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What it Means to Succeed: Personal Conceptions of Career Success Held by Male and Female Managers at Different Ages



This paper describes the findings of a qualitative study which analyses how managers define career success for themselves on their own terms. In exploring career success from the perspective of the individual, not the organization, the research attempts to fill an identifiable gap in the career literature. The paper examines the criteria which individuals use to describe what career success means to them, and expresses them by means of a series of orientational categories – Climbers, Experts, Influencers and Self-Realizers – which classify the different ways in which managers talk about career success. The variations in the way that the male and female, and older and younger, research participants describe what career success means to them are discussed and compared. The women managers and older managers who took part in the study appear less inclined to define career success in terms of hierarchical and financial progression: the paper considers the implications of this for individuals and for organizations.

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