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Talent over Social Networks in Terms of Career Advancement

Update Date: Mar 31, 2012 02:27 AM EDT

Intelligence wins out over socio-economic status when it comes to career advancement according to a new study.

Conventional wisdom tells us that in the business world, "you are who you know" - your social background and professional networks outweigh talent when it comes to career success. But it was found that making the right connection only gets your foot in the door. Your future success is entirely up to you, says Prof. Yoav Ganzach, researcher at Recanati School of Management of Tel Aviv University.

When intelligence and socio-economic background (SEB) are pitted directly against one another, intelligence is a more accurate predictor of future career success, he argues. Although those with good social backgroud tended to start higher on the office totem pole with better entry-level wages, the research discovered a direct correlation between intelligence and an upward wage trajectory, defined as the rate at which an employee was rewarded with salary raises.

Ganzach says that these findings of the study, have a positive message for those who can't rely on nepotism for their first job placements. "Your family can help you launch your career and you do get an advantage, but it doesn't help you progress. And once you start working, you can go wherever your abilities take you," Ganzach says.

Data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, a survey of 12,868 Americans from 1979 through 2004, was analyzed for Ganzach's study. Participants underwent annual or bi-annual interviews in relation to promotions and earnings. From this group, he eliminated all participants who had any post-secondary education, ensuring that intelligence and SEB were the sole factors in the comparison.

Intelligence was calculated using the results of each participant's Armed Forces Qualifying Test, and SEB was calculated based upon parental education, family income, and the occupational status of the parents. By tracking the participants over 25 years, from the beginning to the middle stages of their careers, the researcher obtained an accurate picture of the influence of each factor on their economic success.

Taking into account each participant's rate of advancement throughout the career arc, the data confirmed that while both intelligence and SEB influended entry-level wages, only intelligence had an influence on the pace of pay increases throughout the years. When looking at rates of advancement, intelligence won out over SEB when it comes to career advancement.

One of the limitations of the study, says Prof. Ganzach, is that it doesn't account for other possible variables, such as personality, social skills, and the ability to work well in a group. Future research might also look at different measures of success, such as occupational success or job satisfaction, and explore whether these results also apply to employees with different education levels, such as university graduates.

The study was published in the journal Intelligence.  

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