Study: These 3 personality traits applied to your job may determine your pay

TILBURG, Netherlands — If you’re looking for a raise, it may be to your benefit to first look at whether your personality traits fit those demanded of your job, a new study finds.

Researchers at Tilburg University in the Netherlands looked at data from the German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP), which contained info on the personality profiles, annual income, and jobs of nearly 8,500 adults in their neighboring country.

Work meeting in office
Does your job really match who you are? A new study finds that people whose personality traits complement their occupations are more likely to have higher incomes. (Photo by Paul Bence on Unsplash)

Using psychology’s Big Five personality traits and a career classification system devised by the International Labour Organization, the researchers attempted to determine what jobs could be a good fit for an individual, along with the implications of suitability. The team also employed two psychologists who specialized in occupational issues to examine the jobs of each participant and assess how the “Big Five” traits matched with each role. That is, the participant who worked as a bookkeeper required the least amount of extraversion on the job, they noted; while participants who worked in theater, such as an actor or director, needed the most extraversion to succeed.

Using the data and assessments, the researchers found that greater congruence between an employee’s character and their job duties was linked to increased pay, particularly when it came to three major personality traits: extraversion, agreeableness, and openness to experience.

Interestingly, there was sufficient evidence that too much of these otherwise positive traits had a surprisingly negative effect: being excessively conscientious, agreeable, or open to experiences could actually diminish salaries, at least in careers that did not complement such traits.

“Our findings show that looking at the combination of personality traits and job demands is key to predict important outcomes, like income,” explains lead researcher Jaap J.A. Denissen in a media release by the Association for Psychological Science. “This updates the notion that you only have to look at the personality traits of an individual to predict his or her life outcomes. Our results indicate that it’s more complex: You also have to take that person’s environment into account.”

Further research could look into how other factors— such as job experiences, satisfaction, and performance— could tilt the scales in terms of this dynamic.

“From a practical perspective, companies should be interested in these results because they imply that it’s really important to invest in solid personality assessment,” Denissen argues. “And individuals should care because our findings suggest that if they manage to find jobs that fit their personalities, they can earn more money.”

Denissen et al. published their findings last month in the journal Psychological Science.


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