Are you successful in your career?
How do you know?
Traditionally, there are two ways of measuring career success:
- objective success — externally measurable things such as salary level, number of promotions, etc.
- subjective success — internal, psychological factors, such as level of career satisfaction, happiness, etc.
These two types of success can sometimes be related, i.e. the more objective success you achieve, the more subjective success you experience. However, they can also be unrelated. So, other people might perceive you as being successful, but you don’t feel it, or you might be really happy in your work even though other people might think you haven’t had much of a career.
Is there a way of predicting what factors lead to objective or subjective career success? Well, lots of researchers have tried to answer that question. Vast numbers of researchers have tried to examine the link between a range of attributes and the likelihood of a good career outcome. That’s far too much reading for me! I’d like someone else to do it for me…
Thank goodness for Ng et al. (2005). These helpful people have trawled through lots of research on career success and attempted to summarise the results in one big analysis.
The X factors
The first thing they did was to list the various factors that had been used in other studies. This on its own is quite a helpful task. They grouped the predictors under four main headings
- Hours worked
- Work centrality (i.e. how important the job is in your life)
- Job tenure
- Organization tenure
- Work experience (i.e. number of years worked)
- Willingness to transfer
- International experience
- Education level
- Career planning
- Political knowledge & skills
- Social capital (i.e. quantity and quality of accumulated contacts)
- Career sponsorship (i.e. amount of mentoring, etc.)
- Supervisor support
- Training & skill development opportunities
- Organisational resources (i.e. size of organisation as an indicator of how much support they might give)
- Marital status
Stable individual differences
- The ‘Big 5’ personality traits:
- Openness to experience
- Locus of control
- Cognitive ability
Ng et al. found that, in general, objective career success had a stronger relationship with human capital and socio-demographic factors, whereas subjective success was more closely related to organisational sponsorship and stable individual differences.
So, if you want objective success, be born in the right family and build up lots of experience, and if you want to be happy, have a positive personality and find an organisation that will nurture you.
Ng, T., Eby, L., Sorensen, K. & Feldman, D. (2005). Predictors of objective and subjective career success: a meta-analysis. Personnel Psychology, 58(2), 367-408. DOI: 10.1111/j.1744-6570.2005.00515.x