Career success is defined by Seibert and Kramer (2001, p. 2) as positive work-based or psychological achievements or outcomes that one accumulates over time resulting from the work experiences. Numerous researchers have developed various notions based on their own understanding of career success. Heslin argues that
within the vast literature on the antecedents of career success, the success criterion has generally been operationalized in a rather deficient manner. Several avenues for improving the conceptualization and measurement of both objective and subjective career success are identified. Paramount among these is the need for greater sensitivity to the criteria that study participants, in different contexts, use to construe and judge their career success (Heslin 2005, p.113).
The statement by Heslin forms the basis of this discussion that seeks to present a critical examination of the writer’s view on career success.
Based on the development of the measurement of career success over time, scholars have categorized it under two contrasting types; objective and subjective career success. As it is evidenced in a study by Arthur, Khapova & Wildrom (2005, p. 178), in measuring objective career success, a focus is put on the salary that employees earn and the number of promotions that they receive. On the other hand, the measurement of subjective career success is founded on a critical examination of employees’ job and their level of career satisfaction. Nowadays, most researchers particularly focus their study on the variables that influence the attainment of the two types of career success. The variables include people’s behavioral styles or traits, demographic and organizational variables (Seibert & Kramer, 2001, p.5).
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Evidently, there is much interest in understanding the particular aspects that determine success to employees. The interest in this area is explained by the fact that career success can be depended on multiple aspects including the work environment, the organization that one is working for, or even one’s position at work. Some people also consider career success when they have pleasant work-family relations. It is obvious that people perceive themselves as wise from the perspective of a successful career depending on diversified facets. Some of the facets can be categorized as organizational questions, including promotion and status at work, and the support that one receives at work. On the other hand, individual facets include personal characteristics, people’s background and age. Still, other aspects that are community-related include economic and governmental situations that influence ones career life (Kramer & Seibert, 2001, p.17). Though it is possible to have a logical explanation of all the aspects, none of them defines particular issues of career success to which a significant importance is attached.
Due to presence of diverse opinions regarding the measure of career success and the aspects that employees use to determine their level of success at work, the concept has proven to be a absolutely arduous one to determine. As noted by Heslin (2005, p.113), most of the definitions and explanations given to career success are not extensive enough since they look at success from a narrow perspective. Heslin emphasized that the tendency of concentrating on single-index measures of success leads to the risk of construct invalidity that would entail measuring other phenomena that are not necessarily determinants of career success. It is only possible to attain a measure of career satisfaction in case the subjects involved are in a position to clearly articulate their concept of career in a manner that can be compared to definitions of those who are satisfied with their career success. According to Abdele & Spurk (2009, p. 810), the failure to achieve this requirement means that all measurement processes are conducted considering data without an attached career meaning. Furthermore, Mayrhofer (2011, p.252) argues that the single-index measures that are shunned by Heslin also increase exposure to the risk of making spurious comparisons which can hardly be applied to differentiate between levels of peoples’ career success.
It is based on the approach of Heslin (2005, p.113), who argues that the attempts to define the concept are extremely scarce despite the fact that the subject has been widely discussed. Arthur et al (2005, p.179) also claim that the career connection at times becomes fuzzier. For instance, it can be referred to the accomplishment of the desired work-based outcomes at a given point in one’s work experience. Due to the challenges encountered in arriving at a clear definition of the concept, most authors avoid the conceptual definition and focus on operationalization of the notion of career success.
In his findings, Chagnon (2011, p. 810) noted the approach, that is most widely adopted in defining career success, involves establishing a distinction between the aspect in psychological terms and the state of an individual. The approach has a better evaluative component because it is known to be a measure of people’s perception of careers achievements of others, which is the objective success, or people’s apprehension of attained in their own careers, which the subjective success. According to Chagnon (2011, p. 810), the two types of success do not have a particular strong correlation. With the increasing interest in the topic, there is a multitude of literature on the subjective and objective distinctions and the diverse senses in which the subjectivism is applied.
Heslin (2005) conducted a comparative study on the various approaches that researchers have used in defining and explaining the idea of career success. In his findings, he notes that most of the literature on the subject has given the idea of career success a very narrow view, and that such literature restricts peoples’ understanding of the nature of career success. Spitzer later added that an extensive analysis of career success should vividly examine the concept by taking a clear look at both objective and subjective career success. According to the author, concentrating on one type of success without paying attention to the other one leads to false perception of what career success entails (Spitzer, 2007, p. 123).
In addition, Langfeldt (2014, p.7) noted that whenever one uses social chronology theorizing, the attention is driven to a richer perception of career success. He adds that such a comprehension of career success requires contextualization. In this case, it is necessary to conceptualize and measure career success with a close consideration of both the structure of the social space, that allow careers to unfold, and the complex nature of the condition. This analysis should be accomplished because both the factors change over time. Such an effective examination of career success also requires a look into the patterns. This process of establishing an extensive definition and understanding of career success is quite complicated undertaking due to the fact that its success largely depends on the ability to select particular aspects of condition, boundaries and potions of time to focus on so as to keep a sense of perspective (Langfeldt, 2014, p.7).
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Langfeldt’s views seem to be in support of Mayrhofer’s (2011, p.254) opinion on social Chronology Theorizing (SCrT). Mayrhofer had argued that the theory gives a more acceptable explanation of career success. It looks at career success in broader terms leading to its definition as an evaluative statement regarding an individual’s condition at a given point of time that is considered in the context of the condition pattern over the course of the person’s career within the bounded social space enclosing the career. The SCrT cites numerous notions of the understanding of a career. When then theory is used at the conceptual level as an organizing framework with its generic categories, it provides vital guidelines across several approaches and metaphors to careers.
To conclude, this discussion has focused on the need to establish the breadth and depth of understanding the notion of career success. Career success is a subject that has attracted much attention but most researchers have failed to give it the required explanation. There is a need for more researches to be conducted to facilitate derivation of a clearer comprehension of the concept. Through such an initiative, a better understanding of career success can be articulated. Moreover, it is crucial to conceive that people’s measures of success vary, and that a narrower look at career success leads to errors in defining the concept.