Career Advice

Boost Your Career: Do What The Popular Kids Did In High School

Posted by Glassdoor Team

Career Advice Experts

October 29, 2012

Those cheerleaders, class presidents and smiling sports stars were so popular in high school, and they're more successful in their careers, too.

They earn more than the rest of us even 35 years after high school is over, according to new research from the National Bureau of Economic Affairs.

Students who moved from the bottom of the popularity ranking up to nearer the top - the 80th percentile - earned a salary 10 percent higher, decades after high school. This held true even when the researchers considered several variables like school quality and adult personalities, according to a Wonkblog post in the Washington Post.

The reason their popularity paid off: "Social interactions within the group of classmates provide the bridge to the adult world" as they learned to be socially competent, the researchers wrote.


Even if you were the shyest student in your school, you can learn to put on a varsity jacket of confidence when discussing your next pay raise or raising your hand about a promotion. Some of the techniques used in high school can be applied to career development and job search today.

Here are four lessons everyone can learn from your high school class officers and popular crowd:

1. They were connected. This works well for job-hunters too, especially if your connections are in your field or related fields, said Barbara Herzog, a career coach in Washington, D.C. "If you make connections, you will get better jobs faster on average," she said. You'll also learn of new opportunities and become more aware of workplace politics and changes, "thus better at navigating them to your advantage."

2. They were standouts. When I started in high school, I was known as the girl with the odd, different "northern accent" because my family had moved from the Detroit area to Southern Indiana. That different outsider reputation stuck. Others were known for their eagerness to host parties or their kindness and cheerleader cool. They embraced their personalities and uniqueness. They had personal brands before the term was coined, and they cultivated them carefully.

3. They practiced, a lot.  Even when they already knew they could pass the ball 40 yards, the best players showed up at every practice determined to get better. They spent time during the summer working on their skills too. So ask yourself: "What are you doing to get better at what you do?" Self-development is hard, "often uncomfortable" and requires deliberate actions, Chicago-area leadership coach Art Petty writes in a blog post.

4. They went to all the activities. In high school, the popular kids were at every football game, all the plays and big community events – plus, some of their own clubs and lessons. They were visible and involved.  Likewise, if you want a promotion, step up for some key cross-department committees addressing business priorities, career coach Cheryl Palmer suggests in a Money magazine article. Go to the holiday parties, happy hours and industry mixers - and wear a suit that makes you feel like a winner.

Even if you never will be a cheerleader or football star, you can adopt some of their best techniques and be a winner.

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