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Empirical Study: Careers Take an Unexpected Course


Careers are influenced by manifold factors - and in other ways than we think. This has been demonstrated by a study now-published by the Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration. The extensive project traced numerous job histories over an extended time period and analysed critical influencing factors. The project funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) thereby questions some popular beliefs. The most important results will now be published as a book.

A team headed by Prof. Wolfgang Mayrhofer of the Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration has now successfully concluded the first phase of the study on the development of careers (Vienna Career Panel Project, ViCaPP), a unique venture in the German-speaking region. During this extensive study, the career developments of more than 1,000 university graduates in the area of business administration were analysed. The fact that the results are already published in a book which is a pleasant contrast to many pseudo-scientific career guides, is mainly due to some very astonishing results.

Getting Ahead in Winding Ways

The study fundamentally challenges prior views on "getting ahead". Particularly remarkable are four results of the study.

First - new career areas have become increasingly popular. Today, nearly one third of the graduates, indeed the better ones, do not aspire for traditional corporate careers. They rather prefer a "chronically flexible" career course that is characterised by versatile activities.

Second - when entering a professional career, neither good final grades nor completing the studies in minimum time provide any advantage. It is practical experience that counts. However, this picture changes during the first decade of the career. Prof. Mayrhofer explains, "After ten years in the profession, people with good grades and a high pace during their studies will earn more."

Third - personality is less important than previously assumed. Only leadership motivation has an important influence on successful careers. Other factors such as need for achievement, flexibility and emotional stability have very little effect on the success of a career.

Fourth - the project "Me" as advertising firm. Even though there is only a weak overall link between career tactics and successful careers, self-promotion can be particularly successful. Project co-director Prof. Steyrer says, "Whilst it was previously recommendable to act with restraint, today one benefits by emphasising one’s abilities and ideas. Playing to the galleries is more profitable than to work on relationships."

Gender Matters
Prof. Mayrhofer and his team offer further interesting results on the influence of the gender on the development of careers. The study provides some empirical evidence, hitherto missing, that the influence of gender on salary and managerial responsibility is higher than the influence of personality.

Project co-director Prof. Michael Meyer explains, "In the course of ten years, women earn over 71,000 euro less than men even when the only difference is their gender and they have the same uninterrupted course of career. The discrimination of women is thus blatantly obvious. Career interruptions of males have a stronger impact on income and status, however at a higher level."

A gender-specific link between the educational levels of parents and careers can be also found. Sons of parents with higher education receive clearly more salary later on; daughters on the other hand are significantly more discontent. As the study shows, especially daughters of successful parents experience frustration with gender-specific obstacles to their careers.

The results of the project funded by the FWF demonstrate the immediate benefit of basic research for everyday life. The insight into career trajectories informs managements and educational institutions on careers of graduates. Likewise, it offers orientation for job applicants. The book entitled "Macht? Erfolg? Reich? Glücklich? Einflussfaktoren auf die Karrieren" (Power? Success? Wealth? Happiness? Factors influencing careers) edited by Prof. Mayrhofer and his colleagues, Prof. Meyer and Prof. Steyrer, offers a comprehensible guideline in these areas.

Till C. Jelitto | alfa
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