June 26, 2008

Sooner or later, we all come to the realization that, while skills and effort do matter, job security ultimately has very little to do with one's performance and a whole lot to do with external, uncontrollable factors: M&As, management changes, outsourcing, subprime fallout, etc. Some recent research from Chicago-based online recruitment firm Careerbuilder.com may make you even more depressed, as it reveals that one's identity in high school may determine one's future career path, earnings and professional happiness. Thirty-nine percent of the more than 6,000 full-time workers age 30 or older who were surveyed said their high school experiences had an influence on the jobs they hold today.

This isn't about extracurricular activities — it's not as simple as assuming that the yearbook editor will go into journalism (although that did happen). We're talking about social identities: cheerleader, teacher's pet, class clown, geek, etc. While the possibility of reinventing oneself in time for the 10th reunion is the plot of many a B movie, the Careerbuilder.com research suggests that, for better or for worse, high school caste membership is professional destiny.

For example, according to the study, cheerleaders were more likely to hold a vice president role — and also to go into travel and insurance. Traditional antagonists athletes and geeks tended to end up in professional and technical services positions. Teacher's pets and student government types had the greatest number of workers serving in director/manager/team leader positions, but teacher's pets also were prominent in administrative and clerical positions. In terms of industries, according to Careerbuilder.com, teacher's pets also were heavily represented in construction and banking/finance.

As a former teacher's pet/geek, with a dash of honor society, I have been trying to figure out what all this means. While the cheerleader/insurance sales path makes sense, I was less clear about why banking would attract teacher's pets. Depending on your perspective (or maybe if you were an athlete or class clown), it could be because teacher's pets are known for (choose one) diligence, intelligence, obedience or sycophancy.

Regardless, maybe that's why dealing with today's business challenges often feels kind of like a psychological wedgie.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Katherine Burger is Editorial Director of Bank Systems & Technology and Insurance & Technology, members of UBM TechWeb's InformationWeek Financial Services. She assumed leadership of Bank Systems & Technology in 2003 and of Insurance & ...