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Build Your Career Get Ahead

What You Know, Not Who You Know, Spurs Career Success

What You Know, Not Who You Know, Spurs Career Success Credit: Light bulb idea image via Shutterstock

Despite common sentiment, a new study shows career success is defined more by what you know than who you know.

The research by Tel Aviv University professor Yoav Ganzach revealed that when intelligence and socioeconomic background are pitted against one another, intellect is a more accurate predictor of future career success.

Although those from a wealthy family tended to start higher on the office ladder and have better entry-level wages, Ganzach's research discovered a direct connection between aptitude and the rate at which employees were rewarded with raises.

The findings have an encouraging message for those who can't rely on nepotism for their first job, according to Ganzach.

"Your family can help you launch your career and you do get an advantage, but it doesn't help you progress," he said.

Ganzach did concede that one of the limitations of the study was that it did not account for other possible variables, such as personality, social skills and the ability to work well in a group — all factors that influence advancement.

The study analyzed surveys in relation to promotions and earnings of nearly 13,000 Americans from 1979 through 2004.

By tracking the participants over 25 years, from the beginning to the middle stages of their careers, Ganzach said it was possible to obtain an accurate picture of the influence of each factor on their economic success.

The data confirmed that while both intelligence and socioeconomic background impacted entry-level wages, only intelligence had an influence on the pace of pay increases throughout the years.

Ganzach said he hopes future research might look at different measures of success, such as occupational success or job satisfaction, and explore whether those results also apply to employees with different education levels.


Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance business and technology writer who has worked in public relations and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter. You can reach him at chadgbrooks@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @cbrooks76.

Chad  Brooks
Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance writer who has nearly 15 years experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.