The Secret to Job Search Success: Planning and a Positive Attitude

A University of Missouri study of 327 job seekers found that those who develop clear goals, implement plans for achieving them, and stay upbeat during their job search land more interviews and job offers than those job seekers who don't plan and aren't as positive.

From social networking websites and online job boards to career coaches and job search software, job seekers have more tools at their disposal than ever to help them find work. But the most important assets for today's job seeker are a positive attitude and the ability to develop and execute a job search plan, according to a new study from the University of Missouri.

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The goal of the study was to identify how certain personality traits—specifically, extroversion and conscientiousness—influence a job seeker's approach to the job search process and, ultimately, to their success. University of Missouri researchers, led by Management Department Chair Daniel Turban, gathered data on 327 graduating, undergraduate and graduate students from two large universities.

These job-seeking students, who ranged in age from 20 to 40, completed up to three surveys between September 2008 and May 2009. The first survey collected demographic and personality data. The second asked about their emotions, "metacognitive" activity (planning and goal setting), and any job-search results to date, such as the number of submitted résumés, interviews, or job offers. The last survey focused on actual employment outcomes.

The University of Missouri researchers found that conscientious and extroverted job seekers engaged in more metacognitive activities: They set goals, developed job search plans, assessed their skills and monitored the progress of their job searches. These activities led them to submit more résumés and increased their chances of landing first-round interviews.

Extraverted job seekers also reported feeling positive throughout the job search process. The researchers found that positive job seekers were more likely to engage in metacognitive activities, more likely to score follow-up interviews, and more likely to receive job offers than people with less positive attitudes.

A job seeker's conscientiousness also had a direct impact on the job offers they received. "Perhaps conscientious job seekers conducted better quality job searches by scrutinizing their fit with prospective employers more carefully or more effectively following up with employers (e.g., sending thank you notes that emphasized qualifications)," wrote the researchers in a paper published in the journal Personnel Psychology.

Good planning, of course, resulted in early job search outcomes, such as the number of résumés submitted and first interviews obtained. "Early in the search, job seekers' success is linked with their capacity to develop clear goals and plans, analyze their skills, and monitor progress," researchers wrote. "Job seekers who develop and enact plans are better able to target openings for which their skills are well suited and thus reap greater rewards in the form of more initial interviews."

A job seeker's attitude is even more important in the later phases of a job search. "Our data also suggest that job seekers' metacognitive activities became less critical to success once their interviews began," researchers wrote. "Positive emotions were related to success in obtaining second interviews and job offers, controlling for early success."

Job seekers may not be able to change their personalities, but they can become more self-disciplined and upbeat—and this might be just the impetus they need to land a job.

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