Sure, we all know that an Ivy League education, stint at a blue-chip firm, and stellar sales skills can help us get ahead. But it may surprise you just how many lesser known, seemingly random variables contribute to your professional success.
From the month you were born to your comedic timing, the weirdest quirks can affect how successful you'll ultimately be.
We combed through research on success to identify 12 surprising things that can influence your career trajectory. While some factors can be sought out, others are beyond your control.For starters, your birth month is hugely important in determining success.
There's a ton of research on what's variously called the "relative-age effect," "month of birth bias," or "birth-date effect." The basic principle is that kids born right before an annual cutoff date for starting school or sports are at a disadvantage because they're essentially a full year younger than other members of the group. That makes a big difference in physical, emotional, and intellectual maturity. On the other hand, just missing the date means you will be more developed than your peers.
Malcolm Gladwell popularized this idea in "Outliers," which explored how more professional hockey players from Canada were born in January, February, and March than any other months. The reason? Canada's cutoff date for hockey programs is Jan. 1. Similar research has shown that the number of CEOs with June and July birthdays is far below the expected normal distribution. That's because kids born in June and July are usually the youngest in school, putting them at an early intellectual disadvantage.
Your birth order influences your personality and development.
Research shows that first-borns are highly ambitious and competitive. They tend to excel academically and, according to CareerBuilder, are the most likely to earn six figures and hold a C-level position.
Middle children are considered strong team players and negotiators. Career-wise, they're the most likely to work in entry-level jobs and earn less than $35,000.
The youngest siblings are usually the most creative and entertaining in their families. Because of this, they often end up in creative roles or mid-level management.
Finally, only children are most likely to be self-centered and success-seeking, and can also be unusually mature because they spend so much one-on-one time with their parents. Like first-borns, they often end up in C-level or six-figure positions, but can be less satisfied with their jobs than people who have siblings.
Public or private school? It turns out that more expensive isn't always best.
That's right, the latest data says that public schools actually outperform their costlier private peer institutions. University of Illinois professors Christopher and Sarah Lubienski published that surprising finding in their book, "The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools."
According to their research, students at private schools generally do well because they come from wealthy backgrounds and families with more advantages. But public schools are actually better when it comes to teaching math and keeping their teachers trained in the latest instructional methods.
Your high school math performance can predict your future salary.
If you ever thought about skipping algebra class, here's a big reason not to: Higher achievement in math is correlated to higher salaries later in life.
Regardless of high school graduation status, students who complete advanced math courses like algebra II and geometry have been later found to earn $1.30 to $1.66 more per hour than students that didn't reach that level. In a 40-hour week, that means you could make an additional $66 if you paid attention in class.
Kids who play sports achieve greater academic success.
Regular exercise and participation on a sports team are both linked to greater academic performance. In one study conducted by the Los Angeles Unified School District, student-athletes were found to attend on average 21 more days of school than their peers and earn GPAs that were 0.55 to 0.74 points higher.
Other research has found that college students who exercise regularly get better grades, and that students who study a lot are more likely to exercise on a regular basis.
Military service can also shape your leadership abilities.
People from military backgrounds might make the best leaders, according to a new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research. And knowing if someone has military experience can tell you a lot about their management style.
The authors find that CEOs who've served in the military are (1) more conservative financially, (2) less likely to be involved with corporate fraud, and (3) better equipped to steer firms through tough times. Sounds like a pretty good combination.
Healthy sleeping habits are linked to better grades.
Turns out that all-nighter probably isn't worth your time. The cost of sleep deprivation is greater than the knowledge you might gain from studying.
Research shows that the less high school students sleep, the worse they tend to perform in class and on assessments. According to one study, students who receive C's, D's, and F's in school get on average 25 fewer minutes of sleep than A- and B-students.
It also helps to be a morning person.
It seems the early bird does, in fact, get the worm. Research shows that people who perform best in the morning do better in their overall careers than those who hit their stride in the evening.
One explanation for this is that evening people are out of sync with the normal corporate work schedule. Morning people are affiliated with better grades, which lead them to better colleges and presents them with better job opportunities. Early risers are also thought to be more proactive, which is another indicator of career success.
Taller people make more money and are seen as more competent.
The small and average-sized among us are short on luck. According to one book on height and success, bosses are more likely to hire a taller person (even when given two identical resumes) and have a positive first impression of them.
Tall people are in control of their physical space, which increases the sense that they are self-assured and commanding. They tend to make more money, work in high-paying careers, and shine in jobs that emphasize social interactions.
Attractive people also enjoy greater career success.
There's no other way to say it: Attractive people are simply more successful. Good-looking people usually get hired and promoted quicker and enjoy higher salaries than their less attractive coworkers.
According to one recent study, hotter CEOs also help the bottom line. Research shows that hiring an attractive CEO can boost stock prices on that person's first day and any time he or she appears on television. These CEOs also fare better in M&A transactions.
A good sense of humor helps people build connections.
A well-timed joke can be the quickest route to building a new relationship and can also increase productivity. Laughing and smiling produces dopamine, a neurotransmitter that stimulates our brain's learning functions to up efficiency, creativity, and engagement.
According to one study, happy employees were found to be 31% more productive and generate 37% higher sales than their peers. For leaders, humor can help to win over employees and come off as empathetic and approachable.
And using a nickname could significantly boost your salary.
Believe it or not, people who go by shorter names tend to earn more money. According to one analysis of nearly 6 million names by career site TheLadders, every extra letter in your first name can correspond to a $3,600 drop in annual wages. If you're debating between "Sam" and "Samantha," that's a big difference.
LinkedIn has conducted similar research showing that the most popular CEO names worldwide — Peter, Jack, and Fred — are either short names or shortened versions of names. So long as your nickname sounds professional, it can help convey friendliness and openness while also earning you more money.
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