Optimists Get Jobs More Easily — and Get Promoted More, Researchers Find

Recent research finds evidence that optimism pays off in job hunting and promotions.

Researchers Ron Kaniel (Fuqua School of Business, Duke), Cade Massey (Yale School of Management) and David T. Robinson (Fuqua School) studied the effect of an optimistic disposition on MBA students' job searches and then promotions in the two years after they graduated.

The bottom line? Optimists fared better than their less-optimistic peers in some important ways, the researchers report in a recent National Bureau of Economic Research working paper. For one thing, the optimistically inclined MBA students found comparable jobs to their peers -- but found them more easily, with less-intensive job searches.  Even better, two years after graduation, the optimists were more likely than their less-optimistic peers to have been promoted.

Interestingly, the better job-hunting performance doesn't appear to occur because optimists have information that might objectively lead them to believe they'll do better. For example, when the researchers asked the MBA students about their likely salary package in their first job, the optimists tended to predict that their starting earnings would be higher than average for their peers -- but optimists didn't, in fact, end up with higher average starting salaries.

The researchers also asked the MBA students in the study to identify those students in their MBA section who were the most charismatic, the most likely to become CEO or the most optimistic -- to try to see if optimistic students were optimistic because they were more personable. In general, optimists did turn out to be perceived by their peers as more charismatic  -- but that accounted for only a fraction (at most approximately 1/3) of their greater success in the labor market.

What's the rest of that success attributable to? The researchers can't say for sure, but they note that other research has suggested that people who are optimistic by disposition are good at coping with problems and flexible about trying new courses of action when needed. And, the authors point out, there's the question of self-fulfilling prophecies. 

Interestingly, the researchers note that their findings suggest that appearing to others to be optimistic if you're not would yield some -- but not all --  of the job-hunting benefits of a naturally optimistic disposition.

So if you aren't actually optimistic, you may get some of the career benefits of optimism by successfully pretending to be so!  Maybe the old song "Keep Your Sunny Side Up" was right....

15 Comments On: Optimists Get Jobs More Easily — and Get Promoted More, Researchers Find

  • Metto Tapkey | October 22, 2010

    Thats what we christians call Faith…It can actually move the mountains

  • John Mack | October 28, 2010

    Didn’t the optimism of Wall Street bring on this super recession?

    Didn’t optimism get us into the Iraq war?

    Is optimism the same as blind boosterism?

    Isn’t optimism fueling Islamic terrorists?

    God help the USA. A previous comment equated optimism with Christian faith. Faith requires humility, or at least it used to. Yes, faith can lead to optimism but not an egocentric optimism. And it often leads to courage and fortitude in the face of adversity and injustice.

  • A R | October 28, 2010

    Mr. Mack,

    I think you’re confusing optimism with recklessness.

    Cheers!

  • VK Shrotryia | October 28, 2010

    I truly had this perception about optimism and optimists… Good that now I can cite this work and say Optimists do better at job front, which results in getting them jobs easier than others and they get their promotions more regularly….

    thanx Ron, Kade and David…..

  • Paula | October 29, 2010

    I am happy that more and more people and researchers are taking seriously this thing… Attitude is everything to succeed, so be positive all the time, but truly, you have to feel it and believe it!! It works! so,totally believe in this article. Thanks!

  • Guss | October 29, 2010

    John Mack
    you are confusing optimism and positive thinking with overconfidence and underestimating of enemy’s power!

  • Joanna Gurchiek | November 24, 2010

    From a spiritual (not necessarily Christian) perspective, optimism could be thought of as a sense of well being coupled with faith in the creative process of the Universe. Optimists share a deep sense of gratitude and appreciation for all that they have experienced and all that they could potentially experience. Add focused intention to those thoughts and beliefs, and creation happens. Simple, but not necessarily easy.

  • Annie Zirkel | November 24, 2010

    When talking about optimism it is important to have a qualifier. Realistic, Practical, Honest Optimism. The challenge with optimism is that it is future focused. We don’t know until that future if what we were practicing was honest optimism or denial. And that still doesn’t address morals.

    @John Mack – Being optimistic that you can accomplish something does not mean that that pursuit is a good idea. For this you need to look at values.

    Optimism is a valuable practice when done well. Thanks for the story.

  • Matthew Souther | November 24, 2010

    It’s not that I’m necessarily questioning the scientific methods used at Duke and Yale, but based on this article’s account of the situation, these researchers’ line of inquiry seems to be more of a chicken-and-egg scenario than anything we can really believe in. Is it possible that instead of optimism causing employability, it could be employability that is making people optimistic?

    I’m all for trying to manage your attitudes, but maybe I wouldn’t automatically rule out the idea that attitudes are based on actual reality… Let’s give people a little bit of credit.

  • Pigbitin Mad | November 29, 2010

    I agree that most overconfidence is mistaken for optimism. This refusal to look at the downside at all costs is what is leading this country to ruin. Anyone who tries to suggest that something may not work, or be a good idea is immediately branded as a “negative creep.” I am pretty sure I might still have a job if management hadn’t been overly optimistic and pouring money into a project that I really thought was hopeless.

    I think being a “realist” is equal in most people’s minds to being negative. (However, it is true that in this Pollyanna world, Pollyanna ass kissers people get promoted.

    THAT IS WHY I REALLY HATE MY OWN COUNTRY. In the UK people don’t act like this.

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  • MOHD MATEEN | May 13, 2012

    Being optimist definitely gives me the confidence of taking up any job/ assignment. I never get nervous.I never think that I will not be able to perform or do justice. This quality is well appreciated by others. So be optimist!

    Mohd Mateen

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