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Future Managers are Optimistic about their Careers

Many management students have difficulties predicting their career paths for the next five or ten years. Some of the students obviously have big hoped for their future and are confident about rapid career growth. They believe that by 30 they will be able to become top-level managers in medium and big organizations, and will never repeat the mistakes of their principals and teachers. Svetlana Satikova, Associate Professor at the Department of Management of HSE in St. Petersburg, studied the career expectations of future managers.

The planning horizon for young people often turns out to be quite limited. Most of the management students mention difficulties in ‘imagining their lives in 10 to 12 years’ time, said Svetlana Satikova in her study ‘Dynamics of Career Expectations among Students in 2005-2015’. ‘At the same time, they mention that the task of imagining their future life is interesting and unusual for them’, the expert emphasized. But, noticeably, every tenth student has problems in imagining themselves even in five years. Such limited planning horizons are a sign of certain psychological problems, Satikova believes.

There is another evident problem, namely an unrealistic evaluation of their future, which can’t only be explained by youth. About one quarter of management students expect an almost ideal professional path; they see themselves in top positions in companies as early as by 30. And they see further prospects even more attractive. ‘For me, an ideal career must culminate in a role as a federal official, preferably a minister’ – this is a typical pronouncement from a student.

Unrealistic ideas among young people reveal themselves in other aspects as well, the researcher emphasized. For example, students believe that in their future managerial career they will exceed their current superiors and teachers.

Svetlana Satikova conducted a qualitative study of students’ ideas about their future over the last ten years and detected both a stable ‘core’, some mutual aspects, and some changes. Since 2005, students of the Faculty of Management at HSE in St. Petersburg have been asked to write an essay on ‘My Career’. The students were supposed to write about how they see their professional future, including long-term targets, to describe the key stages of their achievement, and to explain their choice. They also had to develop several alternative options for their career development, in case if they can’t implement the main path due to some reasons. The project allowed the researcher to analyze both students’ hopes for the future and their attitudes towards career choices, and the correlation between students’ career plans and their abilities and interests.

Young people build castles in the air

Over the ten years, the essays have consistently demonstrated that about one quarter of the students have clearly unrealistic milestone schedules in their career evaluations, Satikova said. Many of them believe that within two or three years of graduation they, starting from lower positions, will be able to become middle managers, head departments and groups, and after another five or seven years, or by the age of 30, they will take top management positions in medium-sized and big companies, the researcher emphasized.

On one hand, it’s easy to explain this; when someone is 18 – 20, 30-year-old people seem very adult to them, and the age seems very respectable, almost close to old age. ‘I’m almost 20, which means that I have 20 years less time to implement my dreams, to find happiness and become successful’, one of the students commented.

With this approach, it is not a surprise that young people are planning to achieve a lot by the age of 30. The essays included such typical quotes as: ‘By 30, I’ll be confident in solving problems on an international level’; ‘I’m 32. I’m a marketing director in a company. I have a husband and three children. I earn enough to satisfy all my needs’.

On one hand, we can certainly be happy for students who are willing to pursue the highest goals, the expert believes. But on the other hand, as they grow older, reality will encroach, and if they don’t change their attitude, these dreamers will be deeply disappointed. ‘For such people, the 30s life crisis, which is very well known to psychologists, can be particularly hard. It often forces them to change their profession and social circle; they are disappointed in life’, Satikova said. That’s why one of the purposes of the educational system is to help students correct their plans, not to abandon their aspiration to achieve, but to be more realistic in evaluating their “way up”’.

About 20% of the students every year declare their willingness to start their own business. Meanwhile, only 3-4% of the respondents really make attempts to become entrepreneurs, the expert noticed. ‘The students probably lack practical skills and basic knowledge about entrepreneurship’, the expert assumed.

Students want to live their lives to the fullest

The students also have unrealistic ideas about ‘combining their own business with work in a large company, a family, and research’, Satikova continued. For example, there is a revealing quote from an essay: ‘From the age of 30 to the age of 40 I’ll be a top manager. I manage the directors of my restaurants and make key decisions in the company’s life’, a student wrote, ‘I spend a lot of time with my hobbies and my family. By 40, the job is gradually falling by the wayside’. The essay author concluded that the ultimate aim of every effort is pleasure, and it’s necessary to try to live life to the fullest.

On one hand, this willingness to live life to the fullest motivates them to develop and helps to look for new opportunities. ‘But the students should be taught to balance their effort, they should be warned about the dangers of prolonged stress and emotional burnout’, Svetlana Satikova believes.

Belief in ‘better management’

There are other regularities that repeatedly occur in student beliefs year after year. For example, there is the students’ belief that they will be more advanced, ‘improved’ managers.

Many students believe that they ‘will never repeat the mistakes of their superiors and teachers’ and will take into account the individual characteristics of their colleagues and subordinates. This means that they somehow idealize their professional path. Generally, this is normal, the researcher said: ‘A student who doesn’t want to outdo their teacher is a bad student. The main thing is to understand what specifically they need to excel at’.

Clear plans are better implemented

Most of the students have difficulties forecasting their lives for the next ten or 12 years. And for some of them, it’s hard to imagine themselves even in five or six years. ‘Such limited horizons are a sign of some psychological problems’, the researcher commented.

On one hand, it’s necessary to take into account that a decade seems a very long period when you are 18 or 20, in fact, it is half of your life, Satikova explained. ‘The students remember themselves ten years ago, compare, and understand that then they couldn’t even begin to imagine their lives today. That’s why it’s hard for many of them to imagine themselves in another ten years, especially for those for whom management was a random choice’, the expert said. Some of the students, quite reasonably, notice that the conditions are changing, and they are changing together with conditions. ‘A lot of difficulties lie ahead, the market is changing, the requirements are changing, the industry is changing, and my flexibility is changing’, an essay author wrote.

On the other hand, we must understand that the lack of planning generally leads to missed opportunities. It has been proved that when a person has long-term plans, they unconsciously choose the opportunities that help them realize their plans. If they lack any plans, or they haven’t accepted these plans subconsciously, the person is not confident in their abilities and desires, and they can just not notice some of the opportunities. Then they start either a ‘rat race’ (if the person is active), or passive expectation of a ‘fairy’ or a ‘prince’ (a person who would ‘wake them up’), since ‘without direction, it’s difficult to realize their potential capacity’, the expert stated.

Sometimes profession is a random choice

One more observation is probably also related to planning horizons and goal-setting. This is the random choice of profession and further feelings towards it.

Over the ten years, about the same share of students (24-26%) said that they had chosen the profession randomly. For example, there was a remarkable confession: ‘When I was applying for university, I didn’t know whether I would like the Faculty of Management… I didn’t know what disciplines are studied there and what they are necessary for. I applied for it simply because I like communicating with people’.

Out of this rough quarter of ‘undecided’ respondents, almost half (48.7%, or 12-13% from the total number) became interested in the chosen profession later, Svetlana Satikova clarified. The rest of them continued feeling uncertain about their choice during the second, third, and even fourth years of study.

In addition to that, during the whole period of data collection, about 60% of students (from 59% to 66%) mentioned their talents in a certain field (music, sports, dance, design, foreign languages etc) and were going to apply and develop these abilities in their careers, along with managerial skills.

Fewer students are going to go abroad

In addition to the stable indicators, the career expectations’ analysis also detected some changing ones. They include the plans for professional migration. In 2011 essays, 39% of students wrote about their plans to continue their studies and work abroad. In 2014, however, five times fewer students (8%) were going to pursue long-term careers in foreign countries. ‘At the same time, the frequency of mentioning working in Russia, but in large companies with international presence, grew four times’, the author clarified.

As a result of students’ career expectation analysis, the researchers concluded that it’s necessary to work more with their attitudes. It would probably make sense to support the students in self-development and self-management. Courses in organization theory, human resource management and other managerial disciplines could help. This is necessary to help young people manage the ‘inevitable disappointment and crises that occur when unrealistic expectations clash with reality’, which means that they should be taught responsibility for their own lives. Management students have an advantage over students of other fields in these terms, Satikova concluded.


Author: Olga Sobolevskaya, November 17, 2015