The right person for the job

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Few people are more interested in your personality than a prospective employer. As hiring processes become more automated, and with more and more companies relying on data analytics to filter candidates, personality tests have become increasingly ubiquitous. The incentives to screen before hiring have risen, and the cost of doing so has declined. In 2013, 57 percent of large firms used pre-hire personality tests[1]. So what personality traits are predictive of job performance, and which personality traits are most useful for which fields?

Several studies have investigated the personality-performance relationships. One looked at employees at a pharmaceutical company, and found that those high in neuroticism performed worse, and were less creative, than those who were more emotionally stable. Creativity and task performance were also associated with extroversion (perhaps because extroverts tend to experience more positive emotions) and openness to experience (which is related to imaginativeness, aesthetic sensitivity, attentiveness to inner feelings, and a preference for novelty). And people who were high in emotional stability, openness, and agreeableness performed well in management positions[2].

In another study, researchers investigated the link between personality and job performance among people in several different professions. The study found that conscientiousness—which includes being persistent, hardworking, and reliable—predicted job performance in all fields.

Extroversion predicted job performance in two professions: management and sales. Unsurprisingly, the traits of extroversion (which include being social, talkative, and assertive) are helpful in professions that require social interaction. Interestingly, people high in neuroticism (which includes worrying and being anxious or nervous) performed better in “professional” jobs such as engineer and architect[3]. Another study found that openness to experience predicts success in artistic jobs[4].

While these studies found that extroversion predicts career success in some fields, they didn’t find a link between introversion and success. Does this mean that introverts are destined to be less successful?

Not at all, says Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Cain argues that although many careers are oriented toward extroverts, introverts have unique strengths that serve them well[5].

Consider a study of elite adult violinists at the Music Academy in West Berlin. Students were divided into three groups according to their skill at performance, and all kept a detailed record of their music-related activities. During the course of their education, the violinists did various activities to improve their skills, including taking lessons, group practice, and public solo performance. But the activity they considered most valuable to improving their performance was practicing alone. Sure enough, the study found that students in the two best groups spent significantly more of their time practicing in solitude. Exceptional performance is the result of deliberate practice, according to the researchers, and deliberate practice requires such deep concentration and effort that it’s best done in solitude[6]. Clearly introverts can flourish in careers that reward solitary work.

What about other professions? Conventional wisdom has it that although introverts can certainly succeed in careers that require large amounts of team cooperation and customer interaction, they may not be very happy in such professions. But personality isn’t destiny, and you should do what you want to do and you’ll find a way to make it work, argues Sophia Dembling, author of The Introvert’s Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World.

Dembling tells the story of buying a car from a salesman who identified as an introvert. “His introversion probably helped him make the sale,” writes Dembling. “He wasn’t all up in my face, so I felt comfortable and had time to think. I didn’t feel like I had to defend myself against him”[7].

Most jobs tend to require a combination of social interaction and solitary work, she adds. Even being a book author—a career that seems ideal for introverts—still requires authors to promote themselves, give readings and talks, and do media appearances. In the end, says Dembling, you should pursue the career you feel called to do. “It’s not the job that matters,” writes Dembling. “It’s how we manage our own energy on the job.”


1. Weber, L. (2015, April 14). Today’s personality tests raise the bar for job seekers. The Wall Street Journal.
2. Rothmann, S., & Coetzer, E.P. (2003). The Big Five personality dimensions and job performance. SA Journal of Industrial Psychology, 29, 68–74.
3. Barrick, M.R., & Mount, M.K. (1991). The Big Five personality dimensions and job performance: A meta-analysis. Personnel Psychology, 44, 1–26.
4. Barrick, M.R., Mount, M.K., & Gupta, R. (2003). Meta-analysis of the relationship between the five-factor model of personality and Holland’s occupational types. Personnel Psychology, 56, 45–74.
5. Cain, S. (2012). Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. New York: Crown Publishers.
6. Ericsson, K.A., Krampe, R.T., & Tesch-Römer, C. (1993). The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Psychological Review, 100, 363–406.
7. Dembling, Sophia. (2013). The best job for introverts is no job (in particular). Psychology Today.