by Susan Krug FriedmanNACE Journal, February 2014
This scenario may sound familiar to career services
practitioners: Three years ago, Elaine started college on a hockey
scholarship. She has always been interested in science and majored
in biology. Today, she is looking for a job as a high school
science teacher and field hockey coach. Her twin brother, Evan,
loves music; he is an accomplished guitarist and is attending
college on a music scholarship. He is uncertain about his career
options and is thinking about taking some business classes.
scenarios highlight themes well known to career services
professionals and recruiters: the wide range of students' interests
and diverse paths that connect students with their place in the job
market. Many individuals start with their aspirations or
inspirations, with personal goals or "visions."
American psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed in his hierarchy of
needs (a theory of psychological health based on fulfilling
essential human needs) can relate to a greater understanding of the
job seeker's needs. This approach can shed light on industries and
occupations in terms of services provided to others. Adding that
framework to the career choice discussion can be useful to
professionals in both career services and recruiting. This approach
can contribute another dimension to understanding the roles played
by recruiters and their organizations.
Career services and human resources
professionals already know about employment-related information,
including data published by private organizations and by the U.S.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, such as the Occupational Outlook
Handbook and the Occupational Outlook Quarterly. Students unsure of
their career direction could start with Richard Bolles' "What Color
Is Your Parachute? A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and
Career-Changers." This book emphasizes understanding one's self
through reflecting on the knowledge and skills that one wishes to
use, desired location and work environment, individuals who one
wants as colleagues and/or customers, and one's overall goals.1
These components become part of a "Flower Diagram," which offers a
way to consider fields that would relate well to these personal
As Bolles points out, technology, including social media,
provides a way to link a number of these personal preferences with
jobs. The Occupational Information Network, or O*NET database,
contains information on hundreds of occupations and allows
individuals to find ones that tie in with their interests and job
preferences. A major feature of the database is its
interconnections with Holland's RIASEC categories of interests
related to occupations (realistic, investigative, artistic, social,
enterprising, and conventional).3
However, individuals are still left
with the question of how to start the decision-making process and
how to choose among the various possibilities. Bolles discusses
mission and purpose in the context of nine issues, including
serving the mind, the body, the eyes and other senses, and the
spirit.4 Another approach that touches on many of the same concerns
is Maslow's concept of the hierarchy of needs.
focuses on a set of fundamental individual needs: physiological,
safety, love, esteem, and self-actualization.5 Physiological
needs, such as being hungry, are "the most prepotent."6 If people
are deprived of basic nourishment, finding this will be their top
priority and will overshadow their other needs. Maslow compares
safety with children's desire to be in a secure and reliable
environment, in which they will not be hurt physically or
emotionally.7 For adults, this could be a secure job, savings, and
insurance (medical, dental, unemployment, disability, old age).8
Maslow also suggests that religion, philosophy, and science relate
to safety, in providing a framework to the way we approach the
Love encompasses affection and being connected to others in
a mutual relationship; this involves having friends or family and
"affectionate relations with people in general."10 The need for
esteem involves having a favorable idea of one's self and a
positive view from others. This attribute may include several
dimensions, evidenced through factors such as accomplishments,
independence, and respect from others.11 Finally,
self-actualization relates to being "everything that one is capable
Maslow's theory maintains that as the basic
necessities are more and more satisfied, higher-level needs come
into play. This is a gradual and multi-track process—that there
would not be complete satisfaction of one need, then, another, but
ongoing fulfillment and development.13 Also, one behavior that is
manifested by a person may relate to all of the individual's
needs.14 Maslow defined some further motivators, including the
desires to know and to understand, and aesthetic needs, which may
connect with the other needs.15
Dennis O'Connor and Leodones Yballe
have explored Maslow's ideas and address ways in which the concepts
can be helpful to students.16 They say it is important to consider
what Maslow presented in his writings (instead of others'
interpretation of his work) and using the insights that his theory
provides for an understanding of "values, meaning, and
O'Connor and Yballe discuss how Maslow's work
evolved with regard to understanding motivation and
self-actualization, and they present a road map exercise to use
with students. Students are asked to brainstorm in small groups and
develop a list of needs, which are subsequently written on the
board by the instructor, who subtly arranges them according to
Maslow's framework. This is later identified as such, with a
discussion of each level, and the nature of motivation and its
impact on performance.18
Another element of O'Connor and Yballe's
approach is to focus on the concept of self-actualization through a
discussion of values and of specific steps, such as Maslow's tip on
consciously making choices that will lead to personal growth, not
only for one's self but for others.19 They also connect the
elements of self-actualization to leadership and the organization,
with consideration of the importance of promoting quality and
integrity.20 They see Maslow's model as one that enables
instructors and students to consider more deeply values and
self-understanding in the journey through a course and in life.21
These insights are transferable to the career services and
In addition, Maslow's ideas can be
applied in a market-oriented context. In "The Economist Guide to
Management Ideas," Tim Hindle connects a number of industries to
the various types of needs identified by Maslow. Food manufacturers
help to fulfill physiological needs, the insurance industry
addresses safety needs, and telecommunications relates to social
needs.22 Hindle also discusses how one activity or industry, such
as hospitality, can fulfill multiple needs, including
physiological, social, and self-actualization.23
Is it possible to
quantify the importance of these classifications? Consumer
spending, while not necessarily synonymous with priorities, gives
one perspective. Figure 1 presents data from the Consumer
Expenditure Survey, compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor
Statistics (BLS). The data are for consumer units, which are
similar to households, averaging 2.5 persons per unit in 2012. The
average yearly expenditure by these consumer units in 2012 was
$51,442. The importance of fulfilling basic needs is evident, as
expenditures on food and housing account for close to half of total
The data used were extracted from a list with much
greater detail; still, the key categories in Figure 1 give some
measure of the relative share of consumer outlays and a number of
insights. Entertainment, for example, represents a notable
percentage and outpaces the share represented by the apparel
category. What might this say about human needs? In terms of the
relative value of entertainment and socializing with others, more
detailed BLS date (not shown in the figure) reveal that average
outlays for "fees and admissions" ($614) is 77 percent more than
average spending for footwear ($347).
gives another perspective based on areas not covered by personal
expenditures. According to data on outlays published by the
Internal Revenue Service, the breakdown (as of fiscal year 2011)
for the U.S. federal government is (with total spending of $3.6
These "macro" level categories also relate to Maslow's
framework, most vividly in terms of addressing safety and
physiological concerns. While not providing a one-to-one
correspondence with Maslow's categories, consumer and government
spending data help make what might be construed as abstract ideas
more concrete: There are ways to see the impact of these human
needs in quantitative terms.25
Along these lines, consider other
market and industry links more specifically related to career
choices. Figure 2 illustrates occupational connections, with a list
of management-related job titles opposite Maslow's major needs. The
goal is to show how individuals' and organizations' missions or
values—as reflected in fulfilling the needs of others—may be linked
with careers. These categories are based on content analysis of the
BLS descriptions of the occupations. This illustration shows
possible connections among missions and occupations or industries
and how these might be approached systematically.
In Figure 2, an X
indicates that an occupation relates to a need. An asterisk (*)
shows where an occupation might relate to a need, depending on the
nature of the industry. For example, someone interested in a
management career that helps serve the physiological needs of
others could consider categories designated by an X, such as
farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers or food service
Some occupations may satisfy several needs. Food service
managers would help satisfy consumers' needs for healthy
nourishment (physiological and safety), and could also provide an
appealing social environment (related to love and esteem). A human
resources manager's work could involve any of the five categories
of needs depending on the nature of the industry.
addressed by major industry categories, such as manufacturing or
finance, are shown in Figure 3. Grocery stores would address
physiological and safety needs, while wholesale trade is a broad
field in which the nature of the product would determine the
relevant needs served.
Information on occupations beyond the
managerial ones shown in Figure 2 was collected. For example, a
speech-language pathologist helps with a physiological problem,
which also impacts one's ability to obtain employment, enjoy the
company of others, gain esteem, and actualize one's capacities.
Consequently, an X would be indicated in all categories. A budget
analyst may help with any of these categories, depending on the
industry involved. In this case, an * would be shown for all
categories, because the industry would be the determining factor.
Another issue is the nature of the underlying demand for a career.
Students interested in working in management consulting should
consider the type of activity for which the consulting is needed.
This would relate to the economic concept of derived demand, as
Paul A. Samuelson writes, "The firm's demand for labor is derived
indirectly from the consumer demand for its final product."26 In
this case, consulting is a factor of production, for which the
demand is "derived ultimately from consumers' desires and demands
for final goods," just as Samuelson points out as being true for
the other inputs used at many levels in the production
What can the framework of needs add to
dealing with the real-life concerns of students? The O*NET system
and its links to the RIASEC framework already provide an
opportunity to connect job seekers with fields that reflect their
personal interests. Maslow's approach can contribute an additional
element of focus on the market environment.
There are two
dimensions to consider. First, the functions of the organization
are dependent on the individual tasks of employees. From an
organizational perspective, the work of W. Edwards Deming
emphasizes the importance of understanding and responding to
customer needs. In this framework, all elements of production are
interrelated. Each person relies on others to provide the various
components and activities required for customer satisfaction, and
all individuals also know why their contributions are essential to
this goal.27 Therefore, identifying the needs filled by the
industry in which the organization operates is key.
individuals want to relate to their organizations. The importance
of matching employees' personal visions with the organizational
vision is emphasized at the philosophical level in Kerry Bernes and
Kris Magnusson's "Synergistic Model of Organizational Career
Development."28 In the context of personal mission, Bolles also
cites the value of considering the employer's mission.29
job applicant's perspective, awareness of needs can help those who
already have career direction to develop their job marketing
approaches. Aspiring managers could consider whether they would
like to work in a financial setting, in which they could serve
safety (i.e., security needs), or for a religious organization,
where self-actualization of members might be the focus. In
ascertaining their own preferences, job seekers may then be able to
better articulate their commitment to potential employers in their
As analyzed by David B. Montgomery and Catherine A.
Ramus,30 M.B.A.s seek a number of key elements when choosing a job,
such as intellectual challenge and the reputation of the
organization with respect to its social and corporate ethical
responsibilities (ethical products, services and practices) and its
treatment of personnel,31 along with financial remuneration,
location, and other factors. Maslow's framework provides a
dimension of professional values for the job search. Also, a
needs-oriented approach can encourage individuals to evaluate
fields they may not have considered, but that relate well to their
Conceptually, considering others' needs also ties in with
analyzing motivational theories. As discussed by Bugenhagen and
Barbuto,32 five sources of work motivation include intrinsic
process, instrumental, self-concept external, self-concept
internal, and goal internalization.33 Unlike the preceding
motivators, which connect to a type of self-interest, goal
internalization is based on a person's conviction of the value of
the cause, as manifested in what an organization is trying to
How do these ideas about motivation
relate to students, who are often thinking about securing a
high-paying job? If this is the main motivation, how is addressing
the needs of others relevant to the job quest?
As Maslow indicates,
there may not be total satisfaction of one need after another.35
Maslow's approach can be a way of understanding the role of
organizations and industries in the market and can help job seekers
present themselves effectively to that market. Given two candidates
with similar engineering expertise, whom would you rather hire to
work for a power utility: someone who has given little thought to
the organization's end users, or someone who is concerned about the
reliability of the energy supplied to customers who are depending
on electricity to keep their families comfortable and their offices
and stores operating?
Returning to the opening story of the
undecided student, one strategy would be to ask him to reflect on
the different industries or occupations he might be considering and
ask what needs he believes they might fulfill for other
individuals. This would not be a replacement for the valuable
insights from the O*NET links to RIASEC and the resulting career
possibilities, but an additional talking point. The information in
the figures is not meant to be definitive but for use as a
background for discussion. The goal is to amplify the reflection
process in the context of understanding more about the fields
individuals might have in mind, which could also enable more
effective marketing of themselves to employers in those fields.
Similarly, recruiters can connect the mission of the organization
to the human needs it serves, and to the personal needs of the
Career development is a complex, ongoing
process—Maslow's framework can add another link to motivational and
Susan Krug Friedman
is a lecturer and an internship coordinator in the Department of
Human and Organizational Development at Peabody College, Vanderbilt
University. She holds a bachelor's degree in economics from
Wellesley College, a master's degree in economics from Western
Michigan University, and an M.B.A. from Arizona State University.
In addition to her teaching experience, she has more than 15 years
of professional background in the areas of applied economics and
1R.N. Bolles. What Color Is Your Parachute? A practical Manual for
Job-Hunters and Career-Changers. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press,
Crown Publishing, Random House, 2013, pp.56-57.
2Bolles, pp. 138-139.
3M. Mariani. "O*NET update," Occupational Outlook
Quarterly, 45 (3), 2001, pp. 26-27; O*NET Resource Center
(2013). About O*NET. http://www.onetcenter.
4Bolles, pp. 115-116.
5A. H. Maslow. "A theory of human motivation." Psychological
Review, 50, 1943, pp. 370-396.
6Maslow, p. 373.
7Maslow, pp. 377-378.
8Maslow, p. 379.
9Maslow, p. 379.
10Maslow, p. 381.
11Maslow, pp. 381-382.
12Maslow, p. 382.
13Maslow, pp. 388-389.
14Maslow, p. 390.
15A. H. Maslow. Motivation and Personality (Second
edition). New York: Harper & Row, 1970, pp. 48-51.
16D. O'Connor and L. Yballe. "Maslow revisited: Constructing a road map
of human nature." Journal of Management Education, 31(6),
2007, pp. 738-756. doi: 10.1177/1052562907307639
17O'Connor and Yballe, p. 741.
18O'Connor and Yballe, pp. 744-745.
19O'Connor and Yballe, pp. 747-748.
20O'Connor and Yballe, pp. 749-750.
21O'Connor and Yballe, p. 754.
22T. Hindle. The Economist Guide
to Management Ideas. London: Profile Books Ltd., 2003, pp.
23Hindle, p. 116.
24U.S. Department of the Treasury,
Internal Revenue Service. 2013. 1040 Instructions 2012, p. 104.
25Richard B. McKenzie and Gordon Tullock discuss ways in which
Maslow's framework compares and contrasts with economic theories of
behavior. Consideration is given to the price and quantity
relationships illustrated by the demand curve and with budgetary
and cost issues and how these relate to the satisfaction of needs.
R.B. McKenzie and G. Tullock. The new world of economics (Sixth
edition). Heidelberg: Springer, 2012, pp. 43-49.
Economics. 8th Edition. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1970, p.
27W. E. Deming. The New Economics for Industry, Government,
Education. Cambridge, MA, and London, England: MIT Press, 2000, pp.
28K. Bernes and K. Magnusson. A synergistic model of
organizational career development. Annual conference of the
National Consultation on Career Development, 1999.
29Bolles, p. 57.
30D.B. Montgomery and C.A. Ramus. "Calibrating MBA job
preferences for the 21st century." Academy of Management Learning
& Education, 10 (1), 2011, doi: 10.5465/AMLE.2011.59513270, pp.
31Montgomery and Ramus, p. 23.
32M. J. Bugenhagen and J.E. Barbuto, Jr. "Testing the developmental nature of work motivation
using Kegan's constructive development theory." Journal of
Leadership & Organizational Studies, 19 (1), 2012,
doi:10.1177/1548051811404896, pp. 35-45.
33Bugenhagen and Barbuto, pp. 36-37.
34Bugenhagen and Barbuto, p. 37.
35Maslow, 1943, pp. 388-389.
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