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Lee, C. & Erez, M., (1997). Effects of Career Self Management and Personal Predispositions on Career Advancement, Research and Practice in Human Resource Management, 5(1), 17-32.

Effects of Career Self Management and Personal Predispositions on Career Advancement

Cynthia Lee & Mariam Erez


The present study examines the effects of career self management variables and personal dispositions on four facets of career success: Speed of promotion, performance ratings, job satisfaction, and career satisfaction. One hundred and twenty seven part time MBA students in early career stages, working full time, participated in the study. Career self management variables consisted of career goal specificity and difficulty, career self efficacy, and career strategies. Personal disposition was assessed by achievement striving, which is one component of Type A behavior. Results demonstrated that the three facets of career success: speed of promotion, job performance, and satisfaction, are independent of each other. Personal dispositions accounted for most of the variance in three criteria of career success except for speed of promotion. Career self efficacy was positively related to speed of promotion but was negatively related to job performance. Career strategies were mainly related to job and career satisfaction. The findings shed light on the relative importance of personal predispositions versus career self management variables in the early career stages.


Traditional models of career development have focused on personal dispo sitions as explanatory variables of career success such as occupational interests, personality variables, or values (Holland, 1973; Schein, 1978). Recent development has emphasized the dynamic interaction between the individual and the environment as a key factor in successful career development (e.g., Hall, 1986; Greenhaus, 1987; Kotter, 1988). These models stress the importance of career self-management and of personal control over the process of career development (Bandura, 1986; Greenberger and Strasser, 1986; Locke & Latham, 1990). The process of career self-management involves information seeking on the work environment and job opportunities, the setting of realistic career goals, self-evaluation on the level of self-efficacy in goal attainment, and the development of career strategies for goal attainment (Feldman, 1988; Greenhaus, 1987). Thus career self-management reflect malleable individual characteristics that reflect the way individuals interact with their environment (Erez & Schohat, 1990).

The distinction between personal versus situational effects on career development reflects the general debate in organizational behavior on the relative effect of personal disposition versus situational factors on organizational behavior. Advocates of the former approach demonstrate the effect of genetic characteristics on work satisfaction, which was traditionally known to be situationally determined (Arvey et al., 1989). On the other hand, representatives of the situational approach strongly criticize the missing role of context on organizational behavior (Cappeli & Sherer, 1991).

In a similar vein, Kanfer and Ackerman (1989) examined the relative effectiveness of ability as a personal disposition and of externally set goals on individual performance in different stages of skill acquisition. Their research demonstrated that ability is more highly related to performance in early stages of skill acquisition whereas goal effects are more significant in advanced stages of skill acquisition.

Following the above developments, the present study aims at integrating the personal dispositional and situational approaches and studies the effects of these integrative approaches of career self-management on career success. According to Erez (1992), the self is conceived as a dynamic self-regulatory processes. Self- management is a dynamic process of self-regulation. This process consists of: (a) The setting of goals that represent proximal and enduring self-definitions; (b) planning or strategy selection to facilitate goal attainment; (c) self-monitoring, which takes place as people attend to various aspects of their behavior, including intensity, direction, and quality; (d) judgmental processes, which evaluate the behavior according to certain standards, and (e) self-reaction, including self-reinforcement (Bandura, 1986; Kanfer, 1980; Kanfer, 1992; Markus & Wurf, 1987).

Our study focuses on examining the effectiveness of achievement striving as a personal disposition, and of career self-management as contingent upon contextual characteristics, on the four indexes of career success. As in Judge, Cable, Boudreau, & Bretz (1995), career success is defined as “the positive psychological or work-related outcomes or achievements one has accumulated as a result of one’s work experiences” (p. 486). As in Judge et al. (1995), career success is measured in objective and subjective terms. In objective terms it is often measured as performance appraisal and speed of promotion. According. to Judge et al., the objective criteria are often observable career accomplishments which can be measured against the metrics of pay and ascendancy. Since performance appraisal is often used to determine pay raises and/or bonus, and speed of promotion is a form of observable exoteric metric, we used these two indices to measure objective career success.

Judge et al. (1995) suggested the use of subjective career success measures. This is because past research has suggested that many individuals who are extrinsically successful do not feel successful nor satisfied with their achievements (Korman, Wittig-Berman, & Lang, 1981), so it is important to consider both objective and subjective evaluations of career success (Howard & Bray, 1988; Gattiker. & Larwood, 1989). As in Judge et al. (1995), subjective career success is measured by job and career satisfaction since a career is a sequence of work-related positions (jobs) occupied throughout a person’s life (London & Stumpf, 1982).

One component of Type A behavior, achievement striving, is a personal disposition which reflects the extent to which people work hard, are active, and take their work seriously, has been found to relate positively to job and academic performance (Bluen, Barling, & Burns, 1990; Lee, 1992; Lee et al., .1996). Price (1982) suggests that individuals high in achievement striving behaviors may be achieving constantly in order to obtain and gain the approval of others. In this case, speed of career promotion and career success may be of great importance to those high in achievement striving. People with this belief typically set excessively high performance standards, achieve a lot and do everything perfectly. This forni of behavioral self-regulation describes the process of the underlying purposeful, goal-directed activities of those engaged in achievement striving behaviors.

The research literature on goal setting has clearly demonstrated that specific and challenging goals lead to high performance levels as compared to general goals and less challenging ones (Locke & Latham, 1990). Goals direct both attention and effort to accomplish certain behavioral outcomes. A recent study by Stock and Cervone (1990) suggests that proximal goals serve as highly effective self-regulators that affect self-efficacy for task completion and performance. Further, they found that those who attained assigned proximal goals were more satisfied with their progress, affected their self-evaluative reactions positively, and persisted on the task significantly longer than those individuals who either did not attain the proximal goals or who had not been assigned one to attain. It is reasonable to expect that short-term self-set specific and challenging career goals will be positively related to career success. However, there is very little empirical research on the effects of career goals on career success (Greenhaus, 1987).

Career goals are closely related to perceived self-efficacy, which is the judgment of one’s capability to accomplish a certain level of performance (Bandura, 1986). People tend to set themselves goals and to undertake actions they judge themselves to be capable of handling. Lent and Hackett (1987) demonstrated in their review that there is a growing empirical support for the extension of self- efficacy theory to career relevant behavior. Empirical investigations of career self- efficacy concern with the content dimensions of career choice behaviors, such as the academic major or occupational selection of individuals (Taylor & Popma, 1990), or the process of career choice, such as the examination of how career and academic decisions are made (Betz & Hackett, 1986; Taylor & Popma, 1990). These studies in career choices or development have not examined the role of self-efficacy in predicting career promotion, job performance, job and career satisfaction. Empirical studies of self-efficacy have consistently been associated with a variety of work-related behaviors, such as performance (Barling & Beattie, 1983; Taylor, Locke, Lee, & Gist, 1984), career choice (Lent, Brown, & Larkin, 1987), and learning and achievement (Campbell & Hackett, 1986; Wood & Locke, 1987). Together with goal setting as career self-management predictors, it is predicted that LHIJ specific and difficult goals, and self-efficacy will be positively related to job and career satisfaction, supervisor performance ratings, and speed of promotion.

The relationship between goals and performance is clearly observed in simple rather than in complex task situations (Wood, Mento, & Locke, 1987). Wood et aL’s meta-analysis indicated that assigned goals have weaker effects on performance of complex tasks that require strategy development than they do on performance of simple tasks on which performance is affected more directly by effort. The effects of assigned goals on a complex task can be enhanced by training or information that facilitates strategy development (Earley, Connolly, & Ekegren, 1989; Earley, Connolly, & Lee, 1989).

With regard to self-efficacy, a series of studies by Wood and Bandura (1989; Bandura & Wood, 1989; Wood, Bandura, & Bailey, 1990; and Cervone, Jiwani, & Wood, 1991) demonstrated that self-efficacy perceptions influence the quality of analytical thinking and problem solving on complex tasks. Figuring out how to promote one’s own career is not a simple task. It requires the development and engagement of career promotion strategies.

Career promotion strategies are behaviors which maybe utilized by an individual to decrease the time required for and uncertainty surrounding the attainment of important career objectives (Gould & Pentley, 1984). Gould and Pentley (1984) found that career strategies of networking, the practice of developing a system or “network” of contacts inside and/or outside the organization, thereby providing relevant career information and support for the individual, and seif-nomination/self-presentation,.a strategy aimed at communicating to superiors one’s desire to assume greater responsibility in the organization and at presenting oneself in the best possible light, were associated with salary progression of managers. Since the self-regulation models of goal setting and self-efficacy (Bandura, 1991; Locke & Latham, 1990) suggest that stronger self-efficacy and the setting of specific, difficult goals relate to higher persistence in effort. Thus, a third career promotion strategy, extended work involvement, such as working longer hours, taking work home overnight and over weekends during early career advancement years, is expected to be related positively to goal setting, self-efficacy, and career success. Lastly, organizations are constantly striving for improvement and change. A fourth strategy, initiation of change, is also predicted to relate to career success. Thus, it can be predicted that (HZ) goal setting and self-efficacy will be positively related to career promotion strategies; and (HZ) these four career promotion strategies will be positively related to.. job and career satisfaction, supervisor performance ratings, and speed of promotion.

A dimension of Type A .behavior, achievement striving, has been found to be positively related to academic achievement (Lee, Ashford, & Jamieson, 1993; Lee, 1992; Spence, Helmreich, & Pred, 1987; Spence, Pred, & Helmreich, 1989) and job performance (Bluen et a]., 1990). Lee eta]. (1993) found achievement striving to be positively associated with active or problem-focused coping strategy. Thus, it can be predicted that (H4) achievement striving behavior will be positively associated with career promotion strategies; and (115) achievement striving behavior will be positively related to job and career satisfaction, supervisor performance ratings, and speed of promotion.



Data were obtained from 127 part-time MBA students working full-time in the Northeastern region of the United States. These students were enrolled in their first MBA course at a large university. The sample consisted of 60.5 percent males and 39.5 percent females. The respondents’ average age was 29 with an average tenure in the company of 4 years and an average of 2 years in managerial positions. Participants voluntarily completed the questionnaire packet during class time and were assured confidentiality. The.response rate was 88 percent in part due to work-related travel or demand.


Career goals were measured in terms of specificity for the next two years. Subjects were asked “what is the managerial level they want to reach within the next two years”. They had to choose one of the following alternatives: (1). I want to reach the “X” level (80.3%); (2). I have not given it a thought, and I have no specific goals (5.5%); (3). I am not interested in advancing to another managerial level (3.4%); (4). I am interested in a technical rather than a managerial job (4.7%). A choice of alternative (2) indicated no specific goals. All other alternatives were coded as specific goals and 8 respondents (6.3%) did not indicate their preference.

Specific, difficult goals were coded high when an individual indicated in response to alternative (1) that he/she wants to move to a higher managerial level than the present one. Alternative 3 and 4 were coded as non-difficult goals since all the respondents have received technical training.

Self-efficacy strength was measured by a single item. Subjects who choose alternative 1 (specific goal) were asked to indicate in percentages the probability or chances that they could be promoted to the position (or managerial level) indicated. Since alternative 1 was consisted of many managerial levels, self-efficacy strength was measured by multiplying the percentage of the chances that they could be promoted to the managerial level and the indicated managerial level.

Achievement striving orientation was measured by 7 items (a=.72). This subscale was taken from the revised Jenkins Activity Survey designed to measure the achievement striving component of Type A behavior (Spence et al., 1987; 1989).

Career strategies were assessed from a 10 items developed by Gould and Pentley (1984). These 10 items formed 3 scales of career strategies: 1. extending work involvement (3 items, a=.71); 2. self-nomination/self-presentation (5 items, a=.69); 3. networking (2 items, a=.70). Two additional items were developed by Erez (1989) to measure initiation of change (a=.88).

Speed of Promotion as one of the indexes for career success was measured using a combination of two indices: the current position level and tenure in the organization. Subjects were divided at the median into high and low position level and tenure level. Three groups were formed: fast promoters (coded as 3; high position/low tenure), seniors (coded as 2; high position/high tenure), juniors (coded as 2; low position/low tenure), and plateaued managers (coded as 1; low position/high tenure).

To assess performance, we asked respondents to give their superiors a one- page questionnaire to fill out and received completed questionnaires from 53 superiors. The questionnaire asked superiors to rate their subordinates on four items. A sample item was: “In general, how would you characterize the performance level of this employee?” (1=not at all satisfactory to 7=extremely satisfactory), “Please rate the quality of the work this employee produces” (1=10w quality and 7=high quality), “Please rate the quantity of work this employee produces” (1=10w quantity and 7=high quantity), “Would you rate this employee’s performance as better, the same, or worse than other employees who perform the same job? (1=much worseand 7=much better). We summed these four items to form the performance scale (a=.71).

Job satisfaction was assessed with a single, five-point rating on overall job satisfaction (“Generally speaking, I am very satisfied with this job”) from the Job Diagnostic Survey (JDS; Hackrnan & Oldham, 1975). Scarpello and Campbell (1983) demonstrated that global ratings of overall job satisfaction may be a more inclusive measure of overall job satisfaction than the summation of many facets, we included job satisfaction here as a criterion of career success.

Career Satisfaction refers to the overall affective orientation of the individual toward his or her career or job role. According to Gattiker and Larwood (1988), career satisfaction is only one facet of a person’s job satisfaction. They further state that a person satisfied with his or her career may not be satisfied with another facet, e.g., working conditions, of his or her job. These six items were measured using a 5-point extremely dissatisfied to extremely satisfied format. We summed these items to form the career satisfaction scale (a=.77).


Table 1 shows the means, standard deviations, reliabilities, and intercorrelations of the variables used in this study. With the exception of career strategies of self-ndmination/presentation (a=.69), all the other multi-item scales’ reliabilities either at or exceeded the .70 value recommended by Nunnally (1978).

Table 1
Means, Standard Deviations, Reliabilities1 and Correlations
Scales Means s.d. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
1. Speed of Promotion 1.75 .74
2. Performance Ratings 5.78 .70 -.10 (.71)
3. Job Satisfaction 3.23 1.12 -.03 .10
4. Career Satisfaction 3.34 .71 -.02 .04 .65** (.77)
5. Specific Goal .94 .24 -.08 .07 .05 -.06
6. Difficult Goal 1.43 1.53 -.01 -.17 .03 .02 .54**
7. Self-efficacy Strength 128.26 123.77 .29** .29* .16* .15 .20* .53**
8. Achievement Striving 3.67 .52 -.05 .30** .24** .23** .08 .31** .29** (.72)
9. Self-nomination 3.62 .64 .05 .21 .27** .23** -.03 .12 .22** 54** (.69)
10. Extending Work Involvement 2.93 .95 .13 -.06 .21* .19** -.08 .20* .18* .42** .40** (.71)
11. Networking 3.29 1.00 .11 -.12 .10 .15* .09 .28** .36** .28** .45** .31** (.70)
12. Initiation of Change 3.65 1.00 .13 .20 .12 .11 .14 .14 .31** .34** .41** .41** .32** (.88)

1= Coefficient alpha reliability estimates are shown on the diagonal; no estimates are given for one-item measures
n=53-127 *p<.05 **p<.01

Career success was measured by four criteria: Two objective criteria of performance appraisal and speed of promotion; two subjective criteria of job satisfaction and career satisfaction. Table I demonstrated that the two objective criteria were not significantly correlated, whereas the two subjective criteria were highly correlated. The objective criteria were not correlated with the subjective ones.

To test the hypotheses, hierarchical regressions, recommended by Cohen and Cohen (1983) for its ability to provide a unique partitioning of the total variance in a dependent variable as accounted for by discrete sets of predictor variables, were used. As shown in Table 2, gender was entered in the first step followed by the predictors in the second step. The first hypothesis predicted that specific and challenging career goals and self-efficacy in attaining career goals would be positively related to career success criteria of speed of promotion, supervisor performance ratings, job and career satisfaction. Table 2 shows that specific and challenging career goals were unrelated to career success. However, self-efficacy predicted speed of promotion but was not significantly related to either performance ratings, job or career satisfaction.

Table 2
Hierarchical Regressions of Outcome Measures
Order of Entry Speed of Promotion Job Performance (n=53)
β R2 F ΔR2 β R2 F ΔR2
1. Demographics: Gender -.13 .02 1.56 -.02 .00 .01
2a. Specific Goal -.05 .19
2b. Difficult Goal -.19 -.15
2c. Self-Efficacy .43*** .16*** 3.79*** .14*** -.25 .11 .99 .11
2. Achievement Striving -.01 .02 .78 .00 .32* .10 1.85 .10*
Order of Entry Career Satisfaction Job Satisfaction
β R2 F ΔR2 β R2 F ΔR2
1. Demographics: Gender .11 .01 1.05 .07 .01 .44
2a. Specific Goal -.08 -.07
2b. Difficult Goal -.04 -.03
2c. Self-Efficacy .17 .04 .84 .03 .18 .03 .73 .02
2. Achievement Striving .22** .06* 2.47* .04** .24** .06* 2.57* .05**

n=114-127 *p<.10 **p<.05 ***p<.01

The second hypothesis predicted that goal setting and self-efficacy would be positively related to career promotion strategies. As shown in Table 3, while specific career goals were negatively and significantly related to extending work involvement, difficult goals were positively related to the same career strategy. Self- efficacy was positively and significantly related to networking and initiation of change. This finding means that specific goals which are not difficult and challenging in the sense of striving to higher organizational levels are not related to the strategy of extending work involvement.

Table 3
Hierarchical Regressions of Career Strategies Measures
Order of Entry Self-Nomination/Presentation Extending Work Involvement
β R2 F ΔR2 β R2 F ΔR2
1. Demographics: Gender .25*** .06** 5.89** .16 .02 2.17
2a. Specific Goal -.12 -.26**
2b. Difficult Goal .06 .30**
2c. Self-Efficacy .17 .10** 2.4** .04 .05 .10** 2.53** .08**
2. Achievement Striving .50*** .30*** 18.06*** .23*** .40*** .18*** 8.95*** .15***
Order of Entry Networking Initiation of Change
β R2 F ΔR2 β R2 F ΔR2
1. Demographics: Gender .12 .01 1.28 .15 .02 2.09
2a. Specific Goal -.05 .12
2b. Difficult Goal .14 -.11
2c. Self-Efficacy .28** .14*** 3.47*** .13*** .32*** .11** 2.67** .09**
2. Achievement Striving .26** .08** 3.64** .07** .31*** .11*** 5.62*** .09***

n=110-127 *p<.10 **p<.05 ***p<.01

The third hypothesis predicted that career promotion strategies would be positively related to career success outcomes. Table 4 shows that self-nomination was positively related performance ratings while networking showed a negative association with performance ratings. Networking was also negatively related to career and job satisfaction while extending work involvement was positively related to job satisfaction.

Table 4
Hierarchical Regressions of Outcome Measures
Order of Entry Speed of Promotion Performance Ratings (n=53)
β R2 F ΔR2 β R2 F ΔR2
1. Demographics: Gender -.21 .04 2.18 -.01 .00 .01
2. Career Strategies: Networking -.07 .05 1.19 .01 -.11 .01 .33 .01
3. Self-Nomination .12 .32*
Extending Work Involvement .22 -.19
Networking -.18 -.26*
Initiation of Change -.00 .11 1.05 .06 .24 .15 1.70 .14*
Order of Entry Career Satisfaction Job Satisfaction
β R2 F ΔR2 β R2 F ΔR2
1. Demographics: Gender .20 .04 1.95 .10 .01 .42
2. Career Strategies: Networking -.15 .06 1.53 .02 -.22 .05 1.29 .04
3. Self-Nomination .16 .25
Extending Work Involvement .23 .40***
Networking -.29* -.43***
Initiation of Change .08 .16 1.63 .10 .07 .30*** 3.53*** .25***

n=114-127 *p<.10 **p<.05 ***p<.01

The fourth hypothesis predicted that achievement striving behavior would be positively related to career promotion strategies. Table 3 shows that achievement striving was positively related to all four career promotion strategies: self-nominationJself-presentation, extending work involvement, networking, and initiation of change. The fifth hypothesis predicted that achievement striving would be positively related to career success outcomes. Table 2 shows that achievement striving was positively related to prformance ratings, job and career satisfaction but was unrelated to speed of promotion.


The present study demonstrated that in the early career stages, performance appraisal and speed of promotion are two distinct criteria. It suggests that the behavioral characteristics which are important to the superiors are not necessarily the ones which help subordinates advance their career in the early stages. Performance ratings were based on perceptions of past performance: Satisfaction of employee’s performance level, performance comparison of employees performing the same jobs, quality of employees work, and the overall effectiveness of their work. These criteria are related to the day-to-day performance but may be unrelated to career promotion. Our data also showed that while personal disposition is important for performance ratings, it is the career self-management variable of self-efficacy that is critical for career promotion. Furthermore, the two objective career success criteria are not related to the subjective ones. Namely, in the early career stages, a person might experience career and job satisfaction regardless of whether he/she got promoted or got positive performance evaluation.

The personal disposition of achievement striving had significant effects on three of the four criteria: It affected the objective criteria of performance appraisal as well as the two subjective criteria. The high achievement strivers experience more satisfaction and get higher job evaluations than the low achievement strivers. In support of Lee et al. (1993), Lee (1992), Spence et al. (1987; 1989), achievement striving was again related to performance. However, it was unrelated to speed of promotion. Table 1 shows that speed of promotion and performance ratings were unrelated. It is possible that predictors of career promotion may be quite different than predictors of performance ratings. Future studies should examine the strategies which could help achievement striving individuals to advance their careers. Further, given its repeated positive relations with job and academic performance, research in selection may include this characteristic for consideration.

On the other hand, the career self-management variables had a differential effect on the four criteria of career success: speed of promotion was positively affected by perceptions of self-efficacy for career goal attainment, whereas performance appraisal was negatively affected by self-efficacy for career goal attainment. It may be important for training early career employees to attain higher seif-efficacy. This finding suggests that employees who perceive themselves to be efficacious are the ones who get promoted, but that the same perceptions of self-efficacy are not positively interpreted by their superiors. One possible explanation is that self-efficacy in career goal attainment may detract the employees’ focus of attention away from their day-to-day work activities to focus on projects or work which can enhance their chances for career promotion. This may lead to lower job performance evaluation by theirsuperiors. It is also possible that, in many companies, performance appraisal are not related to job promotions. Research studies should examine the effects of personal disposition and self-management variables in a human resource system that based promotions on performance ratings.

Career strategies were found to have significant effects on three criteria: Job performance was significantly affected by the strategy of self-nomination, but it was negatively affected by networking. It is also possible that the effects of networking on career success take a longer time horizon and requires a longiudina1 study to examine its effect on career success. The other career promotion strategy, extending work involvement, showed a positive association with job satisfaction. One possible explanation is that satisfaction with the present job is not related to speed of promotion, and consequently, strategies which contribute to speed of promotion are less likely to contribute to job satisfaction.

The career strategies were affected both by the personal disposition and by the self-management career characteristics of goal setting and self-efficacy: employees who use the strategies of self-nomination, extending work involvement, networking, and initiation of change, were all achievement strivers, and some had high levels of self-efficacy.

To summarize, in early career stages, personal disposition seems to be more influential than career self-management variables. This finding support previous research on the predispositional effects in early stages of skill acquisition. Future research should examine the two effects along different stages of career development. Career self-efficacy was the most influential variable among all the career self-management variables. This finding is in support of previous research on the relatively strong effect of self-efficacy compared to goal effects (Locke et al., 1984), Future research should identify the explanatory variables for the negative effect of career self-efficacy on performance appraisal. Finally, the lack of relationship between speed of promotion and performance appraisal, and the opposite effects of self-efficacy and strategies such as networking on the criteria of career success should be further investigated. Networking may be perceived by immediate superiors as a way for subordinates to overrule them, and therefore, it was found to be negatively related with job performance. One possible explanation is that the behavioral outcomes which are more highly appreciated by the immediate superior are not necessarily the ones which help the subordinate to get promoted. Rather, supervisors prefer to keep the highly evaluated subordinates in the present job. The findings of the present study are constrained to the early career stages. Future research should examine the relative importance of personal disposition versus the various components of the process of career self-management in more advanced stages of career development.


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