Working with a diverse range of personalities makes for a rewarding career. Having our ideas challenged and learning about different perspectives is one way to gain valuable skills and knowledge. But making different personalities fit together requires some time and effort.
Defining your own personality is a good place to start. The Big Five Personality Test is highly recommended and is used by hiring managers to place employees. The Big Five Test was developed from decades of empirical, cross-cultural research, defining personalities using a combination of five traits: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism.
You’ll need to pay for in-depth versions of the Big Five test, but free quizzes are available here and here. Try to be as objective as possible when taking the test, so you can identify your current strengths and weaknesses.
If you scored high on openness, you most likely love going to new places and experiencing new cultures. You’re imaginative, you enjoy change and having your views challenged, so your career options are fairly broad compared to less open people. You’re creative and value artistic expression. At work, you’re probably known as the person who’s always asking a lot of questions and coming up with new ideas.
On the flip side, people who score low in openness prefer using more conventional methods to get their tasks done. If you scored low in openness you’re most likely very down-to-earth and prefer plans, stability and routine over spontaneity. Your friends and coworkers probably think of you as a practical person who avoids abstract topics and debates.
Even if you’re not a naturally open-minded person, working on becoming more open means you’ll keep growing throughout your career. Just keep in mind that everyone has something new and useful to bring to any discussion. Long-standing roadblocks or slumps can be overcome with some new insights. If you’re already a very open person, try to be patient with people who are more conservative or conventional, and avoid bending established rules at work.
Conscientiousness is generally the most sought-after trait in job applicants. Conscientious people are reliable, organized and consistent, which leads to success in academic settings. In terms of job performance, people who score high in conscientiousness tend to complete their tasks quickly and effectively. This is because conscientiousness comes from a natural sense of duty, namely to follow rules and do one’s best for the greater good. The main caveat is that highly conscientious people won’t question rules or authority figures even when they’re wrong. People with a low level of conscientiousness tend to be more unstructured and spontaneous, or even careless, in their approach to work.
Anyone can become more conscientious, or at least carry out their tasks with more conscientiousness. If you’d like to be a more reliable and organized worker, do what your conscientious coworkers do: make to-do lists, keep an updated calendar, set alarms or timers, and reward yourself after completing tasks.
Extraverted people aren’t necessarily loud or talkative, but they feel energized from spending time with other people. Introverts, on the other hand, get mentally drained after prolonged social contact and need time to themselves to recharge. Extroverted people tend to be engaging, assertive and energetic in social interactions and are well-suited to jobs that require intensive teamwork or customer service. Introverts tend to enjoy less taxing activities and smaller groups, and shine in more solitary career pursuits or smaller teams.
If you’re introverted, the best thing you can do is know your limits. It’s probably not a good idea to let your colleague talk your ear off all morning before an important group meeting. Speak up when you’re starting to feel drained and you’ll be less likely to get into unpleasant moods or conversations. Extroverts should be careful to keep socializing at work to an appropriate level and know when introverted colleagues need alone time.
Agreeable people are co-operative, flexible and tolerant of others, making them a good fit for many team-oriented careers. Agreeableness lends itself to friendliness, compassion and kindness. If you scored low on agreeableness, you might be too blunt when sharing your opinions with others. Or, you find it hard to sympathize with others when they’re in a pinch.
It’s possible to be too agreeable. Being overly tolerant of other people’s carelessness at work could mean you end up doing more than your share in a team. Also, if your main goal is positive interactions, you might hide your emotions or interests for the sake of others. The ideal level of agreeableness is one where you can be simultaneously supportive and honest with your colleagues.
Neuroticism is the only negative personality parameter included in the Big Five test, referring to a person’s sensitivity to negative emotions and general mental stability. Scoring high in neuroticism means you succumb more easily to stress and pressure than other people, and tend to worry even when there’s nothing to be stressed about. Excessive worrying can hinder your focus and time-management at work. If you’re neurotic, avoid procrastination at all costs.
But scoring very low in neuroticism isn’t all rainbows and butterflies. Overcoming problems or preventing them requires a bit of worrying. Neurotic people tend to be self-motivated and perfectionistic because they fear messing up or falling behind. If you can figure out how to use a healthy amount of stress to stay motivated and critical when carrying out tasks, you can tap into higher levels of productivity.
Being your best self
Succeeding in the workplace means staying true your strengths and cultivating your weaknesses. Remember: the ideal job, work day, colleague, employee and manager are all different for everyone. Scoring extremely high in the positive personality traits does not mean you’ll be a perfect fit for any job on any given day; there’s always a downside and an upside to any given trait. All you can do is accept who you really are and set realistic goals for your career. Becoming a balanced individual is much more important than how you appear on paper.