The Personality “OCEAN”

Steven Cesare, Ph.D.

A business owner from Minnesota called me the other day to express visceral dismay with the poor quality of new employees entering his company. He conveyed the point that the new employees uniformly lack motivation, responsibility, initiative, and overall work ethic. Sound familiar?

To overcome poor staffing quality, the business owner planned to require all new job applicants complete an on-line personality assessment. While the issue of personality is intriguing to many, it is rife with potential legal implications related to discrimination claims. Accordingly, when asked my opinion, I conveyed ardent reservations about relying on personality indices as predictive measures of work performance. That said, if the business owner was steadfast in his pursuit of using a personality assessment, I strongly advised that he get a formal validation report from the publisher highlighting legally defensible metrics, indicating predictive success bereft of discrimination.

Continuing our discussion, I informed the business owner that most personality assessments are marginally legal, driven exclusively by revenue goals more than psychometric integrity. In an attempt to keep a complex topic like Personality, as simple as possible, I broached the Big Five Personality Traits to him, using its popular acronym OCEAN.

Openness to Experience: Concerns people’s willingness to try new things, their ability to be vulnerable, and their capability to think outside the box. An individual who is high in openness to experience is likely someone who has a love of learning, enjoys the arts, engages in a creative career or hobby, and likes meeting new people. An individual who is low in openness to experience probably prefers routine over variety, sticks to what he or she knows, and prefers less abstract arts and entertainment.

Conscientiousness: The tendency to control impulses and act in socially acceptable ways, behaviors that facilitate goal-directed behavior. People high in conscientiousness are likely to be successful in school and in their careers, to excel in leadership positions, and to doggedly pursue their goals with determination and forethought. People low in conscientiousness are much more likely to procrastinate and to be flighty, impetuous, and impulsive.

Extroversion: Identifies where an individual draws their energy from and how they interact with others. People high in extroversion tend to seek out opportunities for social interaction, where they are often the “life of the party.” They are comfortable with others, are gregarious, and are prone to action rather than contemplation. People low in extroversion are more likely to be people “of few words” who are quiet, introspective, reserved, and thoughtful.

Agreeableness: Addresses how well people get along with others. People high in agreeableness tend to be well-liked, respected, and sensitive to the needs of others. People on the low end of the agreeableness spectrum are less likely to be trusted and liked by others, tending to be callous, blunt, rude, ill-tempered, antagonistic, and sarcastic.

Neuroticism: Encompasses one’s emotional stability and general temper; being comfortable in one’s own skin. Those high in neuroticism are generally prone to anxiety, sadness, worry, and low self-esteem. Individuals who score on the low end of neuroticism are more likely to feel confident, sure of themselves, and adventurous.

The Big Five theory holds significant sway as the prevailing theory of personality, not because it provides exhaustive explanations of personality, but because it encompasses a large portion of personality-related terms. So, if the business owner still wanted to focus his attention on Personality, he should rely on a simple and valued, albeit imperfect taxonomy like the Big Five.

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Steve Cesare Ph.D.

Steve Cesare Ph.D.

has more than 25 years of Human Resources experience. Prior to joining The Harvest Group, Steve worked with Bemus Landscape, Jack in the Box, the County of San Diego, Citicorp, and NASA. Steve earned his Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Old Dominion University, and has authored 34 human resources journal articles. As a member of The Harvest Group, Steve’s areas of expertise include: staffing, legal compliance, wage and hour issues, training, and employee safety.  Read Steve's full bio.