Study: Optimistic MBA Grads Have Better Career Prospects Than Pessimists

Optimists also spend less time and effort searching for jobs

As MBA graduates begin the job search in earnest this spring, new research indicates those with an optimistic outlook about life will have better career prospects than those with a pessimistic disposition.

In addition, optimists spend less time and effort searching for jobs and receive offers more quickly. And once in the working world, optimists are more likely to be promoted than their pessimistic peers in the first two years on the job.

These are among the findings of a study conducted by Ron Kaniel and David T. Robinson of Duke University's Fuqua School of Business, in collaboration with Cade Massey of the Yale School of Management.

Their research focuses on the effects of dispositional optimism -- a general belief that good things tend to happen more often than bad things -- on job searches and promotions among MBA graduates.

Between 2005 and 2007, the researchers surveyed 232 MBA students about their relative dispositional optimism and their answers were correlated to their job-search outcomes. According to the researchers, optimists also are more flexible in the way they handle difficult situations.

Beyond a brighter outlook, there are a number of reasons why optimists might outperform others in the job market.

For example, individuals who are articulate and personable may be more optimistic because they have learned to anticipate favorable outcomes when they interact with others. In other words, good things tend to happen to these people, which makes them more optimistic, which in turn perpetuates more good things occurring.

The researchers said they were careful to consider 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. Optimism is more than charisma."

"Optimists are more willing to disengage from unrealistic courses of action, and re-engage in more practical ones; they are more willing to adapt, and this seems to be part of the reason for their success," Massey said.

The research findings have been published in a working paper issued by the National Bureau of Economic Research. A full copy of the report can be obtained at http://www.nber.org.