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An Optimistic Outlook Can Have a Positive Impact on the MBA Job Search, Study Finds

View the glass as half full and you’ll get a job out of business school more quickly and with less effort, according to recent research out of Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. And once in the working world, an optimistic outlook promises to get you promoted faster in the first two years on the job than your pessimistic peers.

Fuqua researchers Ron Kaniel and David T. Robinson, in collaboration with Cade Massey of the Yale School of Management (SOM), surveyed 232 MBA students between 2005 and 2007 about their dispositional optimism – that is, a general belief that good things tend to happen more often than bad things. They then correlated the students’ relative dispositional optimism against their job-search outcomes.

What they found was that MBA job seekers who had an optimistic outlook about life had better career prospects than colleagues who had a pessimistic disposition. Specifically, optimists spent less time and effort searching for jobs, received more offers quickly and proved more likely to be promoted in the first two years on the job. And when they did run into difficult situations, optimists were more flexible in the ways they handle them.

Okay, you say. But what causes the optimism in the first place? Say, for example, good things happen to individuals who are articulate and personable, making them more optimistic, which in turn makes more good things happen. Could it be that charisma is the differentiating factor?

According to the researchers, they were careful to consider such variables in their analysis. “We included a special survey that measured how well-liked and outwardly charismatic these individuals were,” Robinson said. “Optimists certainly appear more charismatic to their peers, and more likely to be destined for success. But these measures alone do not account for the findings,” he said. “Optimism is more than charisma.”

Yale SOM collaborator Cade Massey concurred, citing flexibility as a contributing factor to why optimists had more successful job searches. “Optimists are more willing to disengage from unrealistic courses of action, and re-engage in more practical ones,” he said. “They are more willing to adapt, and this seems to be part of the reason for their success.”

For a full copy of the report, contact the the National Bureau of Economic Research, which published the working paper.

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