Job Success Part II


Job Success Part II

  • By Ian Bradley
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In this second post related to the theme of success, I would like to address success in the workplace.  As a Montreal-based executive coach and workplace counselor, I often hear something like:

“I’m doing my job well, but I’m not getting promoted!”

It’s the common refrain of technically competent people who accomplish their job tasks, even with timeliness and accuracy, but who lack other skills that influence promotion in an even more direct fashion.

What does the research in Psychology say about the predictors of promotion?

By way of caution, it is important to state a caveat about this research.  It is referred to as the criterion problem.  Specifically, researchers are often confounded in identifying those who actually gained a promotion – the identified criterion group of success- from others who might have worked long and hard enough to legitimately merit one and for reasons beyond their control failed to gain one.

For example, working well in a company losing market share probably isn’t going to get you into the group labeled “successful.”  Similarly, working creatively for a boss who seeks adherence rather than independence will probably result in lower performance ratings that again might move deserving folks out of the success group.  But leaving aside these external factors that might unfairly derail success, what do we know from the research?

A good education helps but in many industries, for example, high tech aerospace where many of my clients work, everyone is an engineer. Similarly, all of my doctors graduated from medical school, and my client lawyers from Law School.  I’m not aware of any performance appraisal program that continues to consider GPA’s.

One indirect source of evidence about what makes for career success is reflected in employer comments about what they are looking for in employees.  A US Department of Labor survey in 1991 and a more recent 200 Report from the Conference Board of Canada said that, in addition to technical competency, the major requirements were interpersonal skills, or more generally social competence.

That’s probably why, despite their poor predictive validity, interviews remain so popular for recruiters seeking to find subtle facial and bodily features  that identify team players or cooperative employees.

Most of this research is very nicely summarized in the Hogan article quoted in previous post.  Hogan’s research backed by years of experience resulted in a tripartite model of career success involving:

Social Competence

Technical Ability


The “Technical Ability” factor encompassed not only current skills but an ability to learn and adapt to new technology or procedures.  The “Ambition” factor referred to the drive and work effort of the employee to put in that extra effort to get the job done.  However, the third ingredient is often ignored by employees especially those that aren’t advancing, namely “social competency.”  One of the major expressions of this social competency is to ensure that colleagues find it rewarding to deal with you.  All too often, I’ve head the comment: “she knows her stuff, but what a pain she is to deal with.”

I tell my clients, that as unfair as it seems, knowing your stuff and working hard won’t get you there on their own.   Learning to be a team player, making interactions with others, both efficacious and smooth, having bosses like you are all required ingredients of success.