“Graduate from school, then do an internship abroad, complete your studies with top grades and work hard at your dream job. Also, don’t forget to network.”

That’s the way to climb the career ladder, right?

There’s a lot of reasons to see it this way. And yet there’s is one factor we should not underestimate, says Chengwei Liu: luck.

Liu, a professor of strategy and behavioural science, says that “with lofty career goals, such as CEO of a public company, luck is more important than performance and effort.”

So can a career be planned years in advance?

“Competition plays a big role,” says Liu, who teaches at the private university ESMT in Berlin. In professions that attract a large number of applicants, luck plays an important role because, in the last round of the recruitment process, everyone is equally good.

That means luck will decide the fate of many. On the other hand, if you choose a less popular profession, you can rely more on your skills and performance as an applicant – and are less dependent on luck.

So should you leave everything to chance when planning your career?

“I would advise against that,” says Marcel Brass, professor of psychology and a specialist in social intelligence at the Humboldt University of Berlin. Whether someone climbs the career ladder depends decisively on performance, skills and commitment. “I think it’s difficult to rely [just] on the luck factor,” says Brass.

Nevertheless, coincidences can decisively change career planning. For example, when academics meet at a congress in the evening for a chat and by chance, someone finds out about a suitable position at a university abroad.

That wasn’t planned, but it can still be very helpful. This way, chance can open up new, unexpected avenues. “That’s why it’s important to be open to changes in your professional life,” recommends Brass. Flexibility is also important, he says.

However, career decisions should be made consciously: “Before taking such career steps, you have to carefully weigh the advantages and disadvantages,” advises Brass. You should also take your own family situation into account.

But wait, what’s the point of companies relying on a random selection of staff?

On the recruitment side of things, random selection can help when it’s not just the expertise that matters, but also having different perspectives in the team, according to Liu.

Many managers are biased and often choose applicants who are similar to them. This prevents diversity.

With random selection, “you have less control over the results of the staff selection, but you accomplish more by eliminating biased decisions in the first place.” This ultimately saves time and resources.

But what sounds good in theory can fail in practice. “Random selection cannot guarantee optimal personnel decisions,” Liu explains.

Instead, it is important that the random principle is part of the company culture. “The company’s top management, but also the staff, must support it,” says Liu.

If managers can’t identify with this approach, they should abandon the principle “and prepare for the worst-case scenarios that can result from biased decisions”.

Many people are convinced that human reasoning can overcome all challenges, Liu says. However, those who always insist on decisions based entirely on reason will find it difficult to see the benefit in allowing some things, such as hiring procedures, to chance. – dpa/Sabine Meuter



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