What is the most desired personality trait in employees?
Conscientiousness is the most important and desired personality trait in employees, followed by agreeableness. This was one of several findings of a study carried out by US psychologists Paul R Sackett and Philip T Walmsley in 2014.
The study, published in the journal ‘Perspectives in Psychological Science’ followed the principle that personality types can be broken down into five types – the Big Five, as they are known in psychology circles, also called the five factor model (FFM), OCEAN and CANOE. The Big Five are as follows:
– Openness. Being curious and inventive, having an appreciation of art, emotions and all things creative. Being open to experiences
– Conscientiousness. Being organised, dependable, efficient and self disciplined
– Extraversion. Outgoing, energetic, sociable, assertive and talkative
– Agreeableness. Being friendly, compassionate and cooperative
– Neuroticism. Sensitive, nervous and prone to suffering negative emotions, such as anger and anxiety
When conducting the study, the psychologists analysed hiring data to see what personality traits employers were looking for. Conscientiousness topped the list.
The psychologists didn’t stop there though: they also looked at job performance. They did this by exploring the relationship between personality traits and three work performance criteria. Those criteria were: whether an employee was able to complete their work to a satisfactory level, how often an employee went beyond what was required at work and how often they engaged in negative behaviours. What came out on top? Conscientiousness again, followed by agreeableness.
Personality testing when hiring has been under fire in recent years. Why? Employers and HR have found it hard to gain information that is accurate, reliable and meaningful. Tests that rely on formulaic methods, such as asking candidates to choose words that they think are most or least like them or to rate their attributes on a sliding scale are not particularly good indicators of future job performance. For obvious reasons, candidates might choose the words they think recruiters want to hear, rather than what they know to be true. Even if they are honest, how self aware is the person taking the test? Just because they say they are a team player who collaborates well and can take constructive criticism, doesn’t mean that their response is accurate.
However, soft skills are increasingly important in the workplace and so, understandably, employers want to know if potential employees possess the right characteristics. Hard, technical skills are easier to measure and easier to teach. Plus, they date very quickly now so employers want to know that employees are flexible, adaptable, open to change and so on. These are all soft skills.
Soft skills can be taught and honed to a certain degree, but employers are wary of taking on candidates that they know lack a certain essential personality trait or skill that is necessary for the role.
We do have people analytics now though and they are increasingly being used to measure soft skills. The technology exists to not just measure what soft skills a person has, but also to predict how they would react to certain situations in the workplace. When organisations can combine self-reporting tests (those traditional questionnaire questions) with ability testing, the results are a lot more meaningful and accurate.
And these tests aren’t confined to just new recruits – HR, L&D and line managers can use personality testing with existing employees, particularly at career transition points, such as when a promotion occurs. The tests can be used to establish where a person scores highly on particular personality traits and skills and where their weaknesses are. The results can be used to pinpoint current and future development needs.
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