Are Conscientious People Better Salespeople: Yes, Absolutely Yes, but…

Picture someone who is diligent, hard-working, organized, and reliable; someone who exudes a sense of responsibility and excels in their endeavors. It’s easy to conjure up an image of a conscientious individual as a high performer across many professions, and, unsurprisingly, this is just what happens. Many meta-analysis, including Barrick & Mount (1991), Schmidt & Hunter (1994), and Wilmot & Ones (2019), confirmed that Conscientiousness predicts job performance across a range of professions. 

However, the activities of salespeople are quite different than those you would find in most other jobs – in particular due to much higher importance of interpersonal activities and to the continuous push to be out of the social comfort zone. This led some scholars to doubt if the pervasiveness of conscientiousness could be extended to sales professions. These doubts were soon wiped out by research, and as proof of the importance of conscientiousness for performance in sales jobs piled up, the meta-analysis from Hurz & Donovan (2000) confirmed conscientiousness to be the best predictor of sales performance amongst the Big Five dimensions. 

Is this the end of the story? 

Obviously, it is not. Researchers continued to explore the impact of personality on behavior, adding extra layers of complexity and accuracy. The three layers identified by personality scientists are narrow traits, non-linearity, and moderators. 

Narrow traits 

If you are quite familiar with the Big Five theory, you will know that factors are higher level constructs that influence the behavior and personality of individuals. However, within each factor, there are narrower traits that provide more specific insights into an individual’s behavior. For example, within the trait of conscientiousness, there are narrower traits such as orderliness, industriousness, and prudence which can further explain its relation to sales performance. 

The impressive meta-analytical work by Dudley and colleagues (2007), indeed, explored the relation between narrow traits of conscientiousness and job performance across many professions, including sales, finding that the best predictor of sales performance is the “achievement” element, followed closely by “dependability”. Achievement is the desire for success and accomplishment, while dependability refers to being reliable and consistent. In the other jobs analysed by the author dependability is a better predictor of performance, highlighting the uniqueness of sales jobs. This result was replicated even more strongly in the 5 field studies by Warr and colleagues using the OPQ questionnaire: Achievement orientation was significantly correlated to job performance in 4 of the studies, with an average correlation equal to .25, while dependability was found to be a significant predictor. 


Non-linearity means that the relationship between conscientiousness and sales performance may not be a simple, linear one: the more is not always the merrier! It could be that there is an optimal level of conscientiousness that leads to the highest sales performance, with too little conscientiousness may result in lack of focus and attention to detail, while too much conscientiousness may lead to perfectionism and rigidity. The only paper we found that explored this possibility within the sales domain found a non-linear relation between achievement and dependability and sales performance for salespeople with lower interpersonal stability (Whiler et al.; 2017). Although evidence is relatively scarce, is likely that too high levels of conscientiousness might end up hampering rather than improving the salespeople’s performance. 


In conclusion, conscientiousness has consistently been found to predict job performance across various professions, including sales. But the story doesn’t end there, and measuring the right facets of conscientiousness, as well as identifying people that who are too cautious, meticulous, or risk-averse, can increase your chance to hire and develop the best salespeople in your organization.  


Barrick, M. R., & Mount, M. K. (1991). The Big Five personality dimensions and job performance: a Meta-analysis. Personnel Psychology, 44(1), 1–26. 

Hurtz, G. M., & Donovan, J. J. (2000). Personality and job performance: The Big Five revisited. Journal of Applied Psychology, 85(6), 869–879. 

Schmidt, F. L., & Hunter, J. E. (1998). The Validity and Utility of Selection Methods in Personnel Psychology: Practical and Theoretical Implications of 85 Years of Research Findings. 124(2), 262–274. 

Warr, P., Bartram, D., & Martin, T. (2005). Personality and Sales Performance: Situational Variation and Interactions between Traits. International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 13(1), 87–91. 

Wihler, A., Meurs, J. A., Momm, T. D., John, J., & Blickle, G. (2017). Conscientiousness, extraversion, and field sales performance: Combining narrow personality, social skill, emotional stability, and nonlinearity. Personality and Individual Differences, 104, 291–296. 

Wilmot, M. P., & Ones, D. S. (2019). A century of research on conscientiousness at work. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 116(46), 23004–23010. 

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