream job working in the field you always wanted, by all means, go for it. That being said, there are plenty of other jobs out there that may not be as exciting initially but will nonetheless provide the same level of satisfaction, or more, in the long run. 

At the same time, there’s a limit to all of this as well. If you’ve always hated computers and websites it probably isn’t a good idea to start working in digital marketing.

“To be satisfied with a job, you don’t have to worry too much about finding a perfect fit for your interests because we know other things matter, too. As long as it’s something you don’t hate doing, you may find yourself very satisfied if you have a good supervisor, like your coworkers, and are treated fairly by your organization,” Hoff explains.

Interestingly, researchers say job interest actually predicts performance quality more accurately than satisfaction. 

“Being interested in your work seems more important for job performance and the downstream consequences of performing well, like raises or promotions,” Hoff adds.

Interest assessments have been handed out to college students for decades to help them figure out which type of job they’ll enjoy, but the study’s authors believe these types of evaluations would probably be better suited for pointing students in the right direction for career growth and financial success.

“In popular career guidance literature, it is widely assumed that interest fit is important for job satisfaction. Our results show that people who are more interested in their jobs tend to be slightly more satisfied, but interest assessments are more useful for guiding people towards jobs in which they will perform better and make more money” Hoff concludes.

Finding one’s “true calling” in life is supposed to be easy, and it is for some people, but many others struggle for most of their adult lives searching for what they were truly “meant to do.” These findings just go to show that sometimes the right job is something completely unexpected.

The full study can be found here, published in the Journal of Vocational Behavior.