Is Conscientiousness the Most Predictive Personality Trait for Job Performance?

When it comes to predicting job performance, conscientiousness is a familiar buzzword in both scientific and layperson circles. Conscientiousness refers to an individual’s tendency to be hardworking, goal-oriented, rule-following, and diligent. It’s no surprise then that conscientiousness is a significant factor for predicting performance across virtually any job. However, the careful interpretation of two massive meta-analytical studies that apparently confirm the centrality of conscientiousness demonstrated that the reality is much more nuanced.

The two studies (Judge et al., 2013, and Wilmot & Ones, 2019) have shown that conscientiousness has consistent correlations with most aspects of job performance, with correlations ranging between .2 and .3. In contrast, none of the other Big Five personality traits (Extraversion, Emotional Stability, Openness to Change, and Neuroticism) show such high correlations with job performance.

However, when lower-level traits are examined, the picture becomes more complex. Judge and colleagues (2013) aimed to assess the potential of these subscales in predicting job performance. They found that each of the lower-level subscales of conscientiousness were almost as predictive of performance as the overall trait. But for traits such as Extraversion and Openness, the results were less straightforward. For example, the subscales related to “intellect” in openness were found to be predictive, but the subscales related to “aesthetic openness” were found to have minimal relevance to job performance. The personality trait of extraversion is one of the most complex due to its diverse range of elements like positive emotions, warmth, and excitement-seeking. While positive emotions and warmth are highly predictive of job performance, excitement-seeking tendencies can have negative implications.

Judge and colleagues checked what happens when the scores of subscales are considered individually, compared to the predictive power of the overall traits. The findings revealed that conscientiousness maintained its predictive power (.26) regardless of the approach used. However, when the subscales were considered individually, both extraversion and openness showed a significant surge in predictivity. Extraversion became even more predictive, with a score of .41, and openness scored .30.

Another large meta-analysis of 93 meta-analysis demonstrates that is essential to consider job complexity when assessing personality traits’ predictivity. Wilmot and Ones (2019) reported that the predictive power of conscientiousness wanes in relation to job complexity. Expert and leadership roles require intellectual, emotional, and people skills in addition to conscientiousness. For expert and leadership roles, intellectual, emotional, and people skills become more necessary than hard work and precision.

Moreover, in the post-digital age, where technology is pervasively assisting humans, tasks that once required hard work and meticulousness may become automated. Employees may be asked to navigate complexity and make interpersonal interactions, where traits such as thoroughness and attention to detail may be less important than the ability to think critically and organize ideas.

Therefore, while conscientiousness remains an important personality trait for predicting job performance, we must consider the full profile of personality rather than just measuring this construct. Complex job requirements may call for a different set of skills than what the traditional measures of conscientiousness can offer.


Judge, T. A., Rodell, J. B., Klinger, R. L., Simon, L. S., & Crawford, E. R. (2013). Hierarchical representations of the five-factor model of personality in predicting job performance: Integrating three organizing frameworks with two theoretical perspectives. Journal of Applied Psychology, 98(6), 875–925. 

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.

Unlock the greatest version of yourself and your organization