Big Five Overview
Find out more about the science behind personality traits and their assessment. Become an expert in the field of personality based recruitment.
Table of Contents
- What are the Big Five?
- Why is personality relevant for pre-selection?
- How good are recruiters in assessing a candidate’s personality?
- Does perceived personality predict job behavior?
Personality is usually defined by the set of behaviors, feelings, and thoughts that arise from a person’s biological and environmental state. While there’s no set definition behind the word “personality”, researchers over the past decades have made a respectable effort to optimize the assessment of an individual’s real character traits by different methods.
Within this process, five dimensions seem to have emerged along which a person can be characterized: the so-called Big Five of Personality by Costa and McCrae. Of course, as is common in scientific research, no model stands without critique. However, the Big Five have been widely reproduced across various (cultural) contexts, gender, age and ethical groups and showed to be equally independent of the language of assessment. The latest version is called the NEO PI-R (NeuroticismExtraversionOpenness Personality Inventory- Revised) and assesses the following traits:
- Neuroticism (emotional stability)
It has to be stressed, that these five categories of personality show a range within each. For example, no one is 100% introverted or 100% extroverted. Individuals tend to play somewhere in the middle of the two.
Openness to experience
Those who score high on this trait tend to be intellectually curious, willing to try new things, and are more creative or unconventional. Those who score low on this trait usually have an especially difficult time to adapt to change and abstract thought.
Typical Career Choices
People who are highly open to new experiences usually prefer jobs in Graphic Design, Engineering, Event Planning, Software Development, etc. People who are less open to new experiences often prefer jobs such as Credit Analyst, Security Guard, or Hosts and Hostesses.
How to motivate open employees
Individuals rating high on openness to experience highly value and can be motivated through new and stimulating tasks and independent working.
Individuals rating lower on openness can be motivated by explicit rules of actions and tasks valuing conformity, social order, security and moderation.
This highlights how well a person aligns themselves with responsibility, organization, and goal-setting. It comprises self-control and showcases how they may deliberate over choices. Those who score low on this trait tend to be more spontaneous, flexible, or unreliable.
Typical Career Choices
People who are highly conscientious usually prefer jobs in Architectural Drafting, Judiciary, Accounting, Surgery, Museum Conservation etc. People who are less conscientious often prefer jobs such as Salesman, Models, Taxi Driver, Art Therapist, Cook.
How to motivate conscientious employees
Individuals rating high on conscientiousness highly value and can be motivated through self-discipline and socially recognized successes.
Individuals rating lower on conscientiousness can be motivated by short-term goals with intrinsic rewards.
The spectrum of extraversion-introversion describes how individuals derive pleasure and receive energy. The more introverted, the greater the likelihood the person receives more enjoyment from their inner life than by social events. Introverts are more intrigued with the world of ideas and thus tend to be a bit more cerebral and reflective than extraverts. Extroverts gain energy from being around others and taking part in a wide-variety of activities. No one is purely extroverted or introverted, but rather lies somewhere on the spectrum.
Typical Career Choices
People who are highly extraverted usually prefer jobs in Acting, Service and Support, Counseling, Teaching etc. People who are less extraverted often prefer jobs such as Creative Writer, Mathematician, Laboratory Assistant or Machinist.
How to motivate extroverted employees
Individuals rating high on extraversion highly value and can be motivated through exciting experiences, ambitious tasks and behavior valuing their competence openly.
Individuals rating lower on extraversion can be motivated by tasks that require attention to detail and deliberate thinking and by more quietly expressed appreciation of their work.
A person with this trait exhibits greater amounts of prosocial behavior such as cooperation, friendliness, and politeness. They possess the ability for substantial empathy and tend to be concerned about others. They tend to avoid conflict and do not easily project negative emotions. Those scoring low on agreeableness have a tendency to be more blunt, manipulative or display competitiveness.
Typical Career Choices
People who are highly agreeable usually prefer jobs as Psychologist, Physician, Kindergarten Teacher etc. People who are less agreeable often prefer jobs such as Appraiser, Estate Agent or Geoscientist.
How to motivate agreeable employees
Individuals rating high on agreeableness highly value and can be motivated through helpfulness, loyalty and respect for tradition.
Individuals rating lower on agreeableness can be motivated by being in charge of people and resources and having authority.
Individuals who score high on this particular trait tend to experience negative or emotionally-anxious states. They wrestle with feelings of anxiety, depression, guilt or loneliness—more so than those who score low. Neuroticism is a long-term emotional state that may make everyday situations seem more challenging.
As this trait is primarily associated with well-being or distress, it is unlikely to be related to values or work preferences. However, one can expect, that jobs with high negative stress potential will be inept for neurotic individuals.
Typical Career Choices
People who are highly neurotic usually prefer jobs in Material Science, Web development, Archiving etc. People who are less neurotic often prefer jobs such as Telephone Operator, Critical Care Nurse or CEOs.
How to motivate neuroticistic employees
Individuals rating high on neuroticism might thus value and be motivated through a comforting, esteeming conduct and tasks with short-term goals promoting self-efficacy.
One of the major upsides of this model is that it has been a reliable predictor of success in social as well as academic circumstances such as career motivation, job satisfaction, and job performance.
It is important to highlight, indeed, that just as in theory of evolution there exists no simply good or bad trait, but only well adapted and poorly adapted to a given environment. Thus, in looking for a candidate, one will firstly have to consider the relevant criteria for the given position. While of course, the candidate’s job interest can deviate from their aptitudes, it will prove useful in long-term both for employer and employee to pay heed to the person-job fit. For though, not only an individual’s vocational interest and abilities are crucial for their on the job behavior, but more so their personality traits.
For example, a person that is straightforward and competitive will less likely be happy in a job that requires high empathy like for a nurse or therapist. In reverse, when looking to hire a nurse, employers should value high empathy levels. Thus, finding the candidate with a good job fit should be in the best interest of both candidate and employer. Therefore, Costa and McCrae came up with a NEO Job Profiler based on the Big Five to identify personality requirements of different occupations. Together with a personality test for the candidates (like the NEO PI-R) an optimal match between job profile and candidate can be sought.
In the Job Profiler recruiters indicate whether a trait is relevant to the particular job like below:
- Confident in social groups, not easily embarrassed, insensitive to status differences (N4)
- Seeks excitement, adventurous and daring, takes unnecessary risks for thrills (E5)
- Upright and scrupulous, a sticker for rules, can be moralistic (C3)
How good are recruiters in assessing a candidate’s personality?
Although resume screening constitutes one of the most frequently used pre-selection methods for applicants, it is nonetheless a rather unreasonable way of screening a candidate’s personality - assessing only one out of the five personality traits of a candidate correctly. In fact, recent studies have shown that not only do recruiters diverge strongly in their assessment of character. But also does assessment through resume merely relate slightly to the candidate’s actual personality (through self-assessment). Consequently, with resume screening being the “initial employment gatekeeper”, applicants failing this rather arbitrary selection process will not further be considered for a job position, though in fact: they might be eligible candidates!
A similarly sobering situation exists with interviewer judgments of applicants’ personality. A job interview usually follows the above-mentioned resume screening and for 85–90% of companies it is then the exclusive selection method. While here, experienced interviewers (independent from the interview type: structured or situational) are in fact able to assess a candidate’s personality (as well as close friends or family), they most likely fail to rate those personality traits most important for achieving job success: namely conscientiousness and emotional stability (neuroticism). This might be partly due to the missing focus on personality assessment common in most job interviews as well as the interviewer’s limited intake capacity while carrying on a conversation.
Certainly, both rationales underline why interviews should not solely be used as a means of candidates’ personality assessment.
Applicant impression management
Even more intersting, since interviews are so widely spread, candidates are becoming experts in managing the impression they’re giving in order to create a good image of themselves -so-called impression management (IM) strategies. While extraverted individuals make greater use of self-promotion which leads to perceived person-job fit by the interviewer and consequently a higher chance of being hired. Agreeableness on the other hand, led to greater use of non-verbal tactics increasing perceived similarity on the part of the interviewer. Even though these findings show that the candidate has in fact an active impact on the interviewer’s hiring decision, it must be considered that in the long term, this does not mean an optimal match between candidate and job. What is more, applicant IM strategies don’t seem to be influenced by their conscientiousness or emotional stability -traits that should be taken into account when making the hiring decision since they seem to soundly predict job behavior.
Does perceived personality predict job behavior?
What is perceived personality?
There are essentially two ways of assessing personality: asking the person in question or alternatively others (strangers or friends) to rate respective traits.
Most commonly, personality tests use self-assessment where people rate statements saying:
- I have no problems starting conversations
- I pay attention to details
- I am indifferent to the feelings of others
- I seldom feel blue
- I have a vivid imagination
However, one can equally address others, asking them to rate statements like:
- He/She postpones decisions
- He/She doesn’t like to draw attention to himself/herself
- He/She waits for others to lead the way
- He/She chooses his/her words with care
Those two types of assessments differ by definition. While in self-assessment, individuals refer to internal --and less observable-- motives, intentions, feelings and knowledge about past behavior, observer ratings are based on a person’s public reputation including observable behavior. Both can, in different ways, become subject to bias: self-assessment to faking of desirable trait levels (see below) and observer rating to amplifying personality traits over situational factors (as they have a limited insight into the individual’s behavior only).
Why is perceived personality relevant in a job context?
Since personality stands as a key predictor for on the job behavior, there should be a way of assessing it properly.
One can imagine that, especially for a job application, self-assessment of personality is affected by the desire to appear more favorable both in intentional (impression management) and unintentional ways (self-deception). In the process of describing one’s own personality, individuals refer to their internal identity in order to describe how they commonly behave. In this sense, it is like making predictions we would like to see come true (to preserve a consistent identity), but that might, in fact, not have much to do with our actual behavior. This can be reasonable for some traits like neuroticism (emotional stability) that comprises thoughts and behavior not easily observable by others.
Observer ratings of personality, however, have shown to provide substantial additional validity over self-reports of personality in predicting overall job achievement (improving such on average across all traits by 13%). This effect even applies to a single rater. Likewise, across all big five traits observer ratings account for more variance in job achievement --predicting job achievement better-- than do self-reports of personality. This holds especially for conscientiousness, where including observer ratings explains 6,7% more of job achievement results. Or agreeableness, where such accounts for 5,8% more.
Since the validity of a hiring method determines its practical utility: with observer ratings showing higher external validity than self-assessment of personality traits, it will prove useful taking these into account when making hiring decisions.
How is perceived personality assessed by strangers?
As for other traits, it may prove useful to have them assessed by strangers who, in contrast, refer to observed past behavior, which is likely to be a better predictor for future behavior especially in the work setting. Interestingly, certain traits can be assessed in a split second only.
In case of extraversion, recent research has shown that it is accurately perceived after only a 50ms exposure to a stranger’s face, indicating that such cues are detected very fast. That is, observers deduce from a stranger’s friendly facial expression their level of extraversion with introverts expressing such emotions less freely than more extroverted individuals. A possible explanation is in line with evolution theory, which suggests we had to become experts in detecting other people’s emotions on their face in order to reason future behavior.
While, all along the line, observer ratings of the Big5 seem to be better predictors for job behavior than self-assessment, they should certainly be complemented by the latter in order to ensure the candidate’s compliance and present an exhaustive assessment of character.
This includes inviting potential candidates to a face-to-face interview, wherein personality relevant questions are addressed.