How can we make something interesting

Ability and desire - these are often two very different things, says Aljoscha Neubauer from the University of Graz. Much more different than we commonly assume. Even when choosing a career. In his book "Do what you can", the psychologist therefore recommends relying less on preferences and inclinations when looking for the right job. They are quickly leading us on the wrong track.

SZ: Mr. Neubauer, you say that many people have chosen a profession that actually does not suit them at all.

Aljoscha Neubauer: At least one who doesn't suit them perfectly. When we are faced with a choice of what to do, friends, parents and even career counselors tell us: Follow your interests. But that's not all that good advice.

Interview in the morning

This series of interviews is devoted to current topics and appears Monday through Friday at 7:30 a.m. at the latest on All interviews here.

Why not?

Because our interests can change quickly. Interests are unstable; they are often shaped by stereotypes, our environment, parents or friends. And the influence of our interests on professional success is not as great as we would like to assume. Our talents are much more stable over time and much more important for the job. When choosing a job, we should pay more attention to our talents and talents. We should do what we can.

Are you usually not interested in what you are good at?

You think so, but empirically the connections are surprisingly small. Also much less than many psychologists long thought. The results of a large meta-study from Switzerland According to this, skills and interests correlate with one another to a low to at most moderate level. Conversely, this means: In 30 to 40 percent of people, skills and interests do not match well.

So if you are linguistically gifted, you are not interested in books at all, for example. Is that why you choose the wrong job?

I provided academic support for the talent check in Austria, which is a career advice service for young people. And I've actually seen many such cases. For example, I met a young man who, like so many young men, was interested in cars and therefore wanted to become a car technician. He had to break off the first apprenticeship, he tried again and failed again, then he came to us. In the test it turned out that his spatial perception was rather poor, especially the ability to turn objects in his mind. However, this talent is extremely important for a technician who has to decide quickly how a component is correctly inserted in a car. On the other hand, the young man was very linguistically gifted and also rather extroverted. He wasn't a good tinkerer, but a very good communicator. He then switched to a car dealer. That fit.

After all, he was lucky enough to have something where his interests and talents came together.

That is the good news. Today there are many professional fields that seem to combine opposites. It used to be said - also in career counseling - that, for example, you couldn't be both an artist and a good manager at the same time. Today there are jobs like culture or event manager who combine both. In some professions we can even design the activities ourselves, we can do so-called jobcrafting and at least partially tailor the position to our needs.

But not everyone has these options. What if the jobs I'm interested in don't go well with those I'm good at?

I'm not saying that we should do things that don't interest us at all. But if you have high expectations of your career, it is more important for you to follow your talent. If you don't aim high, you can put your interests first. Those with many talents have the luxury of being able to go where their interests take them. Most of the others have to weigh up. But I would say: You can also get your appetite while eating. Many women do not even try technical professions, although they could quickly find out that they are good at it and that they might even enjoy the job. This is the classic for how interest leads us astray.

The fact that the labor market is so strictly divided into male and female jobs is also due to the fact that we too seldom follow talents when choosing a career?

Certainly. There are really significant differences between the sexes in very few skills. When it comes to language, men and women are equally good, although it is always said that women are better at expressing themselves. In the mathematical area, too, the differences are very small. The stereotypes are exaggerated. The only significant gender difference is in the aforementioned mental rotation, i.e. the ability to rotate objects in the mind. But even then, the differences are by no means innate. On the contrary. Studies show that this gender difference disappears very quickly once women exercise a little. For example, playing Tetris can help.

Why is it that our skills and interests diverge so widely?

We are rather bad at assessing ourselves correctly. Many studies show that. For example, if you ask 100 drivers, 97 answer that they are above average at the wheel. Which mathematically cannot be achieved. We suspect that our self-assessments are wrong, especially when it comes to talents that are socially very desirable. We tend to overestimate our linguistic abilities than our mathematical ones. After all, you can flirt openly today with poor math skills.

And because we misjudge our abilities, do we align our interests unfavorably?

We recently did a study with 17-year-old students. We haven't published the results yet, but they actually go in this direction. Those who overestimated their linguistic abilities were interested in professions in tourism or in culture that require linguistic talent. Those who overestimated their mathematical skills - which happened less often - wanted to go into IT or technical professions.

How do we find out what we can do?

In the course of life, interests and abilities at least equalize. Most of us will get feedback over time that will help us. But especially in the phase of life in which we are supposed to choose a profession, the two are particularly far apart. You can see it in the casting shows on television: Quite a few pubescent young people want to become pop stars, in many cases with absolutely nonexistent talent. I recommend psychological career counseling, trying out a lot and asking as many people as possible who know you from different contexts such as school or leisure: Do you think I can really do that?