Can your personality really affect your career success? Absolutely. Decades of research have found that some personality traits are correlated with higher salaries, more frequent promotions, and other measures of success.
The trait most frequently cited in association with attributed to career success is conscientiousness.
"[Conscientiousness] is emerging as one of the primary dimensions of successful functioning across the lifespan," Paul Tough writes in "How Children Succeed." "It really goes cradle to grave in terms of how people do."
Conscientious people live longer, are healthier, get better grades in school, and stay married longer. And they are more likely to succeed in the workplace. According to Business Insider, one NIH study found that conscientious men earn higher salaries. The National Institute on Aging also found that conscientiousness is linked to income and job satisfaction. Other studies show that conscientiousness is the most important factor for finding and keeping a job.
If you're conscientious, you're likely organized, goal-oriented, and self-disciplined. So how does this help with career development and success? One answer is conscientious people are better at setting goals and working toward them, and because they're organized, they often get things done faster than someone who wastes time searching for an important paper buried under all the others on their desk.
But career success isn't that simple. Psychologists aren't scoring people as "yes, conscientious" or "no, not conscientious" and making a determination about your career. First of all, that would be creepy. Second, there are many, many other personality traits that may affect your career.
The list is huge, but traits that consistently pop up are assertiveness (can you make your case for yourself and your ideas?), a positive attitude (can you stay motivated even when things seem bad?), and humility (do you believe a job is "beneath" you, or can you roll up your sleeves and get working?). Other traits that might benefit you are extraversion (do you get energized around people?), self-confidence (do you know your strengths?), and self-awareness (do you know what you aren't good at?).
These are all traits that psychologists, workplace consultants, and bosses have named as things they see as leading to career success. Remember, though, is that "success" doesn't mean the same thing for everyone. The NIH study mentioned earlier measured success through higher salaries and job satisfaction. But the conscientious people didn't seem to have jobs with higher prestige than the average. (Prestige here was defined as how important-sounding a person's job title was.) This makes some sense, because conscientiousness is also linked with conformity, and CEOs and other leaders are typically rule-breakers.
Success could be measured by how happy you are in your job or by how often you get promoted. You could define success as a job where you have autonomy or recognition, or whether you feel like the work is valuable or interesting. You could define success as many men and women are doing these days as a job that allows you to have work-life balance.
So this could mean you don't think of yourself as "successful" in your career, even if you're very conscientious. If you've always wanted to be the CEO, you may not feel as successful if your job title is Assistant Project Manager, even if you make plenty of money. Or, you could leave a high-paying, high-stress job to serve ice cream in the Virgin Islands and feel much more "successful" than before.
It's all relative (and probably, your personality defines what you think of as successful, too).
Personality is not set in stone. The NIH study referenced earlier found that individuals with high neuroticism typically tended to make less money and be employed in lower level positions. But they also found that people scoring high on that scale saw their neuroticism decrease as they got promoted. So personality isn't fixed and can change based on environmental factors (or maybe if you just try really, really hard). Is something holding you back in your career? You can change it.
Finally, personality is by far not the only factor in career success — however you define success. While your personality is an important component, your skills, values and interests are just as important, says career counselor Tom Denham. You may have the perfect outgoing personality for a customer service job, but if you can't do the work — or if it bores you to tears — you're not going to succeed.
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