What are the ingredients of career success?

How can I be successful in my career?  This is a question many people ask themselves.  Of course, most workers across the world have jobs (i.e., work that offers no chance for advancement in pay, benefits, responsibility, skill, and/or else), not careers (i.e., work that offers a chance for advancement), so this question assumes one is lucky enough to pursue a career.  For those lucky ones, the following answers from experts to this, the latest edition of Learning Life’s Big Question Series, may prove of some help.  

Thanks to Learning Life interns Ian Ball and Omar Batterjee for their assistance in gathering the experts’s answers below. 

Dr. James R. Bailey: There’s really only one ingredient to a successful career: Do something you really like doing. If you really like doing it, you’ll be intrinsically motivated, which means you want to do it. To be extrinsically motivated means you have to do it. We all find ourselves having to do something that is distasteful. That’s just part of life. But to be intrinsically motivated means your time and talent is willingly given and productively engaged. In fact, pay and prestige place well behind passion and purpose. This is the big part of life. During 50 employed years, you’ll spend one minute out of four working. Repeat: 25% of every minute you live for 50 years is on the job. Don’t spend that time on something you just have to do. Spend it pursuing endeavors that enrich, reward, and renew you. In doing so you’ll devoted and perform better. If the reward comes from within, you’ve found the only necessary and sufficient ingredient to a successful career.

Dr. da Mota Veiga: The ingredients for career success vary from person to person because everyone defines career success differently. But for many, career success is not defined so much by financial success as by happiness and challenges. Career success is often achieved by identifying and understanding one’s strengths. Work experience is one of the best ways to determine what your strengths are, and what drives you. For example, imagine you are searching for a job. You need to understand your strengths and passion to decide what you want to do.  Additionally, you want to research industries, companies, especially what they will offer you that will motivate you to do more than just show up, that will make you want to go the extra mile (and offer a lot more!), achieve your goals and more, and challenge the status quo.

Dr. Sheetal Singh: While there can be several different paths and ingredients to success, I believe being open to new experiences is the key.  When we choose a particular career, we are selecting certain set of experiences that will allow us to learn and grow in that career. However, we are also closing ourselves to possibilities that could contribute towards new experiences and potential opportunities. We have these perceived limitations that prevent us from exploring other interests that, in reality, can lead us to success and new opportunities. It is important to strive for your goals in a career path, however, it is equally important that you do not dismiss opportunities.



Dr. James BaileyDr. James R. Bailey is Professor and Hochberg Fellow of Leadership Development at the George Washington University School of Business, and a Fellow in the Centre for Management Development, London Business School. He has taught at University of Michigan, New York University, IMD, and Helsinki School of Economics, Dr. Bailey is the recipient of many teaching distinctions, including four GWSB Outstanding Faculty Awards. In 2006 he was named one of the world’s top ten executive educators by the International Council for Executive Leadership Development. He has published over 50 academic papers and case studies, and is the author of five books, including the award-winning, best-selling Organizational and Managerial Wisdom and the forthcoming Lessons on Leadership. He has designed and delivered hundreds of executive programs for firms like Nestle, UBS, Conoco-Phillips, and Goldman Sachs, as well as several major law firms and US Congressmen. Dr. Bailey is a frequent keynote speaker who has appeared on broadcast programs for the BBC, NPR, and Fox News Channel, and whose work has been cited in such outlets as the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, Forbes, and Business 2.0. He is a frequent contributor to The Hill, Washington Post, Washington Business Journal, and Harvard Business Review. He is the past Editor-in-Chief of the Academy of Management Learning and Education, as well as the founder and Editor-in-Chief of the online magazine Lessons on Leadership (www.lessonsonleadership.org.) Professor Bailey has served as a dean, department chair, and program director during his 25 year academic career.

Serge P. da Motta VeigaSerge P. da Motta Veiga is an Assistant Professor in the Kogod School of Business at American University.  Prior to coming to American University, Serge was an Assistant Professor of Management at Lehigh University. He earned his Ph.D. in Business Administration with an emphasis on Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management from the University of Missouri, and his license in Economics from the Université Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium.

Serge’s research interests include job search, careers, recruitment, affect, motivation, and humor at work. Specifically, he is interested in examining various dynamic factors involved in pre-organizational entry processes (job search and recruitment), such as the role of affect and motivation regulation. He has published his work in the Journal of Applied Psychology, Personnel Psychology, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, and in the Journal of Organizational Behavior, and his research has been featured in public press outlets such as Time, Fast Company, and Psychological Science. Prior to pursuing his Ph.D., Serge worked for six years in the banking and consulting industries in London, Paris, and Brussels.

Sheetal Singh is a researcher, corporate trainer, coach and an adviser to several startups. She is assistant professor of management at George Washington University’s School of Business. Her research focuses on studying individual emotions in corporate and entrepreneurial settings. Through her research, she hopes to help individuals and organizations by creating a greater understanding of the role of emotions and how to harness the power of emotions to achieve better results.

Dr. Singh completed her PhD. in Organizational Behavior and Strategy from University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. She completed her undergraduate work in Commerce from Delhi University, and in Hotel Administration from the Institute of Hotel Management, Delhi, India. She also completed a Post Graduate Diploma in Hotel Management from The Oberoi Centre of Learning and Development.

Prior to her doctoral work Dr. Singh worked for over a decade in the Hotel Industry with the Oberoi Group of Hotels & Resorts and Carlson Group in various positions in Rooms and Food & Beverage before transitioning into Training & Development. Apart from designing and conducting training programs for Oberoi and Marriott hotels, she also delivered training for the broadcast and travel industry.