The Big 5 Personality Traits: How They Apply to Hiring

By Dr. Leann Schneider

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Learn Why the Five-Factor Model is the Most Predictive Personality Test for Jobs


Walk into a networking event and right away you can see personality in action. Some people actively approach others, while others quietly sip their drink. Some discuss the weather, while others dive deep into complex issues.

This scenario shows that people often respond differently to the same situation. The reason for this is our personality the “individual differences in characteristic patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving”. In other words, how a person typically acts from day to day.

The Five-Factor theory of personality is the longest-standing framework for organizing the underlying traits that make us who we are.

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What are the “Big 5” personality traits?

Conscientiousness  The extent that someone is organized, works hard, stays on task, and perseveres to finish the job.

Extraversion  The extent that someone is outgoing, assertive, friendly, and active.

Agreeableness  The extent that someone is cooperative, trusting, polite, and compassionate.

Neuroticism  The extent that someone worries, and is irritable, or easily stressed. The opposite of this trait is often called Emotional Stability.

Openness to Experience  The extent that someone is curious, imaginative, flexible, and interested in trying new things.

[Dig deeper: Read more about how Plum uses the “Big 5” personality model to help companies make better hires]

The Big 5 are independent of each other, in that a person can be high in some and low in others (or, somewhere in the middle). This means that there are so many ways a person’s personality can intersect, which makes sense humans are complex after all.

The Big 5 traits have been found to be consistent across cultures, and a person’s amount of each trait has been found to be relatively stable over time.

Why should we care about the Big 5 when it comes to work?

Personality makes an impact on how successful we are on the job.  

Generally, conscientiousness is the greatest predictor of how well someone will perform. This finding is consistent across a large number of research studies.

Interestingly, which personality traits are most important for success depend a lot on the actual job itself. Think about a job that relies on making connections at networking events. Someone who is extraverted will thrive and even enjoy this type of job, but someone who is introverted (i.e., low in extraversion) will struggle. Yet, it’s not important for someone to be extraverted in an analyst role that requires conducting analysis and poring over spreadsheets of data.

That’s why the Big 5 are only helpful for hiring if they are paired with a data-driven approach. This often means conducting a job analysis - gathering the opinions of experts in the role, to develop a model of which personality traits are critical for the job in question.

Plum happens to leverage a job analysis to determine role criteria. And, we do this in a straightforward and scalable way. It’s called the Match Criteria Survey, and it leverages the Big 5 in a survey that allows the hiring team to define the behavioral needs of any role in 6-8 minutes.

To learn more about the Big 5 framework and how it applies to hiring, click here.

Personality makes an impact on how successful we are on the job. Find out how.


Leann Schneider is the Product Manager at Plum, where she applies her passion for research-based practice, practical insight, and coaching-supported development to Plum's product development and client delivery. She obtained her PhD in Industrial/Organizational Psychology at the University of Guelph, and she has research published in several peer-reviewed journals.