Study: Interest congruence and performance: Revisiting recent meta-analytic findings

Study: Interest congruence and performance: Revisiting recent meta-analytic findings


Christopher D. Nye, Rong Su, James Rounds, Fritz Drasgow




Recently, there has been a growing interest in the study and use of vocational interests for predicting workplace behavior. The renewed attention to this topic is at least partially due to two recent meta-analyses (Nye, Su, Rounds, & Drasgow, 2012; Van Iddekinge, Roth, Putka, & Lanivich, 2011a) demonstrating the validity of interests for predicting job performance. Both studies came to the conclusion that interests predict performance but their results differed with respect to the validity of interest congruence. Although the congruence (or match) between an individual's interests and his or her work is particularly important for theories of vocational interest, there is some debate in the literature about the validity and utility of interest congruence for predicting work outcomes and the varying results reported in the two recent meta-analyses do little to resolve this issue. Therefore, the goal of the present study was to address these differences and the broader debate about interest congruence by conducting a more comprehensive meta-analysis of the validity of interest congruence for predicting job performance. An analysis of 92 studies and 1858 correlations suggested that interest congruence is a stronger predictor of performance outcomes than interest scores alone, with baseline correlations of 0.32 and 0.16, respectively. These results are discussed in the context of the broader person-environment fit literature and the implications for the interest literature and personnel selection research are discussed.

Literature Search Scope

Across the two meta-analyses, we identified 89 unique studies that examined the relationship between interests and performance in a work environment. Again, this included 43 studies not included by Nye et al. (2012) and 17 studies not included by Van Iddekinge et al. (2011). In addition, we conducted an additional literature search to identify articles published between 2011 (the last article included in the previous meta-analyses) and 2016. To do so, we searched the American Psychological Association's PsycINFO database (1887–2016) and Google Scholar for the terms interests, vocational interests, job performance, occupational interests, RIASEC, interest congruence, and turnover. Our search identified only three additional studies (Iliescu, Ispas, Sulea, & Ilie, 2015; Marcus & Wagner, 2015; Pseekos, Bullock-Yowell, & Dahlen, 2011) that could be incorporated into the meta-analysis. The sample sizes across these 92 studies ranged from 11 to 4502 for a total sample size of 34,495. The publication dates for these studies ranged from 1934 to 2015.


Levels Of Fit

  • If the individual's primary interest is consistent with the activities performed on the job, then it is considered a match and he or she is likely to be interested in the work being done.
  • If the individual's primary interest is adjacent to the primary occupational interest type on the hexagon (e.g., Conventional or Social jobs for an Enterprising individual), his or her interests would be considered a close fit but a less satisfactory match for the job. In other words, although closely related, we would not expect adjacent interests to be as strong of a predictor as a direct match.
  • In contrast, jobs with an alternate Holland type (e.g., Realistic or Artistic jobs for an Enterprising person) are considered a poor fit and jobs with an opposite Holland type (e.g., an Investigative job for an Enterprising individual) represent the worst fit in terms of interests. In both of the latter cases, we would not expect interests to predict performance.


In sum, it is not necessarily the strength of any one interest dimension that should predict performance in a job but rather the pattern of interest scores across the person and environment that provide the best measure of fit. Congruence indices make use of interest profiles that provide information about intra-individual patterns of interests that yield a more comprehensive evaluation of fit. As a result, congruence indices are likely to be better predictors of performance.


Despite these positive findings and the appeal of using congruence indices, these indices have a number of limitations. These limitations have been written about extensively (e.g., Cronbach & Gleser, 1953; Edwards, 1993; Tinsley, 2000) so we do not provide a comprehensive review here. However, we do note that many of these limitations are related to the idea that combining scores on multiple elements of the individual and occupational interest profiles into a single number eliminates important information (e.g., Edwards, 1993). For example, using congruence indices, we lose information about the levels of each interest type and the direction of any differences (i.e., did the individual score too high or too low relative to the occupational interest profile). We also lose information about the source of misfit if the person and occupation are mismatched and the relative contributions of individual interests to the prediction of work outcomes compared to those of job characteristics.


The overall corrected correlation between interests and job performance was 0.20 in the study by Nye et al. (2012) and 0.14 in the meta-analysis conducted by Van Iddekinge and colleagues. The findings in these two meta-analyses were significant, not only because they provided evidence for the utility of interest assessment in personnel selection settings, but also because they highlighted potential mechanisms, such as motivation and person-environment fit, for the relationship between interests and performance.


The overall effect size estimated in the current study was closer to the correlation found by Van Iddekinge et al. Specifically, the present study found that the baseline correlation between interests and performance was 0.16, which is only slightly higher than what Van Iddekinge et al. found in their study but slightly lower than the 0.20 baseline correlation found by Nye et al.
Therefore, we predicted that congruence indices, which quantify the degree of person-environment fit, should have higher validities for predicting positive work outcomes than interest scores alone. However, Van Iddekinge et al. found that the validity of congruence indices for predicting performance was only 0.15, which is nearly equal to the validity of interest scores alone in their study. By comparison, Nye et al. found that the meta-analytic validity of congruence indices was 0.36, which was significantly higher than the baseline validity of interest scores. Again, with a more complete review of the literature, the current study found that the meta-analytic correlation between interest congruence and performance was 0.32. These results provide strong support for Holland's (1997) theory of interests and environments. Further evidence for Holland's theory was provided by our supplemental analyses which showed that even matching on first-letter codes for the individual and the occupation resulted in stronger validities than correlating interest scales in an atheoretical way. These results suggest that considering congruence between individual interests and job tasks may be useful for the employee selection process.

Significance Of Findings

Our findings suggest that, instead of casting doubts on the predictive validity of interest congruence, it may be time to rethink the differential relationships between interest congruence and various work outcomes.

Theoretical relationship between interests and performance

Campbell's (1990) model of job performance

Declarative knowledge, procedural knowledge, and motivation are direct determinants of 1. job performance 2. Interests affect all three of these direct determinants and are related to performance through their mediating influence (Su & Nye, 1971).
When individuals are interested in the work that they are doing, they are likely to set higher priorities on those tasks, put forth more effort in performing those tasks, and persist longer in their effort. (c.f., Hidi & Harackiewicz, 2000; Schmidt, 2014; Silvia, 2008). Interested individuals are likely to seek out experiences through which they can develop the knowledge and skills necessary for performing the job well. These mediating paths through which interests influence performance apply in both work and academic settings (c.f., Hidi & Harackiewicz, 2000; Schmidt, 2014; Silvia, 2008).

Operationalization of interest congruence

The main finding was that congruence indices are substantially better predictors of performance on the job than interest scores alone.