Which Personality Traits Are Most Important to Employers?

PersonalityTraits_newsfeatureWhile most employers evaluate job candidates on their skills and experience, many companies are increasingly using personality measures to determine whether a candidate is a good fit. According to a survey from the Society for Human Resource Management, nearly 20% of employers say they use some type of personality test as part of the hiring process.

In a new study published in the journal Perspectives in Psychological Science, psychologists Paul R. Sackett and Philip T. Walmsley of the University of Minnesota analyzed several large data sets of hiring and job performance information to find out which personality attributes companies value most.

Sackett and Walmsley used a well-established model for measuring personality known as the Big Five as the theoretical basis for their study. In the Big Five model, an individual’s personality can be described using measures of five personality traits: conscientiousness, agreeableness, emotional stability, extraversion, and openness to experience.

The researchers analyzed a large set of data on job interviews to find out which personality traits companies look for when they’re hiring. Much of the data came from an analysis of structured job interviews, in which employers assess candidates for particular personality traits in order to make sure they’re a good fit for the job and overall work environment. For example, a company that is hiring a salesperson would want to assess job candidates for the traits of extraversion and friendliness to make sure they’re likely to work well with customers.

After crunching the numbers, Sackett and Walmsley found that conscientiousness–which involves being dependable, persevering, and orderly–was by far the most highly sought after personality attribute for job applicants. Agreeableness–being cooperative, flexible and tolerant–was the second most prized personality trait.

But, do these personality traits predict how well someone will actually perform on the job?

To find out, the researchers looked at the relationship between personality traits and three work performance criteria: whether an employee is able to complete their work to satisfaction, how often an employee goes above and beyond at work, and how often they engage in negative behaviors.

Again, conscientiousness and agreeableness came out on top. In the analysis, conscientiousness was the trait most closely associated with overall job performance, with agreeableness coming in second.

The researchers also analyzed data indicating the specific skills and qualities needed to be successful at over a thousand different jobs, drawn from a Department of Labor database called O*NET. They wanted to find out which of the Big Five personality traits are most often cited as important qualities for success across the entire American workforce.

The researchers found that overall attributes related to conscientiousness, agreeableness, and emotional stability were considered important for a wide variety of jobs from construction to health care.

“In conclusion, our findings provide robust evidence that attributes related to Conscientiousness and Agreeableness are highly important for workforce readiness across a variety of occupations that require a variety of training and experience qualifications,” write Sackett and Walmsley.

Although conscientiousness is, on average, the most highly valued attribute, the researchers caution that specific occupations may have different rankings for personality traits. However, Sackett and Walmsley also advise that knowing which traits are highly valued generally could be helpful information for students or people who haven’t yet decided on specific career goals.



Sackett, P. R, Walmsley, P. T. (2014). Which Personality Attributes Are Most Important in the Workplace? Perspectives on Psychological Science, 9(5), 538-551. DOI: 10.1177/1745691614543972



conscientiousness, agreeableness, emotional stability, extraversion, and openness to experience.

In other words, they are looking to hire sheeple. What about industrious, intelligent, determination?

Oh, that’s right. Those people are called entrepreneurs.

Hi Chris, I know it’s almost three years later, but I thought I’d answer your comment.

The Big Five cover all possible personality traits, that is how the framework was created. Psychologists gathered data that helped them group similar traits together to make super traits. So “industrious” and “determination” are in fact part of conscientiousness. Intelligence is a mental ability, not a personality trait, so it doesn’t fit here.

Admittedly, agreeableness is a “sheeple” trait, and entrepreneurs are usually low in it, but entrepreneurs are usually high in conscientiousness, emotional stability, and openness to new experiences (http://www.managementpsychology.com/articles/entrepreneurs-and-personality/)

Chris is really low on agreeableness. So low he will likely need to work for him/herself as working for others would require them to be more aware of their behaviors impacts on others. I say this as an entrepreneur who would avoid Chris as a customer or an employee. Good luck Chris, you are going to need to be tough as things are going to be harder for you.

As I am doing PhD on the influence of Personality traits on employees’ performance this article is informative to my phD study. Thanks

“A little knowledge is a dangerous thing”

So nice to see and work through in our own hiring practices.

Expedia Recruiting.

Good read, and very detailed.

Do some research on a Big 5 personality trait called “emotional stability”. What do you think is the relationship between emotional stability and EI?

Be agreeable and open for new new ideas because employers like that.

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