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What the Job Demands: Personality Traits for a Given Job Type

Heather Myers

Chief Psychology Officer | PhD | Analyzer/Mentor in Work

In the current job market, where there are many openings and where people are rarely staying at one company for their entire careers, employers and employees are looking to find a position that is rewarding on both an intellectual level and an emotional level. This can make finding the right position a little tricky because an applicant might have the right skill set for a particular job but not the right personality. Perhaps this is best illustrated by an example. By my senior year in high school, I decided to pursue a career in psychology, which did not go over well with some of my extended family. I was positioned to be the first person in my family to pursue a bachelor’s degree. I had aspirations for an advanced professional degree, and my relatives insisted that I was “too smart to be a psychologist,” whatever that meant! Instead, they thought I should pursue a career in medicine, a profession that seemed prestigious to them but did not fit my personality at all. I was a strong student, but I was terrible in emergency situations, and being around sick people made my heart rate jump, as my time as a candy striper taught me. I’m not much of a thrill-seeker, so being in such situations on a regular basis held no appeal for me.

As I was to discover, being a research psychologist was a much better fit for my personality. I have yet to encounter a life-threatening emergency at work, and it is a perfect fit for my creative, analytical, and enthusiastic personality traits. This example illustrates the notion that just because we can do something doesn’t mean that we should or that we will even want to.

Personality Influences the Job Roles We Choose

The Five Factor Model of personality, also known as the Big Five, has been used to understand the relationships between personality, career selection, and job performance. The Big Five are Openness (to new experiences), Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism (often referred to in its inverse as Emotional Stability). One study showed that students’ personalities were related to the types of jobs they said they would chose. Choosing managerial roles was associated with higher agreeableness and conscientiousness and to a lesser extent higher extraversion and lower emotional stability. Choosing research and science roles was associated with higher extraversion and openness and to a lesser extent lower emotional stability. Finally, choosing technical roles was associated positively with extraversion and openness and to a lesser extent with higher conscientiousness and agreeableness.

A literature review further suggests a link between personality and job search. For example, those low on emotional stability are more likely to choose jobs that are low in complexity where they have a consistent routine and can work independently. Additionally, a study of people planning to enter different fields found that personality differences in the groups were well-defined (e.g., the civil engineering group was characterized by low emotional stability, high conscientiousness and low openness; the theater/drama group was characterized by high extraversion and low agreeableness).

Personality doesn’t just influence which jobs we choose, but also how well we do in those jobs. Years of research into personality and job performance tells us that personality is linked to performance differentially, based on the specific job. For some jobs, like customer service, all five dimensions are related to job performance. Research on call centers finds that conscientiousness, emotional stability, and agreeableness all positively correlate with the productivity of employees, but extraversion and openness do not.

In sales and management positions, extraversion and conscientiousness are the best predictors of job performance. Across skilled and semi-skilled jobs, conscientiousness and emotional stability emerge as the strongest predictors of job performance.

Personality has a positive influence on the careers we choose and on how well we do in them. So it makes good sense, as an individual, to have an accurate view of what you are like. An effective way to accomplish this is by completing a personality questionnaire. And if you need any more convincing: It’s often said that people are hired on the basis of their capabilities (skill, knowledge, and intellect) but fired because of their personalities!

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