Feeling Lucky at Work? A Strong Work Ethic Helps

News Updates

Rabbit’s foot? Check. Four-leaf clover? Check. Strong communications skills, flexibility, strong work ethic? Huh?

Eighty-four percent of people on LinkedIn worldwide believe in career luck, and nearly half feel lucky in their careers, according to an unscientific LinkedIn poll conducted with more than 7,000 individuals in late February and early March 2012.

The top most important factors that respondents said contribute to luck at work are:

  • Having strong communications skills.
  • Being flexible.
  • Having a strong work ethic.
  • Acting on opportunities.
  • Having a strong network.

    The luckiness factor in career success has played out on the basketball court with the initial success of Jeremy Lin of the New York Knicks, observed John M. Salonich, SPHR, in a LinkedIn response to a SHRM Online discussion. Salonich is vice president/director at Venturi Aeration Inc. in Pelham, N.H.

Lin, a point guard, was a little-known player warming the bench when in February 2012—because of injuries to teammates—his coach inserted him into a game. He went on to lead his team to wins in his first seven games, with 171 points and 64 assists, thrilling Knicks fans who became swept up in the “Linsanity” of his ball-handling prowess.

“In this case, being at the right place at the right time, combined with the requisite basketball skills, will bring the individual into the spotlight that would have otherwise eluded him/her,” Salonich said.

“In organizations, this happens too frequently where second-tier managers with superior skills never get the break they need to demonstrate their abilities, so in a sense, luck plays a significant role in propelling an individual’s career or containing that individual to a hum-drum drone job and out of the spotlight,” Salonich said.

Valerie Van Nuis, an HR professional at LNK International Inc. in Hauppauge, N.Y., said that people create their luck, up to a point.

“That being said, being in the right time and place and knowing the right people can definitely contribute to one’s career success,” she said in a Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) LinkedIn posting.

For example, she said, two job candidates who have made it to the final interview have comparable backgrounds and experience, but one candidate notices a framed photo of a Shih Tzu—the same kind of dog the candidate owns. The candidate then uses this shared interest to create a bond with the interviewer, “which may help influence him in hiring you,” Van Nuis pointed out.

“If you are to truly succeed and be the best you can be in your career, you will need to continually offer your company superior knowledge, skills, resources and loyalty and be the person they can trust and count on to get the job done and beyond.

“However,” she added, “a bit of good fortune can’t hurt.”

Roberta Z. Muir, SPHR, Career Peer Program Coordinator/Career Counselor at the University of South Florida in Tampa, said the role that knowledge, skills and ability play in career success are “undeniable” and planning increases the probability of luck. However, she noted in a SHRM LinkedIn posting, some things are simply outside of a person’s control.

Michele Bar-Pereg, who specializes in HR issues and is founder and managing director at RelocateYourself.com in the Amsterdam area of the Netherlands, said people make their luck by being prepared, working hard, being confident and networking.

“Being fortunate and lucky is hard work for most of us,” she said in the SHRM discussion on LinkedIn. “In fact, the harder you work most likely the ‘luckier’ you will get as it will most likely be you, more than anyone else, who will see the breaks and opportunities in your field of expertise,” she said.

“My networks and my connections were so good when I finally sold my last company. Luck had very little to do with it, yet people say I am lucky.”

Feeling Lucky

Luck is something a person creates for himself or herself, said Richard Wiseman, a professor and experimental psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire in the United Kingdom and author of The Luck Factor: The Scientific Study of the Lucky Mind (Arrow, 2004).

He conducted research with 700 subjects at his “luck lab” at the university and identified four main principles that so-called lucky people used in their lives to create luck:

  • They notice, create and act on opportunities.
  • They listen to their hunches.
  • They expect good fortune.
  • They fashion a bad turn of events into a good one.

    “Your thoughts create the luck in your life,” he said in a YouTube video.

“When it comes to creating your good luck, a big part of it is how you see yourself and see the world,” he said. “There’s a psychology where people create their own good and bad luck.”

He found that for some people, “luck is something that happens to them, not something they create.” A person with such a view might be fatalistic about an upcoming job interview, for example, and decide there’s no point in preparing for it, he said.

However, Wiseman found that so-called lucky people “were prepared to work hard, to create their good luck.”

That’s an attitude mirrored in the LinkedIn poll.

In it, 70 percent of U.S. respondents identified having a strong work ethic as the most important factor for career luck.

“It’s clear from the results,” LinkedIn’s connection director, Nicole Williams, said in a news release, “that you need to make your own luck to succeed.” With a nod to the website, she added that “nothing beats being proactive and building a strong network.”

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News.