When we are growing up we are often asked what it is we want to be as an adult. Astronaut, athlete, pop star, doctor. Of course, we are in the midst of this period of tumultuous change when the very concept of having just one career seems rather naive, and yet the choices we make […]
When we are growing up we are often asked what it is we want to be as an adult. Astronaut, athlete, pop star, doctor. Of course, we are in the midst of this period of tumultuous change when the very concept of having just one career seems rather naive, and yet the choices we make during these formative, and often ill-informed, years have a significant impact on our future careers, whether that is how much we earn or whether we enjoy our career.
When we ask young people what they want to be when they are older, it’s not only a silly question because they lack the awareness of the multitude of possible careers they could have, but they are also highly unlikely to be the same person at 30 or 40 as they were when they were 16 or 17. Perhaps if we appreciated just how much not only is our personality likely to change as we age, but how much we can help to shape that change, it would also change our perspective on our future career.
A new paper from the University of Houston highlights how the changes we undergo in our personality between adolescence and young adulthood can predict a number of things about our future career, including our income, satisfaction, both in terms of job and career, degree attainment, and occupational prestige. The researchers argue that we have traditionally viewed personality traits as a stable set of variables that do not change much as we grow older.
"However, stability does not preclude the possibility of change, as personality traits change characteristically at different periods of the life span," they explain. "Yet not all young people change in the same way. It is not yet known whether individual differences in personality change during young adulthood meaningfully predict career success over and above adolescent personality."
The researchers gathered two longitudinal samples of a diverse group of Icelandic youngsters to test whether long-term personality changes can influence our career outcomes over and above things like our ability. The hypothesis is that the way in which our personality changes has a bigger impact on our career outcomes than any other factor, so if we, for example, become more conscientious during our early adulthood, this could have a profound impact on our career.
Our formative years
The study shows that personality traits are generally quite enduring in the patterns of feelings, thoughts, and behaviors that they exhibit. What is more, these personality traits are highly predictive of success in a wide range of occupations. Whereas traditionally these traits have been viewed as a stable set of characteristics that largely define us, they believe they are very malleable.
What is more, this plasticity is particularly evident during our formative years. The researchers argue that it is relatively common for us to become more emotionally stable, agreeable, and conscientious during young adulthood, with these changes underpinning personal maturity and a transition into a professional career.
Across a representative sample of some 1,775 Icelandic youngsters aged between 17 and 29, the researchers found that there was a particular potential for growth in conscientiousness, openness, and agreeableness. Of the other two traits in the so-called Big Five, extraversion tended to fall as we matured while emotional-stability levels were more constant.
The particular traits had a distinct impact on our careers. For instance, emotional stability was linked to income, whereas conscientiousness was linked to career satisfaction. The only time our personality was influential as adolescents were in relation to degree attainment and occupational prestige.
Shaping our careers
The researchers believe that understanding how our personality influences our career has a number of important consequences. For instance, when we assess personality to inform career decision-making, we should do more to make clear that personality is not something fixed but rather something that can, and will, change over time in meaningful ways.
"Second, there is wide interest in developing public policy and applied interventions to help young people develop and enhance personality and other socioemotional skills," the researchers explain. "We believe that young adulthood is often overlooked, even though research has shown that it is a key period for personality development."
Lastly, they argue that this awareness of the importance of personality changes in our future careers should inform our work in personality development, which could be especially important as we enter the era during which we are likely to have many more phases and careers than was evident in the past.
Now, perhaps more than ever, it’s important that young people are aware of the importance of mental agility and adaptability. The notion that our personality is changeable, and that these changes can have a profound impact on our careers, is central to this malleability.
Article written by: Orville Lynch, Jr.
Mr. Lynch, a member of the legendary two-time Ohio Civil Rights Hall of Fame Award winning Lynch Family.
Mr. Lynch is a nationally recognized urban media executive with over 20+ years of diversity recruitment and serial entrepreneur with numerous multi-million dollar exits.