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Personality traits predict performance differ

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Photo: Michael Willmott, University of Arkansas
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Credit: University of Arkansas

Can your personality affect your job performance? It depends on the job, according to a new study by management and psychology researchers.

“Although previous studies have provided data about the effects of personality traits on job performance in general, the specifics of these relationships are really job-dependent,” said Michael Willmott, assistant professor of management at the university’s Sam Walton School of Business. Arkansas. “There are more interesting results when we take a deeper look at performance within the various functions.”

Wilmott and Denise Onnes, professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota, combined multiple meta-analyses of the Big Five personality traits — conscientiousness, extraversion, openness, agreeableness, and neuroticism — and examined their impact on job performance. A meta-analysis is a process used to systematically combine multiple independent results using statistical methods to calculate the overall effect.

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The researchers cataloged these personality trait relationships across nine major occupational groups — clerical, customer service, health care, law enforcement, management, military, professional, sales, and skilled/semi-skilled. They took into account the complexity of the job and what occupational experts classify as the relevance of these personality traits to the requirements of the job.

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

Conscience predicted performance in all jobs. However, its effect was stronger in jobs with low and medium levels of cognitive requirements and weaker in jobs with high cognitive requirements. Extraversion was strongest in jobs with intermediate levels of cognitive complexity.

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

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Altogether, the results suggested that jobs of moderate occupational complexity might be ideal — the “moderate range,” Wilmott says — because of their reliance on personality traits to predict job performance.

The researchers also compared the empirical results to professional experts’ ratings of the importance of personality traits in job performance. They find that the evaluations are mostly accurate. For the majority of occupational groups—77% specifically—the two highest-rated traits matched the two most predictive traits detected in meta-analyses.

“These findings should be useful for researchers seeking a richer understanding of personality and performance relationships and for organizations that are sharpening employee talent identification and selection systems,” Wilmott said. “They should also benefit individuals trying to choose the right profession, really, society as a whole, which would reap the collective benefits of better professional performance.”

The researchers’ findings were published in professional conduct magazine.

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! is not responsible for the accuracy of newsletters sent on EurekAlert! Through the contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.

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