Career Research: How to Measure Career Success

by Desalina Guarise and James W. Kostenblatt

This is the first of several blog posts that will explore career-related research and feature interviews with those researchers. Let us know if you have individuals you would like to see featured.

As recipients of a NACE Research Grant, we will be kicking off a study this fall to explore the long-term impact unpaid internships have on career success (30 institutions are participating and we are looking for more partners to join; contact us if interested!) As a part of this project, we began exploring how to define  and measure career success—a complicated and somewhat nebulous concept. Luckily, we came across a research study recently published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior, “Development of a New Scale to Measure Subjective Career Success: A Mixed-Methods Study” 37.1 (2015): 128-53, where Dr. Kristen Shockley and her colleagues did the heavy lifting for us. We will be using both objective measure of success (i.e. salary) and the subjective measures Dr. Shockley developed in our study.

In an interview, Dr. Shockley shared details about her research and the release of the “Subjective Career Success Inventory”—a 24-item questionnaire and validated measure of career success that resulted from the study.

Tell us about your professional background. How did you come to focus on career-related research?
I did my undergraduate degree at the University of Georgia and my Ph.D. in Industrial organizational psychology from the University of South Florida. From beginning of my doctoral program I was interested in how people manage work and family and how to have a fulfilling work life and personal life at the same time.

In the article, you mention that measures of career success have evolved over time, shifting from objective measures to subjective measures. Tell us more about this evolution.
Years ago, you started at one company, paid your dues, and retired from that company. Now people have something like seven jobs over the course of their career.  With this shift people’s values have also changed. When we interviewed people for the study, they spoke about how important it is to having a meaningful personal life outside of their career as well as clear work/life boundaries. They also want to feel like their work is meaningful. When we looked at the existing career research, they used to measure career success very objectively—you are successful if you make a lot of money. The previous subjective measures were just about satisfaction. That’s where this career success model—the subjective model—came from; it takes into account these newer values. 

Tell us about your development of the Subjective Career Success Inventory?
We began by conducting interviews and focus groups with people from all different types of careers. We then transcribed all of the interviews, coded them, and came up with themes. Finally we focused on testing the scale for validity and reliability. The research took seven years from start to finish and we ended up with a 24-item questionnaire broken out into eight dimensions or categories that were important to these professionals when assessing their own career success: recognition, quality work, meaningful work, influence, authenticity, personal life, growth and development, and satisfaction.  

What implications do you think this has for practitioners like ourselves in career services?
Practitioners already know that it’s a daunting task for students to pick a field to go into. It’s important to have some sense of what you value and how likely it is that those values will map onto careers you are considering. This research further supports the importance of students reflecting on their values and thinking beyond objective measures of career success when decision-making. 

What are you working on now with your research?
Right now I’m trying to establish an inventory for the family-friendliness of different career paths using data from O*Net.  Hopefully this will help students and professionals make decisions about which career path may be right for them.

If you’d like to participate in research exploring the long-term impact unpaid internships have on career success , contact Alina Guarise or James Kostenblatt.

Alina GuariseDesalina (Alina) Guarise, Associate Director of Career Advancement Center at Lake Forest College
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/desalina

 

 

 

James W. Kostenblatt

James, W. Kostenblatt, Associate Director, New York University’s Wasserman Center for Career Development
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jameskostenblatt

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