It’s Not All About the Money? The Role of Career Values in the Engagement of Recent College Graduates

Topic(s): development, engagement, motivation
Publication: Journal of Vocational Behavior (December, 2013)
Article: The role of career values for work engagement during the transition to working life
Authors: F.M. Sortheix, J. Dietrich, A. Chow, & K. Salmela-Aro
Reviewed by: Lauren Zimmerman

As many college seniors wrap up their final year of college and prepare to enter the “real world”, many of them panic at the frequently asked question, “what are your plans for after graduation?” This question, which subsequently implies “do you have a job lined up after graduation?” presents an almost existential challenge. After all, who are we without school or work?

However, it is possible that sending out tons of resumes in the hopes of landing a job, isn’t the only thing new college graduates need to consider. The transition from college life to working life is also worthy of examination, particularly when it comes to identifying your career values before you land a job that may not be right for you. Recent research has examined the influence of college students’ career values and the fit of these values with the organization’s values on their subsequent work engagement once they enter the workforce.

Specifically, these authors were interested in examining how work engagement was affected by career values that were intrinsic (arising from inside the individual) versus extrinsic (arising from outside forces). Both intrinsic and extrinsic career values drive an employee’s motivation to pursue work goals. However, intrinsic career values are rewards that come from the actual experience of working, such as employees’ interest in their work, while extrinsic career values are rewards that arise from external work experiences, such as income. To explore the role of college students’ intrinsic and extrinsic career values in the transition from college to the workplace, this study followed individuals from their final years in college to their entry into the workforce, two years later.

The study revealed that intrinsic career values held by individuals in their final years of college were tied to their engagement in their work later on, while extrinsic career values that individuals’ held in college did not continue to hold much sway. When working within an organization with career values that fit well with their own, employees were more engaged than individuals whose career values fit poorly with the organization’s values.

This is exciting news. It means that organizations can and should turn their focus from extrinsic rewards, like salary and big offices, and instead focus more on rewards that motivate employees through intrinsic engagement in challenging tasks. Additionally, soon-to-be college graduates should focus, not only on finding a job when they graduate, but also on finding a job within an organization whose career values align with their own.