The Big Five Personality Traits Model

Comparing Personalities with Roles

Compare your personality with your job role.

© iStockphoto/Bet_Noire

Have you ever worked in a job that just didn't fit with your personality? Or have you recruited people in the past who weren't successful in their roles, even though they had the skills required?

Many of us have taken jobs that weren't a good fit. For instance, picture a quiet, thoughtful and shy person stepping into a high-pressure sales position, where they have to make lots of telephone calls. Or someone who is extremely ordered and detailed, taking a job at a start-up software firm, where everyone has broad roles, and all are encouraged to be flexible in how they approach tasks.

When a person's personality doesn't fit the job, everyone loses. Not only will they be unhappy with their unsuitability for the role, But the organization will probably also suffer from increased absenteeism, low productivity, and loss of any investment in training when that person leaves.

This is where the Big Five Personality Traits Model can help, as a way of measuring the most important personality dimensions. With an understanding of these dimensions, you'll better understand what roles fit you best, and you'll be able to hire people who properly fit the positions you're trying to fill.

Understanding the Model

The Big Five Personality Traits model is based on findings from several independent researchers dating back to the late 1950s. But the model as it is now didn't begin to take shape until the 1990s. Lewis Goldberg, a researcher at the Oregon Research Institute, is credited with naming the model "The Big Five", and it is now a broadly respected personality scale, which is routinely used in business and in psychological research.

The Big Five Personality Traits Model measures five key dimensions of people's personalities:

  1. Openness (sometimes called intellect or imagination) – This measures your level of creativity, and your desire for knowledge and new experiences.
  2. Conscientiousness – This looks at the level of care you take in your life and work. If you score high in conscientiousness, you're organized and thorough, and you know how to make plans and follow them through. If you score low, you're likely to be lax and disorganized.
  3. Extraversion/Introversion – This dimension measures your level of sociability. Are you outgoing or quiet? Do you draw energy from a crowd, or do you find it difficult to work and be around others?
  4. Agreeableness – This dimension looks at your level of friendliness and kindness to others. Do you have empathy? Can you sympathize with others?
  5. Natural Reactions (sometimes called emotional stability or neuroticism) – This measures your level of emotions. Do you react negatively to bad news and yell at your colleagues, or do you react calmly? Do you worry obsessively about small details, or are you relaxed in stressful situations?

From Goldberg, L.R., "The Development of Markers for the Big-Five Factor Structure," Psychological Assessment, Vol. 4, No. 1, 26-42, 1992, published by American Psychological Association, Inc.

Note:

This is sometimes also called the OCEAN model, after the first letters of each dimension.

Taking the Test

Many websites allow you to take a Big Five Personality Traits test for free. You can find a popular version here.

Depending on which test you take, you'll see the scoring presented in different ways. This test gives you a score for each dimension, letting you know if you score high or low compared with others who have taken the test.

Other tests give you a score that looks like a series of letters and numbers (an example could be O93-C74-E31-A96-N5). The letters stand for each dimension, and the numbers stand for the percentage of people who scored lower than you for each of those dimensions. Here, O93 means that 93% of people who took the test scored lower than you in openness. Therefore, compared to those other people, you're very open to having new experiences and being creative. C74 means that 74% of people who took the test scored lower than you in conscientiousness. So, you're fairly organized and self-disciplined, compared with others who took the test.

How to Use Your Score

Once you've taken the Big Five personality test, what do you actually do with the information? If you use the test in recruitment, how do you make sense of the data?

  • For your job – Use this new insight into your personality to determine if you're in the right role. For instance, if you scored high on extraversion and natural reactions, you love a crowd but you're easily stressed and nervous.

    In this example, if your current role is a high-stress position and keeps you isolated in an office most of the day, your role probably doesn't fit your personality well. Here, you could use the results to identify a new role or career direction that would be a better fit. Alternatively, you could use the results to take on extra responsibilities, or change how you work, perhaps by moving to another office where you get to work alongside more of your team.

  • For recruiting – Use the test to find someone who really fits the job you're trying to fill. Start by looking at the position's responsibilities.

    For instance, does this position need a team player or someone who works well independently? Is the corporate culture very bureaucratic and organized, or more artistic and relaxed? Does the role demand out-of-the-box thinking, or someone who is very comfortable following routines?

    Once you've identified the "personality" of the role, use the Big Five Personality Traits Model to find a person whose personality is a good fit for the position. You may also want to consider using other recruitment tests  .

Note:

Remember that the Big Five Personality Traits Model is only an indication of what roles are best for you (see also our article on Holland's Codes   for another approach to this), or of which potential hires may be best for a role. Being a good fit according to the model won’t necessarily guarantee success in the role.

Key Points

The Big Five Personality Traits Model measures five key dimensions of someone's personality: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion/introversion, agreeableness, and natural reactions.

You can use insights from this model to better understand yourself, and the type of role that you are most likely to enjoy. You can also use the model as part of the recruitment process, to find people whose personalities best match the roles you are offering.

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