MBAs: Don't Worry, Be Happy

Posted by: Louis Lavelle on February 1, 2011

Don’t be such a sourpuss. That, in not so many words, is the upshot of new research that suggests that MBAs with an optimistic attitude are more likely to receive job offers and get promoted in their first two years on the job. It’s not the early bird that catches the worm. It’s the happy one.

The research was conducted by Ron Kaniel and David T. Robinson of Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and Cade Massey of the Yale School of Management. Between 2005 and 2007, the researchers surveyed 232 MBA students at an unidentified program about their “relative dispositional optimism”—the general belief that good things tend to happen more often than bad things—and related their answers to their job-search outcomes.

The researchers took pains to weed out any wayward variables like charisma, which they said is associated with optimism but does not account for the better job search performance of the optimistic MBAs. You may be thinking that better-prepared job candidates may be optimistic for a reason, and that that their excellent qualifications , rather than their optimism, got them the job offers. But the researchers found that while optimists typically think their chances of obtaining a high-paying job at a desirable employer are great, they’re usually wrong. Even GMAT scores didn’t matter.

What does? Well, they don’t really know. Optimists may be more motivated to work hard, they may benefit more from social support, or they may just have higher expectations for themselves.

What’s been your experience? Is optimism an asset on the job search? The paper, “The Importance of Being an Optimist: Evidence from Labor Markets,” can be purchased from the National Bureau of Economic Research.

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