In Brief

People with strong ratings of self-efficacy are more successful at landing a job following graduation from college, according to a study published in the May issue of the Journal of Applied Psychology (Vol. 91, No. 3).

Lead study author Douglas J. Brown, PhD, an associate psychology professor at the University of Waterloo in Canada, says the study's findings point out the need to study whether job candidates low in proactive personality--defined as the tendency to take personal initiative across a range of activities and situations--can learn how to be more proactive to get a better start on their working life.

Funded by a grant from the Society for Human Resource Management, the researchers surveyed U.S. college students three months before graduation, assessing each participant on a proactive personality scale and ratings of conscientiousness and self-esteem. They then surveyed the graduates about four months following graduation on how frequently they looked for a job, the level of effort made in gathering information about a potential employer, the number of follow-up interviews secured and job offers received.

Graduates rated high in proactive personality tended to be strong in self-efficacy, the belief that one can actively influence one's environment and circumstances through personal actions. Those with more self-efficacy searched more frequently for jobs, prepared better for interviews and were asked back for follow-up interviews more often.

"Someone who feels they can change their environment feels they're going to be more successful, which in turn leads them to actually engage in more job-search behavior," Brown says.

These students were more likely to land jobs, probably setting the stage for a stable career arc and long-term success. Prior research has already established that employees ranked high in proactive personality get promoted more often and earn better salaries in their careers, Brown says.

In contrast, previous studies have shown that the inability to find employment results in stress, depression, anxiety and feelings of stigmatization.

"It sets the frame from which the rest of your career unfolds," he says.

Brown and his fellow researchers got interested in the question after noticing that some college students expected jobs to "fall into their laps," while others actively searched.

In future research, Brown says he wants to examine whether it's possible to teach someone to be more proactive within the context of a job search.

--C. Munsey