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Career Success in the early 21 st Century: A well-researched but poorly conceptualised construct. John Arnold and Laurie Cohen The Business School, Loughborough University, UK. Our aims.
John Arnold and Laurie Cohen
The Business School, Loughborough University, UK
To offer a picture of major themes and issues arising from recent research and theory on indicators and predictors of career success
To identify what we see as the key developments needed in research and theory
To pay attention to gender along the way
Articles on Web of Knowledge with “career success” as a keyword:
Articles on Web of Knowledge with “career success” and (“gender” or “women”) as keywords:
The distinction that is made all the time.
Objective Career Success (OCS): Verifiable, measureable, and directly observable attainments
Subjective Career Success (SCS): An individual’s reactions to his or her unfolding career experiences
(from Hughes, 1937; Heslin, 2005)
Rate of earnings growth
Rate of Advancement
(Lack of) involuntary unemployment
Qualifications achieved/ documented evidence of marketable skills
Job or financial security
Balancing career and family
Being where one wants to be
Clear career identity
Sense of safety, marketability or employability
Achievement of personally meaningful goals
“Objective” v. “Subjective”
OCS because it represents the tangible resources and power (and consequent health and life expectancy) that accrue to different people in society and is in limited supply. SCS is a way of keeping people happy when they have few privileges (e.g. Nicholson and De Waal Andrews, 2005)
SCS because it represents people’s freedom to drive their own career in line with their own values, and is potentially in unlimited supply. It frees them from OCS’s traditional assumptions about how to “make it” (e.g. Hall, 2002)
Key question: SCS as liberation or a resigned response to oppression?
Examined newspaper obituaries of 477 male and 85 female managers
Words used more Words used more
often for men than often for women than
Phase 1: Idealistic achievement: Emphasis on personal control, career satisfaction and achievement, and positive impact on others.
Phase 2: Pragmatic endurance:Doing what has to be done, whilst managing multiple relationships and responsibilities. Less personal control; more dissatisfaction especially with organisations and managers.
Phase 3: Re-inventive contribution:To organizations, families and communities, without losing sight of self. Careers as learning opportunities and a chance to make a difference to others.
Source: O’Neil and Bilimoria (2005)
Mainiero and Sullivan (2005) “Kaleidoscope Careers”:
Early career: typical major concern is Challenge
Mid career: typical major concern is Balance
Late career: typical major concern is Authenticity
Gersick and Kram (2002): Remarkable match between high-achieving women’s career phases and Levinson’s theory, though some of the personal issues at each phase were a little different.
Successive tasks seemed to be:
Finding a role in life
Making career-family trade-offs
Coming into one’s own
What is an outcome and what is a predictor?
Arguably, in an uncertain career world we should focus more on how well people are equipped to deal with it, rather than what they achieve or how happy they are – at least in the short and medium term.
Career-related Competencies e.g. Knowing How, Knowing Why and Knowing Whom (e.g. Eby et al, 2003) – but poorly conceptualized and measured
Employability (e.g. Van der Heijden et al, 2009) Conceptualized in various ways; popular in social policy and starting to be in W & O Psychology
Career Capital (e.g. Dickmann & Doherty, 2008) Accumulated economic, social and cultural resources
1.Career Success as being able and willing to speak the language of the employer and/or customers/clients (e.g. knowing and using “buzz words”) (Cohen et al, 2009)
Key question: conformist, or pursuing one’s own interests under the guise of representing the interests of others?
2. For people who cross national boundaries, part of career success is the ability to hold simultaneously global and local identities. Also, citizenship as an indicator of inclusion?
3.Career Success as being able to construct narratives that satisfactorily explain one’s career to self and salient audiences (Sugarman, 2001)
Key points: emphasises “construction” rather than “reaction”; Different narratives for different audiences
Key questions: how can we define a “good” narrative, or set of narratives? How do people account for gaps between their narratives and dominant ones? Does this manifest itself differently for men and women?
“Objective” indicators are meaningless until we attribute meaning to them
More important questions to ask might concern:
Whose interests are being served by these definitions of career success?
Is there evidence of resistance to dominant criteria? If so, from whom and why?
How do meanings of career success vary over time and space?
Predictor$ Salary Value
Being a graduate of a top university 31,000
Being married 28,000
Having a non-working spouse 22,000
Having a high performance rating 12,000
Each 7 years of age 10,000
Ambition (per level of hierarchy) 9,000
Being male 6,500
Working extra (one evening per week) 4,000
Based on Judge et al. (1995).
Population was US executives.
Predictors are not cumulative!
Type of predictor Mean correlation with
Salary Career Sat.
Human Capitale.g. Hours worked, Work
experience, Education level, Career planning, .21 .10
Organizational Sponsorship e.g. Career
sponsorship, Training and skill devt, .13 .31
Socio-demographicse.g. Gender, White vs .20 .02
Non-white, Marital status, Age
Gender specifically .18 .01
Stable Individual Differences e.g. “Big Five”
personality, Proactivity, Locus of control, .11 .24
2. “Most of the important rules of the workplace are unspoken. Some people learn them; others do not.” (Sternberg et al, 2000). Why is this, and what role does tacit knowledge play in career success?
1 is highly contextual; 2is highly individual (and also contextual). This shows the breadth of thinking needed.
Size, composition and structural properties of social networks (e.g. structural holes, loose ties)
Aspects of OCS
?Aspects of SCS
Access to and use of career helpers (Bosley et al, in press)
Use of political behaviour
Use of influence tactics
Decisions and perceptions of powerful others
Number and nature of developmental relationships
Criteria for assessing career success need:
Research on predictors of career success needs:
Three general points: