2.4 Myths of Career Planning

Rose Helens-Hart

There are a number of myths of career planning that can cause anxiety or obstacles when imagining and pursuing a possible future (Barett & Helens-Hart, 2022; Helens-Hart, 2019; Rodgers, n.d.). Perhaps you have heard a few of these:

  • There is one right career out there for everyone;
  • Majors determine what career you can pursue;
  • Career assessments can tell you what career to pursue;
  • A college degree will get you a good job;
  • You need to follow your passion;
  • Making money will make you happy.

Some of you are probably questioning why these are myths. After all, money is needed to sustain yourself and you plan to use your degree in your career–that is why you have or will choose a particular major or concentration. Let us deconstruct some of these myths to see how they could be holding you back as you consider a path forward in your career.

Myth 1: There is one right career out there for everyone

While you might perform better in certain types of work more than others, your human capital may be suitable for a variety of roles. Understanding where and how you and your skills are valuable is an important part of scanning the job landscape. In addition, considering how your personal beliefs, values, and ethics can be supported by multiple industries or organizations, can open up more possibilities for you. Since people are likely to experience (in)voluntary unemployment and career changes, you will need to consider there is more than one career out there that could make you happy.

Myth 2: Majors determine what career you can pursue

Some majors prepare graduates to enter into specific lines of work or specific vocations. For example, those who obtain nursing degrees may likely pursue careers in healthcare. Accounting majors may often obtain jobs in accounting. But what about history majors, communication majors, or management majors? The curriculum in each of these majors may present likely career paths but they are not closely tied to specific careers. Employers often seek people who think critically, communicate, and can manage and lead others. These skills can be developed regarless of one’s major.

This myth is comforting to those who want a simple, directed path toward a career. For most people, however, their education focuses more on skills that can be valuable in any employment context. Even those on linear paths can deviate if they so choose. If you are an accounting major or professional reading this book, you are probably detail-oriented and comfortable with math. Those skills are valuable to many lines of work.

Myth 3: Career assessments can tell you what career to pursue

Career assessments, or any sort of personality or behavioral assessment, can help you reflect on your preferences, values, desires, motivations and more, and match them to preset categories. They are good to get you thinking about options and reflecting on yourself. You should be careful, however, accepting the results of any assessment as reporting stable truth about yourself.

First, not all assessments are valid and reliable. Even widely adopted assessments such as the Myers Briggs Type Inventory (MBTI) have their critics arguing they are not reliable or valid (Barbuto, 1997). You might hear that some assessments are based on “arm-chair psychology.” This means that the science behind them may be based on weak theories and methods that sound and feel true but may not be able to hold up against scientific scrutiny.

Second, a self-report assessment can suffer from social desirability bias (Callegaro, 2008). This means we may intentionally or unintentionally select answers that reflect qualities we think we should possess. For example, if you are taking the MBTI and a question refers to planning ahead, you might think generally that this is a good thing to do, though you may not be very good at proactive planning. You might then rate your approval of this statement and others like it higher causing your results to skew and suggest you are a proactive planner. There are strategies and tactics the developers of assessments use to try and minimize this type of bias, but even the best assessments may produce biased results.

Instead of taking assessment results as truth, consider them a starting point for additional personal reflection. If your MBTI results say you are an extrovert, consider how you see this label impacting your social and professional interactions. Then consider how and when you might exhibit introverted characteristics. Since adaptable individuals may be able to exercise different behaviors when a situations calls for them, knowing you might lean toward extroverted tendencies can help you consider the type of work that could be more comfortable or fulfilling.

Myth 4: A college degree will get you a good job

Unfortunately, a college degree cannot guarantee you a “good job,” because it cannot account for your definition of “good” or available job prospects. But a college degree is still considered a good investment in your future. According to the Social Security Administration, depending on sex and other socioeconomic factors, those who obtain a bachelor’s degree will earn $450,000-$900,000 more in median lifetime earnings than those with high school diplomas alone (Tamborini, et. al, 2015). Students, however, may not be able to obtain the job they want after graduation for a number of reasons. They may face stiff competition for a limited number of jobs, jobs in their preferred area may be in decline,  or they may not be very good at knowing their skills and applying for jobs. In other words, they may not be as employable as others . You could be the best underwater basket weaver to graduate from your university, but if no one is hiring underwater basket weavers or you do not know who is hiring underwater basket weavers, you might have to take a less desirable position until you figure out where your skills are marketable. And of course, you may get what you thought was your dream job only to find out the dream is a nightmare.

When tackling this myth, it is more important to focus on what you think a “good job” is and how you came to that conceptualization. Research on this phrase (Barrett & Helens-Hart, 2022) has indicated  students consider a good job to be one that requires a four-year degree, requires knowledge and skills related to their majors, pays a high salary, and is full time. What you think is a good job may be informed by junior or limited information. Through coursework, internships, informational interviews, and other career exploration activities, you can get a more realistic idea of the work you might find most enjoyable, important, or rewarding at this point in your career.

Myth 5: You need to follow your passion

You may have heard the saying “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” The idea that one should find a way to turn their passion into a career or that one should have a “calling” to certain work is a way to think about what work might be enjoyable for you. However, there is a potential downside to believing all work should bring joy and that you need to monetize what makes you happy.  Let us look at the good advice this myth could offer but why in the end, it is not true for everyone.

Individuals who describe their work as a calling have reported greater work satisfaction where they have been able to elevate the meaning of their work beyond its utility and financial reward (Berkelaar & Buzzanell, 2014). The belief that one’s work benefits others can serve to protect employees against burnout and decreased job satisfaction (Dik et al., 2009). A calling can be defined as a transcendent summon or deriving a sense of purpose or meaningfulness in a work role that is primarily motivated by other-oriented values.

When careers are viewed as a calling rather than just a job, paid work becomes a means to transcendent fulfillment and the primary site for enacting one’s life purpose (Berkelaar & Buzzanell, 2014).  Although callings have largely been theorized as contributing to positive work outcomes such as job satisfaction, authors have begun to explore the dark side of a calling (Berkelaar & Buzzanell, 2014; Duffy et al., 2011).

The requirement of a calling can constrain choices of paid-labor and how people occupy their time outside of their jobs. Individuals may feel obligated to accept undesirable working conditions such as low salaries, inept management, or unpaid overtime because they feel morally bound to their occupation (Berkelaar & Buzzanell, 2014).

The discourse of “a calling” is appealing to college students as large numbers surveyed have reported the desire to make contributions to society through their careers (Duffy & Raque-Bogdan, 2010). College students who report having a calling also report having high levels of career decidedness, self clarity, and career commitment (Duffy et al., 2011).

It is OK not to have a passion or at least not to know what you are passionate about right now. And when/if you do find your passion, it is OK not to find it at work.

Myth 6: Making money will make you happy

Let us face it, the ability to provide for yourself or your family is essential. In Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, money can facilitate the fulfillment of many basic needs such as food, security, and shelter. Not being concerned about money is a luxury that many adults do not have. But, financial incentives are not the only element of a job or career you should probably consider.

How long do you think you would work in a position where you disliked your tasks, co-workers, commute, hours, but you made $500,000 a year? Some of you may be able to stick it out but many will be looking for other opportunities, even if they have to take a pay cut. For your own mental health and work satisfaction, it is important to find something that attracts you to your work or where you work other than money.


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Introduction to Professional Development Copyright © 2022 by Rose Helens-Hart is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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