Career Interests – Why They Matter

woman sittting in garden writing notes

by Susan Mulholland, Leadership & Development Coach and Facilitator

Forgive the pun, but the topic of interests is particularly interesting. Especially as we search for new career ideas.

Interests often get lumped with hobbies, pastimes and those things that we say in response to:

“…….and what do you like to do in your free time?

“I like to walk, I like to play tennis, enjoy the movies and dining out with my friends”.

To be honest, these are activities rather than interests – though there is a useful blending of the two.
Let’s look at ways in which we can uncover our current and unexplored interests.
What Currently Sparks Your Interest?

Consider this:

You are at the railway station and your train gets delayed. You are now scanning the magazine shelf of a large newsagent at the station. What sparks your interest? What magazines do you pick off the shelves to flick through?

You are relaxing on the sofa channel hopping on the TV. What programmes cause you to press the play button on the remote?

You are scrolling Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIN and other social media platforms – who or what causes you to stop the scroll and open the post?

What else might spark your interest? 

Below are 15 categories of interests.

Arts or Culture                 Nature or Environment      Politics or Law

Science or Technology      Health or Medicine             Education or Social Service              Sports or Recreation        Geography or Culture         Business or Finance                          Working with my hands    Design or Fashion              Social Media or Web Technology          Food or Drink                  Finance or Economics         Music or Entertainment

  • You can choose three books on any of these – which three would you choose?

  • You must talk nonstop for 2 mins on one of these – which would you choose?

  • You get to have dinner with an ‘expert’ in one of these – who would it be, and which category?

 Who Do You Like Hanging Out With?

Sometimes it’s not about ‘what’ we are interested in, but ‘who’?

We can learn a lot about our potential career interests and generate new career ideas by reflecting on the type of people that we like to spend time with.

This was the focus of John Holland, an American psychologist who created the Holland Occupational Choice Theory.

Developed over the years, it is a popular and longstanding tool of career choice. In a nutshell, Holland suggests that we can find clues to our ideal career by looking at the types of people that we like to hang out with.

He describes 6 types of characters. You might recognise yourself in one, or more.

The Realist

In general, the Realist likes working with ‘things’. This might be anything from bricks and mortar to fine fabric or indeed the human body. Their interest is for work that involves ‘doing’ something to inanimate ‘things’. It is important that there are visible, tangible results for the efforts. A sports person perfecting their run. A car enthusiast tuning a car. A sewer making a gown. They have an interest in practical design and implementation.

The Investigative.

This is the person who likes to observe, learn, investigate, analyse, evaluate, or solve problems. The Inspector Cluso, or forensic scientist. They are reading the Thursday Murder Club, doing the cryptic crossword, or strategizing over the latest trends in xyz.

The Artistic.

The artistic type is imaginative, curious and likes to use their creativity to produce new things and new ideas. They may be artistic in their craft – making jewellery, painting, or designing furniture. Or artistic in their ideas – writing poems, plays or advertising slogans.

The Social.

The social person loves to be with other people and to help other people. To inform, enlighten, train, develop, or cure them. Their energy comes from being with others.

The Enterprising.

The enterprising type is like the social person in that they like people and are good with people. But they like to work with people with the aim of building something new. They like to lead and manage and organise people and resources to achieve a goal, whether commercial or ‘not for profit’.

The Conventional.

For conventional, let’s think conscientiousness.

The conventional type likes the detail. They appreciate the minutiae. They understand data and can tell a story with it. They do what they say they will do and like following through and getting things done. They see the beauty in process and best practise.

In recent times, two more types have been added to Holland’s original categorisation.

The Naturalist.

The Naturalist type likes work that involves ‘doing’ something to ‘organic things’, i.e., plants, animals, and their produce (e.g., food). They like work that may involve nurturing plants, animals, or the environment. Like realists, naturalists enjoy a hands-on approach and like to see tangible results.

The Linguistic.

The linguistic type enjoys work involving the creation and exchange of information through writing, electronic media, or the spoken word. They often prefer unstructured environments where there is time to use their imagination to compose their words and thoughts, and time to express and communicate what they feel.

Of course, no one is just one type. Often we will be a blend of two or more

A chef is likely to be realistic and artistic.

A realistic artistic is likely to prefer working on their own to produce their product. The social artistic might better thrive in teaching art.

The best scientists, who find cures and new inventions, most likely have a blend of investigative and conventional.

The point is, we are likely to gravitate towards certain types, and this is useful in indicating what are interests might be.  

The party game:

Now – imagine yourself at a party – at a big house with several rooms, and you get to wander around the house and spend time in each room. In each of the 6 rooms, we have each ‘type’. Ask yourself:

Where would you gravitate to first?

If you have to move on after 30 mins – what room next?

And then one last room before you are picked up for home – what room then?

If you are interested in finding out more about your own interest type with the Holland coding system, you can try an online questionnaire for free here Career Interests Inventory

Still Struggling With Career Interests?

Do Some Homework

Divide your life span into the following three phases and spend some time deep diving into what caught your interest in each phase, and how you liked to spend your time.

Set aside 45 mins, take a large piece of paper and divide it into 3 sections.  

Early childhood (0- 12 years)

What were you interested in? What games did you play? How did you spend your time?

E.g. – running up mountains, dressing dolls, reading books, dissecting worms, putting on plays. Our early years can provide us with great insights to subjects that held our imagination. There may be interests here that we have long forgotten but are ready to be rekindled later in our career. 

Teens (13-18 years)

Same question. But bear in mind that at this stage you were exposed to a lot more subjects during the school system. What subjects did you love? Try not to confuse the subject with the teacher. We all know the powerful influence of a good or bad teacher. But think of the subjects – what were your favourite three? If you had to go back and study again, with the perfect teacher, which three would you choose?

Maths, Chemistry and Biology were my final A Level choices at school. But had I the chance again, it would be French, English and History. 

Early adulthood (19 – 30 years )

So these are what I often refer to as the ‘expansionist’ years. The years when we are exposed to many other interests through our professional and personal lives.

It is, for many, the years of college life and first jobs. In this phase ask yourself:

What new topics sparked your interest at college?

In your first job(s) what new knowledge did you gain that you loved learning about? E.g. – finance, marketing, biotechnology.

What conferences did you go to? What courses did you attend? And what did you learn there that you liked and found really interesting.

Did you take up any new activities, or join clubs that generated new interests.

The past always provides strong brickwork for the foundation of our future!

Career Interests Do More Than Just Generate New Career Ideas

Interests are really important to a balanced healthy life.

While we talk about interests in the context of generating new career ideas, sometimes their value lies in that they take us out of our careers.

Sometimes it is what we do beyond the day job, that makes the day job meaningful and fulfilling.

I have a friend who has spent 20 years in the health service. He works a long busy day in a hectic environment providing healthcare to patient. It’s always busy, usually hectic, energy zapping. He loves it and wouldn’t change it for the world.

But in his free time, he loves to garden. He knows a lot about gardening. Buys gardening magazines, watches gardening programmes and visits gardens when he goes on holiday.

He grows his mind as he grows his garden. He does it on his own, in his own time, at his own pace. And in his own words it’s this ‘interest outside of work’ – that keeps him happy and contented in his work.

a gentle warning – don’t confuse goals with interests

Let’s say you want to run a marathon. It’s on your goal list for the year. Except that for some reason you don’t appear to be getting up one hour a day earlier to do the training. That’s OK – it just means that you don’t really want to run a marathon. You want to have run a marathon – and that’s different.

Interests are not the same as goals. Interests are things that we like doing, or reading about, or watching or talking to other people about. We like doing all these things because the subject or topic genuinely interests us, not simply because it is getting us towards some goal.