Do Your Childhood Interests Match Your Career Path?

Imagine you just walked into a party and there are six separate groups of people. You’re short on time, so you can only mingle with three of the groups. It seems like everyone is having a great time, so it’s up to you to decide where you’re headed. You look a little closer and realize each group correlates to one of six major interest categories:

  1. Realistic: People with athletic or mechanical abilities who like to work with machines, tools, and nature.
  2. Investigative: People who prefer to observe, learn, investigate, analyze, evaluate, and solve problems.
  3. Artistic: People with creative, innovative abilities who like to work in unstructured situations.
  4. Social: People who like to enlighten, inform, help, train, and cure others (often good with words).
  5. Enterprising: People who want to influence, perform, or lead for organizational/economic gain.
  6. Conventional: People who like to work with data (often task-focused, consistent follow-through).


Which group draws you in first? What about the second? Third? Your answers indicate what career might fit you best. This is the premise of the Career Interests Game developed by Dr. John Holland. It turns out that most careers are a combination of two or three of the six interest categories.

Now picture yourself as a child. Would you be drawn to the same three groups? What about the teenage version of you? While you’re probably a vastly different person compared to your adolescent years, there’s truth to the idea that what interested you as a child still interests you as an adult. Here’s an example from one writer who’s explored how her interests align with her career:

“I loved to collect rocks as a kid. I was only mildly interested in geology, but I was majorly interested in the beauty and natural creativity of the gems and minerals I found. Turns out, my career now involves creative writing about things I find particularly beautiful. Now that I have my son, I’ve noticed how much he loves to help me cook. He often watches baking shows instead of cartoons. And it makes me wonder what I can do to nourish these interests – not in a way that pigeonholes him into a career, but in a way to support his interests. I’ll always stay curious about what he gravitates toward.”

Within the context of career exploration, the term “interest” is defined by Dr. James Round and Dr. Rong Su as “trait-like preferences for activities, contexts in which activities occur, or outcomes associated with preferred activities that motivate goal-oriented behaviors and orient individuals toward certain environments . . .” As you’ve embarked on your own professional path, you probably considered some of your interests when choosing a college major, an industry, and a job. It likely would have helped even more if you were really intentional about aligning your interests to this career path. Fortunately, there’s evidence to support the importance of structured, interest-based academic planning so that eventual career satisfaction is more likely to occur.

Interests Can Predict Academic and Professional Success

Most people instinctively know that interests are important, but they’re often overlooked in educational research. Enter the fascinating study by Rounds and Su: The Nature and Power of Interests. According to their research, interests are powerful enough to predict your career/educational choices, performance, and success.

In fact, interest has many of the same qualities as other key emotions like happiness, frustration, or grief. These affect the way we think, identify ourselves, and make decisions. This idea is supported by Dr. Paul J. Silvia’s research in Interest – The Curious Emotion:

“A good case can be made for viewing interest as an emotion. Modern theories of emotion propose that emotions are defined by a cluster of components. Typical emotional components are physiological changes, facial and vocal expressions, patterns of cognitive appraisal, a subjective feeling, and an adaptive role across the lifespan (Lazarus, 1991). Interest appears to have these components . .  . Interest lacks the smiling and eye-crinkling expressions of happiness. Instead, interest involves movements of muscles in the forehead and eyes that are typical of attention and concentration (Langsdorf, Izard, Rayias, & Hembree, 1983; Libby et al., 1973; Reeve, 1993) . . . ”

Rounds’ and Su’s research supports the idea that interests are linked to preferred activities which motivate certain behaviors, environments, and goals. Paired with Silvia’s research, it appears to be the emotional characteristics that lead individuals to prefer certain activities, contexts, and outcomes.

For most people, interests lead to engagement. Both are critical for success, especially during the trajectory from college to the workforce. When students seek to understand what they’re interested in (by way of personal exploration, interest inventory tools, etc.), it reveals a more targeted, relevant path for their life and career.

If new opportunities – like schools, classes, or majors – genuinely interest students, they’ll be motivated to pursue them. And they’ll be more likely to succeed. More on interests, student engagement, and career satisfaction in the next post.

Do Your Childhood Interests Match Your Career Path?

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