If you were like this as a teenager, you will have a more successful career

Getting started is frequently the hardest part of any task or process, and that certainly rings true when it comes to building a successful career.

Modern young professionals trying to get their career off the ground are often faced with a maddening dilemma: if even entry-level jobs require years of experience, where does that leave the recent college grad with an exceedingly short resume?

Besides concrete job experience, a new study from the University of Houston has identified a few personality changes during young adulthood associated with greater early career success.

Researchers say young adults (roughly 18-30 years old) who cultivate and develop higher levels of conscientiousness, emotional stability, and extraversion usually see greater growth, advancement, and stability early on in their career.

“Results revealed that certain patterns of personality growth predicted career outcomes over and above adolescent personality and ability,” comments Kevin Hoff, assistant professor of industrial-organizational psychology at the University of Houston, in a release.

No one’s personality remains the same throughout their life. As each of us moves through this existence we build up a lifetime’s worth of experiences and memories that are bound to change how we perceive and interact with the world.

Not all personality changes are positive; many people end up growing more jaded, negative, and introverted as the years go by.

The more positive personality changes listed by researchers, however, can help any young professional but their best business foot forward. 

Qualities like conscientiousness (work diligence, attention to detail) and emotional stability aren’t exactly synonymous with adolescence and one’s teenage years.

Teenagers are usually thought of (sometimes unfairly) as distracted, moody, and less than thorough when it comes to responsibilities. So, it makes sense that these positive personality shifts from adolescence to adulthood are linked to better career outcomes. 

It’s normal, even expected, to not be all that emotionally stable, conscientious, or extraverted as a teen. But, once one enters the workforce, working on building up these traits can go a long way. 

No one’s saying changing one’s personality is easy. We all have our natural tendencies and behavioral habits, which usually prove hard to break. That being said, the study’s authors say anyone can change their personality for the better with some sustained effort. 

“The study showed you’re not just stuck with your personality traits, and if you change over time in positive ways, that can have a big impact on your career,” Hoff explains.

Somewhat surprisingly, this is the first piece of research to focus specifically on how personality changes during young adulthood impact career outcomes.

How were these conclusions reached? Two groups of young adults from Iceland were tracked for a period of 12 years (roughly the age of 17 to 29 years old). Across both participant samples, subjects who showed growth in measures of conscientiousness, emotional stability, and extraversion over time reached greater career success than their peers.

Regarding more exact standards of career success, conscientiousness improvements predicted more career satisfaction. Meanwhile, greater emotional stability was linked to higher income and more career satisfaction, and extraversion fostered career and job satisfaction.

“Adolescent trait levels also predicted career success, highlighting the long-term predictive power of personality. Overall, the findings highlight the importance of personality development throughout childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood for promoting different aspects of career success,” Hoff concludes.

Again, if we could all snap our fingers and be more outgoing, emotionally stable, and industrious, life and business would be a whole lot easier across the board. The human condition isn’t that simple, though, and all any of us can do is try and make today just a little better than yesterday. Now we know which personality goals to shoot for.

The full study can be found here, published in Psychological Science.