Can your personality affect your job performance?

Well, it depends on your job tells a meta-meta-analysis of multiple meta-analyses of the five big personality traits and examined their effect on job performance.

The study in short:

  • Occupational characteristics moderate relations of personality and performance in major occupational groups.
  • Personality–occupational performance relations differ considerably across nine major occupational groups.
  • Traits show higher criterion-related validities when experts rate them as more relevant to occupational requirements.
  • Moderate occupational complexity may be a “goldilocks range” for using personality to predict occupational performance.
  • Occupational characteristics are important, if overlooked, contextual variables.

From the press release:

“Although past studies made statements about the effects of personality traits on job performance in general, the specifics of these relationships really depend on the job,” said Michael Wilmot, assistant professor of management in the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas. “More interesting findings exist when we take a deeper look at performance within the different jobs.”

Wilmot and Deniz Ones, professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota, combined multiple meta-analyses of the five big personality traits — conscientiousness, extraversion, openness, agreeableness and neuroticism — and examined their effect on job performance. Meta-analysis is a process used to systematically merge multiple independent findings using statistical methods to calculate an overall effect.

The researchers indexed these personality trait relationships across nine major occupational groups — clerical, customer service, healthcare, law enforcement, management, military, professional, sales, and skilled/semiskilled. They accounted for job complexity and what occupational experts rate as the relevance of these personality traits to job requirements.

Overall, Wilmot and Ones found that relationships between personality traits and performance varied greatly across the nine major occupational groups. The main source of these differences pertained to occupational complexity.

Conscientiousness predicted performance in all jobs. However, its effect was stronger in jobs with low and medium levels of cognitive demands and weaker in highly cognitively demanding jobs. Extraversion was stronger in jobs with medium levels of cognitive complexity.

Other traits showed stronger effects when they were more relevant to specific occupational requirements. For example, agreeableness predicted better in healthcare jobs and extraversion predicted better in sales and management jobs.

In all, results suggested that jobs with moderate occupational complexity might be ideal — the “goldilocks range,” as Wilmot says — for relying on personality traits to predict job performance.

The researchers also compared the empirical findings to occupational experts’ ratings of the relevance of personality traits to job performance. They found the ratings to be mostly accurate. For a majority of the occupational groups — 77%, specifically — the two most highly rated traits matched the two most highly predictive traits revealed in the meta-analyses.

“These findings should prove useful for scholars pursuing a richer understanding of personality — performance relations and for organizations honing employee talent identification and selection systems,” said Wilmot. “They should also benefit individuals trying to choose the right vocation and, really, society at-large, which would reap the collective benefits of better occupational performance.”

Abstract of the meta-meta-analysis:

Personality predicts performance, but the moderating influence of occupational characteristics on its performance relations remains underexamined. Accordingly, we conduct second-order meta-analyses of the Big Five traits and occupational performance (i.e., supervisory ratings of overall job performance or objective performance outcomes). We identify 15 meta-analyses reporting 47 effects for 9 major occupational groups (clerical, customer service, healthcare, law enforcement, management, military, professional, sales, and skilled/semiskilled), which represent N = 89,639 workers across k = 539 studies. We also integrate data from the Occupational Information Network (O*NET) concerning two occupational characteristics: 1) expert ratings of Big Five trait relevance to its occupational requirements; and 2) its level of occupational complexity. We report three major findings. First, relations differ considerably across major occupational groups. Conscientiousness predicts across all groups, but other traits have higher validities when they are more relevant to occupational requirements: agreeableness for healthcare; emotional stability for skilled/semiskilled, law enforcement, and military; extraversion for sales and management; and openness for professional. Second, expert ratings of trait relevance mostly converge with empirical relations. For 77% of occupational groups, the top-two most highly rated traits match the top-two most highly predictive traits. Third, occupational complexity moderates personality–performance relations. When groups are ranked by complexity, multiple correlations generally follow an inverse-U shaped pattern, which suggests that moderate complexity levels may be a “goldilocks range” for personality prediction. Altogether, results demonstrate that occupational characteristics are important, if often overlooked, contextual variables. We close by discussing implications of findings for research, practice, and policy.


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