Personality is a stimulating subject. It captures the attention of people looking to learn more about themselves and learn how to better relate to the world around them.

They are drawn in by the allure of learning something surprising about themselves, or gaining a better understanding – or even an affirmation of – their own character.

Today, businesses benefit from this fascination by asking potential job candidates to take a personality test before hiring. Just as an individual might hope to gain a better understanding of themselves by taking a test, an employer is hoping to gain an understanding of a person to avoid making a costly hiring mistake.

A powerful way of evaluating a candidate’s personality is to use personality tests, or personality inventories, that measure using The Big Five personality dimensions.

What is The Big Five?

The whole field of personality languished for decades until “The Big Five” was discovered. It was a revolutionary scientific basis for personality. Not that there weren’t any others – there were too many diverse traits, there was no common metric, and they were too complicated to be useful.

“The Big Five” is an easier to understand, common language model of five basic dimensions of personality – Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Emotional Stability.

Each of these broad personality dimensions encompass more specific traits and, when measured using a tool such as a personality inventory, can be used to analyze personality and predict behavior.

Why Use The Big Five for Business?

Businesses need to keep tight control over time and money. One place where a great deal of productivity and financial loss occurs rests in staffing. Hiring, training, coaching, firing, and cleaning up the mess of a bad employee take a lot of time and cost a lot of money.

Using The Big Five as a means to evaluate a job candidate’s fit BEFORE hiring can significantly decrease the time and money spent on staffing.

As an example: One personality dimension included in The Big Five, Conscientiousness, has been found to be a near universal predictor of job performance, regardless of type of job or industry. Find someone who scores high in Conscientiousness, and you lessen your chances a poor hire.

The Personality Dimensions of “The Big Five”

The Big Five personality dimensions have been observed in different cultures and across many different measurement systems. They are fundamental building blocks for describing personality. Each one of The Big Five dimensions has substantial validity and reliability, which makes them extremely valuable to a business looking to evaluate potential new hires or making employment decisions about current staff.

The personality dimensions are as follows:

Openness: This dimension captures a person’s receptivity to change, innovation, new experiences, and learning. High scorers tend to demonstrate these characteristics and are more willing to try out new procedures and ways of doing things on their jobs. Low scorers tend to prefer stability, convention, and tried-and-true ways of doing things on the job.

Successful marketing professionals, scientists, and entrepreneurs tend to demonstrate a high level of openness. Conversely, individuals who demonstrate a low level of openness may thrive in situations that revolve around procedure and routine – i.e. security guards, auditors, bank managers, and more.

Conscientiousness: This refers to a person’s reliability, trustworthiness, dedication, and readiness to  internalize company norms and values. High scorers tend to have these attributes; low scorers tend to be more non-conforming and inclined to march to their own drummer, usually preferring spontaneity and a lack of structure on their jobs.

We live in a structured world. Most businesses require structured professionals in positions. People who are conscientious will perform better in a structured environment. A job in Accounting, which requires work to be accurate, neat, orderly, and on time, for example, requires a high degree of conscientiousness. Across the board, conscientiousness is consistently the strongest predictor of job performance; important outcomes like attendance, accuracy, and reliability, are all correlated with employees who demonstrate a high level of conscientiousness in personality testing.

Extraversion: This describes the tendency to be sociable, outgoing, warm hearted, gregarious, expressive, and talkative.  High scorers tend to be more attentive to and energized by external stimuli, including other people and social/interpersonal cues in the workplace. Low scorers are more introverted, quiet, focused, reserved, shy, and inward-turning.

Extraversion is an important predictor of success for field salesmen, financial advisors, physical therapists, public relations professionals, event planners, and any profession involving building relationships, making a high volume of sales calls either over the phone or in person, or requiring a lot of intrapersonal contact. Conversely, jobs that don’t require such activities and require a person to work primarily on their own may be suitable for an individual who is a low scorer for this dimension.

Agreeableness: This refers to a person being agreeable, participative, helpful, cooperative, and inclined to interact with others in a harmonious manner. High scorers tend to work smoothly with others and are easygoing, accepting, and obliging in interpersonal settings. Low scorers tend to be more critical, oppositional, contentious, argumentative, and willing to challenge other people.  

Jobs that require a high level of teamwork, including medical professionals on a surgical team or professional football teams, will be more successful with team members who are highly agreeable people.

Emotional Stability: This describes the overall level of adjustment, resilience, and emotional stability of an individual. High scorers can function more effectively under conditions of job pressure and stress, whereas low scorers are less stress-resistant, lose their composure more readily, and more subject to negative emotions on the job.

Professionals in high pressure situations, such as air traffic controllers, policeman, and emergency services dispatchers, will be more successful if they have a high degree of emotional stability. That isn’t to say that low scorers don’t have the skills necessary for the job; there is, however, a strong correlation between being able to handle the demands of the job and emotional stability.

What Happens When you Don’t Evaluate Personality Before Hiring?

People flourish in their work environment when there is a good fit between their personality type and the characteristics of the environment. Lack of congruence between personality and environment leads to dissatisfaction, unstable career paths, and lowered performance.” (John L. Holland, 1996.)

You aren’t just hiring someone for a job. You are building your brand name and how your company is perceived in the marketplace. Your team’s morale, your customer’s satisfaction, and your company’s reputation rest in the hands of your employees. So why, then, would you risk a bad hire?

Personality should ALWAYS be a factor when hiring and team-building, and further, in employee development & career planning. Hire the right people for the right roles, and you’ll benefit from improved results across the board, particularly in productivity, morale, customer satisfaction, reputation in the marketplace, and of course, profits.


Online Personality Tests from Resource Associates