Research: Which skills result in increased salary/career success

LessWrong.com has an interesting article about a study of what skills/tactics correlate with higher salaries. Specifically, the authors analyzed 200 studies of career success and their causes, and tried to figure out what skills have the highest correlation with higher salaries.

According to the article, here is what results in highest chances of success:

  • Find managers (or other seniors) who will “sponsor” you (i.e. take an interest in advancing your career)
  • Be politically savvy
  • Convincing people with rational arguments works better than lying to them
  • Flattery works (especially if the target does not realize you’re trying to flatter them; but even when the target realizes it)
  • Act modest
  • Avoid blatant self-promotion

Here are some interesting excerpts which give interesting data-points and actual numbers from the study:

Ng et al. performed a metastudy of over 200 individual studies of objective and subjective career success. Here are the variables they found best correlated with salary:

Predictor

Correlation

Political Knowledge & Skills

0.29

Education Level

0.29

Cognitive Ability (as measured by standardized tests)

0.27

Age

0.26

Training and Skill Development Opportunities

0.24

Hours Worked

0.24

Career Sponsorship

0.22

(all significant at p = .05)


(For reference, the “Big 5” personality traits all have a correlation under 0.12.)

Before you get carried away, remember this:

Before we go on, a few caveats: while these correlations are significant and important, none are overwhelming (the authors cite Cohen as saying the range 0.24-0.36 is “medium” and correlations over 0.37 are “large”).

This table gives an idea of which tactics work best for career success. Higher numbers are good. Lower numbers indicate that those tactics don’t really work. Negative numbers indicate that those tactics will actually hurt your chances.

Recently, Higgins et al. reviewed 23 individual studies of these tactics and how they relate to career success. Their results:


Tactic

Correlation

Definition (From Higgins et al.)

Rationality

0.26

Using data and information to make a logical argument supporting one’s request

Ingratiation

0.23

Using behaviors designed to increase the target’s liking of oneself or to make oneself appear friendly in order to get what one wants

Upward Appeal

0.05

Relying on the chain of command, calling in superiors to help get one’s way

Self-Promotion

0.01

Attempting to create an appearance of competence or that you are capable

of completing a task

Assertiveness

-0.02

Using a forceful manner to get what one wants

Exchange

-0.03

Making an explicit offer to do something for another in exchange for their doing what

one wants

(Only ingratiation and rationality are significant.)

This site has a lot of information on how to make rational appeals, so I will focus on the less-talked-about ingratiation techniques.

So, modesty is good, self-promotion is bad. Here are details of how to present yourself:

Self-presentation is split further:

Tactic

Weighted Effect Size

Comment

Modesty

0.77

Apology

0.59

Apologizing for poor performance

Generic

0.28

When the participant is told in generic terms to improve their self-presentation

Self-promotion

-0.17

Nonverbal behavior and name usage

-0.14

Nonverbal behavior includes things like wearing perfume. Name usage means referring to people by name instead of a pronoun.

And finally some more details about flattery:

If you are talking to your boss, your tactics should be different than if you’re talking to a subordinate. Other-enhancement (flattery) is always the best tactic no matter who you’re talking to, but when talking to superiors it’s by far the best. When talking to those at similar levels to you, opinion conformity comes close to flattery, and the other techniques aren’t far behind.

Unsurprisingly, when the target realizes you’re being ingratiating, the tactic is less effective. (Although effectiveness doesn’t go to zero – even when people realize you’re flattering them just to suck up, they generally still appreciate it.) Also, women are better at being ingratiating than men, and men are more influenced by these ingratiating tactics than women.

Read the full article, it has a bunch of interesting references that the motivated reader is urged to read.

From Poverty to Power: Rise of Somaliland challenges conventional wisdom

Oxfam Blogs has an extremely interesting article that compares the rise of Somaliland vs. the fall of its neighbor Somalia, and points out how this completely upends conventional wisdom regarding foreign aid and other aspects of building a country.

Here are some excerpts:

The peace process was almost entirely locally funded, due to Somaliland’s unrecognized status (so no bilateral aid or loans were available). That produced a strong sense of local ownership (literally). In the words of one minister, when asked by Phillips about aid ‘Aid is not what we desire because [then] they decide for us what we need’.

And, in some aspects of country-building, there was no pretense at “democracy” or fairness, ideas that would have been imposed by outside in case of foreign aid. For example, consider this:

The second president used private loans to demobilise about 5,000 militia fighters. He offered stability (and tax breaks) to the business elite in exchange for funding demobilisation and the nascent state institutions. This was effective but certainly not inclusive – the elite came mainly from the President’s own clan. But according to Phillips, Somalilanders generally still see it as a legitimate process – that’s what leaders do.

And the most revealing aspect, for me, was the approach to education. Elite education available to only a few was found to be more important than universal elementary education:

The paper highlights the critical political importance of elite secondary schools in forging leadership. Available to a relatively small group of often privileged Somalilanders, this is in stark contrast to the donor emphasis on universal primary education. In particular, many of Phillips’ interviews led to the Sheekh Secondary School, set up by Richard Darlington, who fought in WWII as the commander of the Somaliland Protectorate contingent. Sheekh took only 50 kids a year and trained them in leadership, critical thought and standard (Darlington borrowed from the curriculum of his old school, Harrow). Sheekh provided 3 out of 4 presidents, plus any number of vice presidents, cabinet members etc. And no it isn’t a weird Somaliland version of Eton and Harrow (I asked) – it stressed student intake from all clans, especially from the more marginalized ones.

Read the full article – it’s quite short, and must read if this is an area of interest for you.

Source: @makarand_s