The Five O’Clock Club Sponsored a Study
to Help You Get Ahead:
Understand Your Industry; Develop Your Contacts
by Terri Lowe, Ph.D.
People who see themselves as successful told us that they:
- are knowledgeable about trends in their industry
- are satisfied with the steps they have taken in managing their careers
- are able to articulate their strengths clearly
- are able to respond well to change
- feel confident that they can market themselves effectively
- have an extensive network of contacts in their industry.
Our analysis suggests that these coping resources and behaviors are among the most important when it comes to career success.
Given all of the changes taking place in the world of work today, people need to have a new set of skills and resources to ensure their employability (Waterman, 1994). With the changing employer-employee contract, employees are no longer assured of lifetime employment–or even long-term employment–with a single employer. In fact, in some respects the information age is leading the world of work to look more as it did in centuries past. For example, in the agricultural society of the 1800′s, individuals took on multiple and varied tasks to ensure their prosperity and survival. Maintaining the farm, planting and harvesting crops, baking the bread and putting a new roof on the family house were all necessary tasks and everyone in the family pitched in. People had to be “Jacks and Jills of all trades” in order to keep the farm producing and the home fires burning.
Those who feel that they are able to market themselves effectively report that they:
- have a defined strategy to achieve their plans
- are able to articulate their skills
- are able to articulate areas in which they need to improve themselves
- are able to articulate their strengths.
It was only in the industrial age that the concept of “a job” was created (Bridges, 1994). For the first time, a worker reported to work for a given period of time to carry out a relatively structured and unvarying set of tasks, whereupon he or she would return home at the end of the “work day.” However, today, workers find themselves, out of necessity, moving back toward the entrepreneurial “Jack or Jill of all trades” scenario. To ensure their employability, people need to have a greatly enlarged bag of tricks (e.g., skills and abilities) in order to ensure their prosperity and survival. Consequently, there is a new emphasis on career management. It is up to the individual to manage his or her career effectively–in most cases, with minimal support from the employer.
To manage their careers effectively, people need to behave in new ways, develop new skills and competencies, and approach work with a new mind-set from that of the past fifty to a hundred years. To ensure their career success, they need to have a new set of coping resources.
Coping resources encompass all of the characteristics — psychological, social, intellectual, and behavioral–that an individual brings to the conference table, board room, or design studio. These resources are shaped and developed by the experiences a person has had over the course of his or her lifetime. They enable an individual to get along in the world. Some of the coping resources that are especially relevant in the world of work include:
- skills and abilities
- psychological characteristics (e.g., self-esteem, confidence, resilience, etc.)
- self-awareness (knowledge of own skills, strengths, work style, etc.)
- support systems
- knowledge of industry trends
- network of contacts
Coping behaviors are actions an individual carries out, based upon the coping resources at his or her disposal. Some of the coping behaviors involved in effective career management include:
- creating a career plan
- development and use of network and knowledge base to market oneself effectively
- acting in anticipation of industry and market trends
- writing an effective résumé
- conducting a job search
- getting the job done well
The result of successful coping behavior often bolsters an individual’s coping resources. For example, by creating a career plan (coping behavior), a person will often begin to feel more confident (coping resource) about the ability to manage his or her career.
Career success is the ultimate result of effective coping behavior and can be measured in a variety of ways. Some key indicators of career success are:
- satisfaction with one’s career
- satisfaction with one’s compensation
- feeling successful in one’s career
- effectively balancing work and personal concerns
This model has particular relevance in times of change. It is especially then that coping resources and coping behavior are important to success.
Based on this model, we expect that:
- people who have more coping resources will exhibit more coping behavior
- people who have more coping resources will be more successful
- people who exhibit more coping behavior will be more successful.
The recent changes at a major newspaper illustrate this. Due to increasing competitive pressures in the publishing industry, this paper closed one of their main editions after several years of publication. The shutdown of the edition, although anticipated among industry experts, was a shock to many employees. The Five O’Clock Club was retained by the firm to help employees during this career change.
The Five O’Clock Club sponsored a study measuring key predictors of career success for the journalists affected by the newspaper closing.
A 25-item survey measured a variety of issues related to coping resources, coping behaviors, and perceptions of career success. Approximately 110 journalists participated in the survey, which was distributed to them at meetings of The Five O’Clock Club within six weeks of the time the paper announced the closing of the edition.
Key findings provide insight into survey respondents’ perceptions of their career success. Results of the survey show that career confidence and confidence in the ability to market oneself effectively are key drivers of perceptions of career success. The survey results confirm the important role of coping resources and coping behavior in achieving career success.
The majority (about 80%) of respondents feel that they are able to articulate their strengths and respond effectively to change. About half of the respondents (55-56%) also feel confident that they can market themselves, and report being knowledgeable of industry trends.
However, only 36% of respondents indicate that they are satisfied with the steps they’ve taken in managing their careers and only 18% report that they are satisfied with their network of contacts in the publishing industry. By making improvements in these areas, people are likely to begin to see improvements in their level of satisfaction with their career success.
Furthermore, only about 30% of survey respondents report that they had a backup plan for their careers and a strategy for achieving that plan at the time they heard the newspaper would close.
People who are confident that they could build a successful and satisfying career in a larger number of industries also report that they:
- are knowledgeable about trends across industries (not just their own)
- feel confident that they can market themselves effectively
Career Confidence is a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy:
If You Have Confidence, You’ll Do Better
Career confidence is a person’s sense of having the ability to manage his or her career successfully–no matter what the future holds. Research has shown that feelings of confidence with regard to a particular task are significantly correlated with success in doing that task (Bandura, 1986). For example, if I feel confident that I can rewire the electrical system in my house, I will be more likely to succeed at that task than if I feel less confident. There are a lot of factors that influence career confidence, including skills, abilities, past successes, and the faith that other people express in your abilities.
We measured career confidence in several ways. We asked respondents to indicate the number of industries in which they “were confident they could build a successful and satisfying career.” About half of the people (57%) responded by estimating 2-3 industries and a large number (34%) indicated 4 to 10 industries.
Having a high degree of career confidence is a coping resource that is likely to increase one’s perceived career success. However, most of the journalists we surveyed do not report having a high degree of career confidence. For example, many survey respondents report that they feel “below average” about the amount of time it will take them to find “a good job.” Seventy-eight percent report that it would take the average person one to six months to find a good job. But only 63% feel that they themselves would be able to find a good job within that time frame.
People who have a high level of career confidence also tend to report that they can market themselves effectively. This suggests that increasing career confidence is likely to help people market themselves effectively and, therefore, enhance their opinions of their career success.
Some of the key factors in achieving career success include career confidence and effectively marketing oneself. Some of the key ingredients include:
- knowledge of industry trends
- satisfaction with steps taken in managing one’s own career
- ability to clearly articulate strengths, skills, improvement areas
- ability to respond well to change
- having a large network of contacts
- defining a strategy to achieve career plans.
Ability to Market Oneself
The survey results show that confidence in the ability to market oneself effectively is key to achieving career confidence and feeling successful. However, only about half (56%) of our survey respondents report that they feel they can market themselves effectively.
Being strong in these areas is likely to improve the extent to which one can market oneself effectively. While the majority of respondents feel quite positive about their ability to articulate their skills and strengths, most are less positive about their ability to articulate their improvement areas and about having a defined strategy to achieve their plans.
By improving their ability to articulate improvement areas and defining a strategy to achieve their plans, the journalists surveyed are likely to improve their confidence in their ability to market themselves.
The situation at this metropolitan newspaper is only one example of events that are becoming much more frequent in today’s business environment. Such changes require both new coping resources and coping behaviors. These resources and behaviors play a critical role in determining career success, and will continue to do so in the future. More than ever, as we progress into the information age, people will need to become increasingly entrepreneurial and capable of doing a multiple and varied set of tasks.
- Bridges, W. (1994), Job Shift, Addison-Wesley
- Bandura, A. (1986), The Social Foundations of Thought and Action: A Social Cognitive Theory, Prentice-Hall: NJ.
- Waterman, R.H., Waterman, J.A., and Collard, B.A., Toward a Career-Resilient Workforce, Harvard Business Review, July-August 1994.
Terri Lowe is an industrial/organizational psychologist specializing in climate assessment, team building, and career development.
“For Americans are not a simple people, really:
with all of their wonderful energy, youthful willingness, faithful
dedication, they often do not really know what they want.”
A History of the Cold War