Understand whether your career motivations are intrinsic vs extrinsic to shape your job search

The driving force behind everything you do is created by what motivates you. This is true whether you're passionate about decorating cakes or trying to get a new job. It's critical to understand whether your motivations are intrinsic (coming from within) or extrinsic (coming from something external) to help you chart the right career path. 

In fact, learning whether you're intrinsically or extrinsically motivated will help you with everything from filling out job applications to preparing for interviews and even negotiating a salary. Just as companies try to find new hires that mesh with their mission, vision, and values, you must also be sure that the doors you walk through are in alignment with your aspirations - especially if you're looking for any type of satisfaction in your job. 

So, let's take a walk through intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation, find out the differences, and unlock how gaining an understanding of your motivations can empower your life… and your job search. 

The main difference between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation 

You may have noticed that we've already touched on the differences between intrinsic and extrinsic:

  • Intrinsic motivation comes from inside you, leading you to do things simply because you want to, like to, or love to. Everyone has things in life that they have a genuine interest in, and take pride in the sense of accomplishment that comes from being good at something – think of things like traveling, painting, playing music, helping others, and solving complex problems just because you can.

  • Extrinsic motivation comes from somewhere or someone else. These are generally the things you have to do because you know there's a reward coming or, sometimes, a punishment. Raise your hand if you sincerely enjoy doing laundry. No one? But you do it anyway, right? That's because there's a punishment for not doing it – having to wear dirty clothes. 

It stands to reason that everyone has a mix of intrinsic and extrinsic motivations in their lives. Your goal is to determine your overall motivation – the thing that keeps you going every day. 

Is intrinsic or extrinsic motivation better?

Some people think that intrinsic motivation is the best one, the only way to truly be happy in life. The world doesn't work like that, though, and both intrinsic and extrinsic motivations have their merits. Generally speaking, people who are intrinsically motivated tend to experience deeper satisfaction in life. However, that's not to say that people who are extrinsically motivated are miserable. 

Remember, there's a time and a place for everything. Even if you discover that you're mostly motivated by the internal satisfaction of getting something done, there's a time for you to succumb to extrinsic motivators. Conversely, if you do most of your work because there's some award attached – recognition for a job well done or a monetary bonus – you must, at times, do things simply because you find joy in it. 

Intrinsic vs extrinsic compared to introvert vs extrovert

For the most part, people are either introverts or extroverts. Introverts find peace when they can be alone, but they sometimes have to embrace extroverted qualities, especially in social situations. Likewise, extroverts are the social butterflies of the world, but they must tone it down on occasion. This parallel can be a useful framework for understanding the synergy between intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. Just as no one can go through life being JUST an extrovert, finding a balance between intrinsic and extrinsic motivations can help you to be happier overall. 

The bottom line here is that if you've ever wondered whether you can be both intrinsically and extrinsically motivated, the answer is yes. Additionally, if you've ever thought one was better than the other, the answer is no. 

Examples of intrinsic and extrinsic motivations

Since there's no need to limit yourself to one or the other, intrinsic vs extrinsic, it's crucial to be able to recognize which one is happening at a given moment so that you can wield the combined potential in a very diverse world. With that said, you could probably benefit from some examples of each:

Intrinsic motivation examples:

  • Achieving personal fitness goals because you want to feel better about yourself

  • Gaining new perspectives by reading books

  • Making a positive impact on the community through volunteering

  • Supporting a cause close to your heart by participating in a charity run

  • Sharing knowledge and skills by tutoring children

  • Relishing the joy of creation by finishing DIY projects

  • Reliving cherished moments through scrapbooking

  • Feeding people's stomachs, and your soul, by learning to cook

  • Broadening your horizons by taking part in diverse cultural activities

  • Creating a better world for tomorrow through nature conservation efforts

Extrinsic motivation examples:

  • Earning extra money by taking on additional shifts at work

  • Getting straight “As” by studying 30 more minutes every night

  • Winning an award for exceeding sales quotas at work

  • Securing a scholarship by writing a compelling research paper

  • Ensuring you have job security by completing continuing education courses

  • Getting a pay raise by completing stretch assignments to prove your worth

  • Expanding your professional network by attending lunch and learns

  • Avoiding getting a write-up at work by following company policy

  • Minimizing potential penalties by adhering to standards

  • Earning a bonus for increasing customer satisfaction rates

Intrinsic vs extrinsic in different contexts

From the lists above, you should be able to tell that intrinsic and extrinsic motivations show up throughout life – in school, at work, and in your personal life. 

In school

For most people, an education is extremely important to the success they enjoy during their careers. It doesn't matter if you're going through university to get a degree or brushing up on skills you need to fix small engines, the things you learn at school are likely done because of intrinsic motivation. Think about the innate curiosity you had, or have, in class about processes. Remember how you explored a subject to learn more about it. Those things aren't done because there's some reward coming your way – though you do probably have a relatively rewarding life because of your career – rather, you pushed yourself to learn the things you learned because the knowledge enriched your passion.

Of course, that's not to say there was no extrinsic value in completing your education. You probably set some short-term goals for yourself with some sort of reward system. This could be as simple as going out for pizza and ice cream if you did well in an exam. At the end of the day, though, extrinsic motivations helped get you to graduation, but it was probably your love of learning the subject at hand that had you arriving at graduation with a smile on your face.

At work

Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations are more diverse once you get to your job. You'll show up bright-eyed and ready to go, but there are rules that have to be followed and goals that have to be met. If you're driven by the paycheck that comes at the end of each week, then extrinsic motivations will get you there; however, you'll suffer burnout a lot faster than your colleagues who are motivated by the satisfaction of a job well done.

Any manager or leader will tell you that someone who is truly happy at their job will be more innovative and have improved performance with or without the use of a reward system. Extrinsic rewards can be useful for boosting short-term performance, but they will lose their luster after a while. In fact, relying solely on a rewards system can eventually undermine collaboration and lower overall morale. 

In life

We should all strive for personal development to avoid falling into the rut of routine. It's at that point life becomes boring. If holistic growth is something you strive for, then you have to strike a balance between intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. Think of making spaghetti for dinner. You have tomato sauce, you have noodles, you put them together, and voila! When you combine intrinsic and extrinsic motivations in your life, you attain both fulfillment and achievement.

Fulfillment is often internal and involves things like self-actualization and passion. It's the thing you find when you have a hobby that you love – an inner drive to emotional well-being. Achievement usually comes from extrinsic motivations. Do you want to buy a bigger house? That would be quite the achievement, wouldn't it? The steps you take – saving money, protecting your credit score, and researching available properties – are all things you do to achieve the extrinsic reward of a bigger house. 

The 3 types of intrinsic motivation

At this point, the concept of intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation should be well established as two things that aren't necessarily working against each other but working together towards the greater good. This suggests, of course, that the “vs” should be removed. However, we're going to keep the “vs” there because intrinsic motivation goes so much deeper than extrinsic motivation. When you think of things that bring you joy and pleasure, there are probably a few different things that come to mind. 

That's where the three types of intrinsic motivation come into play. They are:

  • Autonomy: This is where you're the master of your own destiny, the captain of your own ship. You're the only one who can make choices that line up with your passions to bring you joy and happiness. 

  • Mastery: When you set out to learn a new skill or take on a new hobby, you're fulfilling the mastery dimension of intrinsic motivation. Perhaps you work in an office that uses extrinsic motivators to get things done, but you want to let go of all that when you get home. Learning a new skill – like crocheting – can help you to relax and bring you to a place of contentment. 

  • Purpose: Everyone wants to experience having a sense of purpose. You can accomplish that through volunteering – contributing to something greater than yourself. You can volunteer at work, too, to do things like create new programs that increase employee morale. When you talk about personal satisfaction, nothing comes closer than knowing you've made a positive difference in someone else's life. 

The depth of intrinsic value, especially given these three types, is how the idea of intrinsic motivation being the best came to fruition. While it does present itself more frequently in life, the value of extrinsic motivation can't be taken for granted. 

Dual motivational forces bring about success

Comparing and contrasting intrinsic vs extrinsic motivations shouldn't be at the forefront of your life. Rather, you should embrace both of them and blend them together to improve your overall success – in school, at work, and in life. 

By using them together, you'll find better satisfaction with your job through intrinsic motivations and can leverage extrinsic motivations to advance your career. In life, fuse autonomy, mastery, and purpose to gain a higher sense of accomplishment. Stay authentic to yourself and your passions, figure out which milestones you want to attain, and identify which accomplishments resonate with your values to find true happiness and peace.

Your path to success is a resume away – TopResume's expert team of resume writers can guide you toward a career where passion and reward come together. Why not submit your resume for a free resume review today? 

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