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Personality is multidimensional

Behaviour is complex. In seeking to explain complex behaviours at work (or anywhere else), we rarely expect a single trait to be sufficient. Rather, we identify multiple traits that might contribute and examine their combined ability to explain the behaviour of interest. Thus, univariate relationships between individual personality traits and job performance may underestimate the value that personality has to offer. In the same way we would not calculate the predictive validity of a structured interview or cognitive ability test based on their constituent parts, we should not judge personality based on single trait associations.

This line of argument has been most convincingly put forward by Ones and colleagues (2007), who re-examined the meta-analytic correlations presented by Barrick and colleagues (2001; discussed above) and computed the multiple correlations for all of the Big Five and job performance. The results show that personality predicts objective job performance with a multiple r of 0.27 (uncorrected r = 0.23) and a composite overall job performance variable of r = 0.23 (uncorrected r = 0.20). Ones and colleagues (2007) also demonstrated that personality variables measured at the Big Five level are even more predictive of other important elements of workplace behaviour. For example, counterproductive work behaviours (r = 0.44 and 0.45 for avoiding interpersonal and organizational deviance, respectively), organizational citizenship behaviours (r = 0.31), leadership (r = 0.45), teamwork (r = 0.37) and training performance (r = 0.40).

There is no doubt that Ones and colleagues’ (2007) evidence provides a much more optimistic view of the role of personality in understanding workplace behaviour. Notably, however, and despite increases from the univariate estimates, the multivariate estimates relating to job performance - the crucial criterion for selection decisions - are still less than impressive. Indeed, the multivariate estimate is only slightly greater than that reported for conscientiousness alone (Barrick et al., 2001) and collectively the Big Five account for around 5-7% of variance in job performance measures. Thus, some have argued that these results still provide underwhelming support for the use of personality in selection (Morge- son et al., 2007b). Again, we generally agree, explaining the same amount of variance in job performance as unreliable selection methods such as unstructured interviews is hardly compelling. However, we do not believe that this means that personality tests are not or cannot be useful. Below, we continue to consider the ways in which personality assessments can be used effectively within selection.

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