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When Job Hunt Excitement Fades, the Ticking Clock Does the Trick New Study Finds External Pressures are the Key Motivation to Land a Job

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Professor da Motta Veiga looks into the motivation behind searching for a new job.

Although a college senior’s job hunt may start as a fun challenge, it is external pressure and consequences that drive the search over the finish line, according to a new study co-authored by Serge da Motta Veiga, assistant professor of management, American University Kogod School of Business.

Professor da Motta Veiga co-authored research with Allison Gabriel from the University of Arizona Eller College of Management that looks into the dynamics of intrinsic motivation on job search processes. The study, “The Role of Self-Determined Motivation in Job Search: A Dynamic Approach,” published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, is the first to examine the dynamics between different forms of motivation and the effort employment seekers invest during the job search process.

“Job seekers need to stay motivated to secure a job,” da Motta Veiga said. “Past research has taken a static approach to examining motivation during the job search, and ignored how the quality of one’s motivation—ranging from autonomous to controlled—can influence the job search process as time elapses.”

“Autonomous motivation is intrinsic to the person,” Gabriel said. “These people look at the job search as a fun challenge, an opportunity to find work that’s congruent with their personal values – something interesting and enjoyable.” On the flip side is controlled motivation. “These are extrinsic factors, job seeking due to external pressures such as having bills to pay, or fending off a parent’s expectations.”

Both types of motivations play a role in job seekers’ action plan including how they set and revise personal goals, develop job search plans, monitor and analyze the job search process, improve their skills related to finding employment, and also in how much effort they put forth during the employment search.

The researchers used weekly surveys to measure how the motivation of college job seekers changed over time. They found that autonomous motivation tended to yield benefits across the entire job search, leading to better strategizing and more effort being put forth by job seekers. However, they also found that the levels of autonomous motivation declined over time, suggesting that other types of motivation may be at play.

“As time elapsed and the goal of securing employment became more critical, controlled motivation became beneficial for job search processes,” da Motta Veiga said. “In other words, it is the ticking clock, parental expectations, and a stack of bills that spurs students to put in the effort to get through the finish line and secure that first job.”

In future work, Professor da Motta Veiga plans to study how to maximize the types of motivation at different points in the job search process. “This work can yield important insights for unemployed, underemployed or laid-off workers, employment seekers, parents and career counselors,” he said.