Can personality traits predict job performance?
Updated: May 24
This article is part of the #10xTeams Series and we will look at personality testing and its advantages for employers. (10 minutes read).
Personality assessments have been around for a very long time. A quick Google Scholar search will show you plenty of research regarding personality and job performance dating back to the 1950's.
Recruitment can be a timely and costly process, so getting hiring decisions right and finding employees that will stay with your company for the long haul is key.
Proving a link between job performance and psychometric assessment is complex, but those who use it believe that it can give a more objective overview of a candidate’s character, strengths, weaknesses and working style. Typically, a psychometric test will never be used in isolation, but as one component of a wider, integrated evaluation strategy.
Why personality assessments can predict job performance?
When psychologists are trying to determine what kind of personality someone has, they look at the "Big Five": whether someone is an extravert; whether they are agreeable; whether they are conscientious; whether they're emotionally stable; and whether they're open to experiences.
Using well-validated, highly predictive assessment tools can give business owners and managers a significant leg up when trying to select candidates who will become top producers for the organisation.
The strongest personality assessments to use in a hiring context are ones that possess these attributes:
Measure stable traits that will not tend to change once the candidate has been on the job for some length of time.
Are normative in nature, which allows you to compare one candidate’s scores against another’s to determine which individual possesses more (or less) of a particular trait.
Have a “candidness” scale so you understand how likely it is that the results accurately portray the test-taker.
Have high reliability (including test-retest reliability) and have been shown to be valid predictors of job performance.
So out of the five pillars which one can be linked to job performance?
One research camp argues that conscientiousness — being responsible, dependable, organized and persistent — is generic to success.
But using conscientiousness as a standard of job performance won't work for all jobs. For some jobs, particularly creative ones, conscientiousness may be a liability, rather than an asset. Some research shows that while conscientiousness predicts performance in realistic and conventional jobs, it impedes success in investigative, artistic and social jobs that require innovation, creativity and spontaneity.
If your hiring process relies primarily on interviews, reference checks, and personality tests, you are choosing to use a process that is significantly less effective than it could be if more effective measures were incorporated.
In conclusion, personality tests are great at predicting job fit and are most effective when combined with other measures with higher predictive validity, such as integrity or cognitive ability.
Chartrand, C. (2017) ‘5 Reasons Why Personality at Work is More Important than You Think’. Atmanco [online] available from https://atmanco.com/blog/psychometrics/5-reasons-why-personality-at-work-is-more-important-than-you-think/ [20 September 2018]
Cobb-Clark, D. A., and Schurer, S. (2012) ‘The Stability of Big-five Personality Traits’. Economics Letters [online] 115 (1), 11-15.
Corr, P., and Matthews, G. (2009) The Cambridge Handbook of Personality Psychology [online] New York: Cambridge University Press.
Maltby, J., Day, L., and Macaskill, A. (2017) Personality, Individual Differences and Intelligence, 4th edn. Harlow: Pearson.
Martin, W. (2014) The Problem with Using Personality Test for Hiring. Harvard Business Review available from https://hbr.org/2014/08/the-problem-with-using-personality-tests-for-hiring [August 2014]
Stagner, R. (1937) Psychology of Personality. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill