Personality traits and career fit

Research suggests that personality may be important in job satisfaction and career success (Dr Blaine Landis). However, it is a complex idea and there is no uniform definition of personality.

One of the problems with identifying traits or behavioural tendencies to match individuals to jobs is that this could imply that there is a single, 'perfect' personality for a particular role.

Implying a ‘perfect’ personality fit for a role has both a negative effect on limiting people’s ideas and on the overall diversity of a profession.

Gaining an understanding of your own personality traits can help you generate ideas for careers that would play to your strengths, improve on weaknesses, and interact with others more effectively in your current career.

What is personality?

Psychology Today defines personality as:

a person’s distinctive patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving. It derives from a mix of innate dispositions and inclinations along with environmental factors and experiences.’

Psychology Today

What are the "Big Five" personality traits?

The Big Five, one of the most widely researched personality models, was devised by D. W. Fiske in 1956. It looks at five personality traits and identifies which end of each scale individuals feel comfortable at.

The Big Five are:

  1. Agreeableness: compassion, respectfulness, trust, and the tendency to go along with others.
  2. Conscientiousness: organisation, productivity, responsibility, and the tendency to be careful, hardworking and to follow rules.
  3. Extroversion: sociability and assertiveness.
  4. Neuroticism: tendencies towards sensitivity, negative emotions, anxiety, and depression.
  5. Openness to Experience : curiosity, creativity and appreciation for new ideas, values, feelings and behaviours.

How to understand your personality

Take a personality assessment

There have been various attempts to measure personality, popular workplace assessments include the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the Caliper Assessment.

John Holland’s model (devised mid 20th century) aims to match people with types of jobs, by asking you to consider both personality and interest.

Take the Holland Hexagon of Career Interest

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Ask for the honest opinion of others that you trust

  • How would you describe me to someone who does not know me?
  • What do you think are my best traits?
  • What do you think are my worst traits?

It is tempting when we ask for feedback, or reflect on ourselves, to only focus on the positives, but if you really want to understand yourself better it is also important to examine where you struggle.

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Record yourself in professional situations, such as presentations or meetings

Watch your recording back and note how you come across from an audience/external perspective

Note: if other people are present, it's important you get permission first before you record yourself.

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How does personality affect career success and satisfaction?

The first personality trait described by the "Big Five" is agreeableness, which describes our capacity to get along with other people. For example:

In a work context, people who are high in agreeableness will tend to enjoy informal group interactions and work environments that value frequent and friendly contact with others. They are likely to prize connecting with others highly.

Whereas people at the other end of the spectrum may prefer environments that do not expect informal contact frequently with others, and that are more focused on independent work.

Understanding Personality-Job fit

Once you understand your own personality, you can start to consider how it affects your preferred behaviours at work. You can use the "Big Five" traits to think about the personality of the organisation, team, PI or line manager.

You can assess whether your preferred traits align or mismatch with the job characteristics, people, and teams you work with.

Laura's Example

Laura had always been good at science at school, and it was because she was told this by her teachers that she initially decided to pursue this career path. But being a lab-based postdoc in biological sciences was seriously affecting Laura’s well-being, and a recent ADHD diagnosis meant it felt even less manageable.

Laura’s PI was extremely supportive and happy to work with her to make adjustments, but Laura reflected that she had never really liked lab-work. She was bored by the lack of variety in the work, and felt overwhelmed by what she perceived as a never-ending to-do list.

Laura realised that the times she had been happiest as a research scientist were during collaborative work. She thrived when generating ideas in a group, using her communication skills to build and bounce off others through conversation.

A triathlete who had always been highly active, Laura was also keen on setting and meeting ambitious fitness goals. The thought of working with individuals and groups as a personal trainer, and supporting them in meeting their own fitness goals, felt highly motivating.

Working with multiple clients a day would give her the variety and close collaboration that she prefers. The discrete start and end times of sessions would enable her to create and maintain healthier boundaries: having a predictable number of sessions each day would give her a sense of completion.

Useful resources

In this article we have specifically considered personality-job fit, but there are other aspects of job fit that you can explore in more detail:  

"What is job fit and why does it matter?", Psychology Today.

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