Which personality types tend to be most common among high performers?
Would personality tests enable us to pinpoint people who have the potential to be high performers?
During the last half of the 20th century, there was a great deal of skepticism in the field of psychology regarding whether job performance had anything to do with an applicant’s personality. Common sense suggests that an individual’s personality should have an impact on work performance, but until the 1990s studies provided conflicting results.
Fortunately, due to an advance in the field of personality called the Big Five (or Five Factor Model), we now know that personality does influence job performance in predictable ways, although the impact can vary for different jobs. Briefly, the Big Five are personality factors, usually measured by personality tests, which are found across cultures:
- Agreeableness: being kind, likable and respectful of authority.
- Conscientiousness: hard-working, dedicated and thorough.
- Extraversion: outgoing, lively and persuasive.
- Stability: calm, resilient and optimistic.
- Openness: flexible and intellectually curious.
Nearly two decades of research using the Big Five model suggests that, in most circumstances, highly conscientious individuals tend to be better performers in most jobs–they have a stronger work ethic, show more initiative and act more responsibly. People with high levels of stability tend to outperform those with less stability because they respond better to disappointments, pressure and crisis situations.
The picture on the other factors tends to differ from job to job. Service workers tend to perform better if they are more agreeable because of their cooperative and respectful nature. Salespeople who are more extroverted also tend to perform better because they are more comfortable interacting with and persuading others. Finally, people who are open and flexible tend to do well in training others, given their interest in expanding their own capabilities and learning new skills.
Despite personality’s role, it is important to remember that other factors could have an equally strong or stronger impact on job performance. For example, there is a long track record of studies demonstrating that intellectual abilities, job knowledge and job simulation exercises (such as role plays) are excellent methods of identifying people who will perform well on the job. Therefore, a combination of different types of techniques, including both ability assessments and personality inventories, usually will do the best job of identifying candidates who have a high potential for success. You will capture both the “can do” aspects of performing (with the ability assessments) and the “will do” aspects of performing (with the personality inventories). Just make sure that any tests you use for selecting job candidates are properly validated and consistent with professional and legal standards.