How to Build a Career Around Helping People

Posted by Anahid Modrek on 5/1/15 10:30 AM

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More often than not, young adolescents, and even established adults, find themselves torn when committing to a specific career path, especially one as expensive and arduous as higher education. This is a common dilemma which can be experienced during any stage of career development – a high school student working with an admissions consultant on what college to apply early decision to, an undergraduate struggling to pick a major, or an adult in the labor market looking to get back into school and applying to a graduate program.

Serving others as a measure of success 

“Nice guys finish last,” the saying goes—but not according to a study published in the Journal of Career Assessment, which finds that serving others might be linked to personal and professional success. Many young adolescents tend to focus on the amount of money they will hypothetically make when weighing costs and benefits of a certain graduate degree or major. Accordingly, they think the amount of money they are going to make, will bring them security and happiness. This, believe it or not, is not always the case.  

The study investigated the relationship between students’ motivation to help others and their career paths. Researchers Ryan D. Duffy and Trisha L. Raque-Bogdan measured how motivated 265 undergraduates were to serve others and found that students with greater motivation had more optimism about their career, greater ability to adapt to new tasks and working environments, and less indecision about their careers.

What’s more, their results suggest that the motivation to serve others may actually cause career optimism, not the other way around.

Thinking about the altruistic aspects of one’s work may help young adults become more motivated and focused as they approach their careers. “It may be that viewing one’s career, in part, as a way to make a difference in society gives students added drive to meet their future career goals,” the authors write.

“What does this mean for me?”

Granted, not everyone is meant to become a humanitarian, a psychologist, or a social worker. This study does, however, shed light on how to approach your career decisions, in that what becomes most important when choosing a career path, is that it be something that holds personal resonance. For some, that may be researching Alzheimer Disease because it affected a family member, for others, it may mean getting a law degree, and advocating for social justice.

Based on their findings, the researchers recommend that people advising young adults should encourage them to think about the “pro-social” dimension to their career choices, considering how their careers can help others in addition to themselves. More importantly, how their career choices can bring them intrinsic rewards and personal satisfaction.

“As a primary goal for many college-level career counselors is to help students make a particular career decision,” they write, “encouraging an exploration of the pro-social components of one’s career may be a fruitful process.”

For more relevant reading, check out these other blog posts, written by our admissions consultants and career advisors in NYC, Boston, and online: Careers: Full Speed Ahead!, How Introverts Can Network Confidently, and Summer Internships: Beyond the Banana Stand

Tags: college admissions