For the better part of the 20th century, researchers have looked at the role that personality plays in job performance. For a very long time, findings were mixed and inconclusive. Because of this, researchers largely agreed that personality was in no way related to job performance. In fact, many people jokingly label this era of research as “the time when we had no personality.” Looking back, we can now understand why researchers came to these conclusions, and this blog post will look at the past and the present of personality as it applies to selection and performance.
First, take a moment to think and count how many personality traits you can come up with in 10 seconds. Did you have trouble doing this? Probably not! As it turns out, neither did researchers. During this time, researchers knew of (literally) thousands of personality traits and possessed no clear system of classifying them.
Second, there was little clarity and consistency among definitions for personality traits. Because of this, researchers often had different definitions for the same trait (or vice versa, different traits were given the same definition). For example, one research study could have defined “extraversion” as the tendency for one to seek the stimulation of others while another study might define it as the tendency to have a gregarious nature. Although both definitions sound a lot like extraversion, they would have different questions to assess them and they would be associated with different outcomes.
Understanding this, it is easier to see how researchers came to the conclusion that personality played no role in predicting job performance. However, since the 1980s, we’ve seen a Renaissance of personality research, and this is largely due to the emergence of a classification system called the Five-Factor Model of Personality, also known as the Big-Five. The Big-Five is essentially a descriptive model of personality that has effectively taken those thousands of personality traits and grouped them into five general dimensions. These include: (note- they spell OCEAN)
- Openness to Experience (aka, Intellectance): broad minded, curious, cultured vs. narrow minded, concrete, and practical
- Conscientiousness: hardworking, responsible, and organized vs. impulsive, lazy, and undependable
- Extraversion (aka, Surgency): gregarious and outgoing vs. quiet and reserved
- Agreeableness: cooperative, warm, and good-natured vs. cold and disagreeable
- Neuroticism (aka, Emotional Stability): confident and steady vs. anxious, emotional, and insecure
With the emergence of the Big-Five, research has been much more effective at predicting all sorts of job outcomes! Researchers have found that personality measures can even help predict job performance, over and above more traditional measures like structured interviews, assessment centers, and cognitive ability measures. In other words, using personality measures in the right way can add to the ability to predict future performance of job applicants. There is a host of research out there that links individual traits from the Big-Five to countless outcomes in the workplace, so look for more to come in future blogs!