Luck and Timing – Crucial for Success?

What makes some people have successful careers with prestigious titles at the most exciting companies? If you ask individuals who hold these positions, it is not uncommon to hear answers like “talented,” “worked harder than others,” “sacrificed a lot,” “extremely ambitious,” and “had a clear plan.”

While these factors may be true – wholly or partially – they probably don’t tell the whole truth. We dare to claim that both luck and timing can play a significant role in determining who reaches the highest leadership positions and who falls short.

It begins with the circumstances a person has from the very beginning. Socioeconomic status, gender, and ethnicity are some examples. Diversity and inclusion are crucial aspects in recruitment contexts, but that is not where we will focus this time. We want to take a closer look at what can affect careers once they are already underway, assuming that everyone has the same foundation. That is when luck and timing come into play.


We have all experienced situations in life where we thought, “What luck!” or, in unfortunate cases, “What bad luck!” Some events are isolated incidents that happen at a specific time and place, while others become the starting point for a series of events that impact other aspects of life. Some people claim that you earn your luck – that hard work and sacrifices in other areas will result in luck. However, it is difficult to determine the cause and effect in these cases.

How does luck manifest in the workplace? The most obvious example is if you know someone in a position of power who provides you with opportunities that others in your position do not receive, or introduces you to people who do. It can also depend on who reads your CV. Perhaps the person went to the same school as you and feels a sense of connection? Maybe you were lucky to have a boss who was good at promoting others? Or it could be as simple as the person you meet for an interview happened to be in a good mood? In legal cases, the time of day has been shown to play a significant role in the severity of sentences for convicted individuals (tip: don’t receive a sentence or meet a hiring manager right before lunch). There are also studies (the halo effect) that show that individuals perceived as attractive or beautiful are judged to perform better and be more likable than others. These are two significant factors to consider when considering hiring a person.

Luck and misfortune exist everywhere, and it is clear that they have an impact on various aspects of life. However, there is no contradiction in having luck and being really good at your job. We believe it is important to be aware that more than just talent and sacrifices play a role in the success story.


Timing is another factor that can be crucial for success. Timing refers to the moment when an individual’s knowledge and experience align with the needs of the market or the environment. Organizations with long-term employees may have a culture of “we’ve already tried that” when new ideas are presented. Whether this is efficient or a discouraging attitude can be questioned, but it underscores the importance of timing. There are certainly times when you have presented an idea for the fifth time or been given the opportunity to try something again, and suddenly it gains traction.

When it comes to timing, it does not necessarily contradict being good at your job and deserving your success, but it can be decisive in determining whether person A or person B gets the opportunity.


So, how should we handle luck and timing if they are not something we can control? Firstly, we want to be clear that we should not dismiss them as they are part of life, but we can create conditions for recruitment that reduce the impact of chance on the outcome.

Step one is not solely relying on our own network. There are undoubtedly many talented individuals in your network, but think about all the potential candidates you might miss! The right person may be somewhere completely different, probably with different perspectives (compared to your relatively homogeneous network) that can bring value to the organization and achieve better results.

Step two is to ensure proper processes. An effective recruitment process is not the same as a short recruitment process. Shortcuts often lead to detours. It is often urgent to have a leader in place, but it is important to consider the bigger picture and ensure that all parts have their place and purpose. Trust the process and let people’s competence have the opportunity to outweigh timing.

Step three is not to rely solely on feelings during recruitment. Start with the job requirements profile that you have developed (and consider seeking help for new perspectives) and work based on competencies throughout the process. Provide equal opportunities for all candidates to ensure the assessment is as accurate as possible for your organization and its future needs. You don’t want to realize a few months in that you have been careless during interviews (talking about common acquaintances instead of how the person has acted in different situations) thus thinking “What bad luck!”

Article written by Katarina Åhlin, CFR Global Executive Search Sweden
Photo source: Freepik


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