Personality tests seem ever-present in culture. As fun diversions in magazines and social media, as behavior predictors for marketers, and as indicators of which traits a candidate is likely to display at work, personality tests are often viewed as both entertaining and useful. 

There are about as many types of personality tests as there are places where they might appear. From this nebulous cloud of evaluative tools comes a heavy torrent of terms. Some seem simple and clear, others less so.  In this series of articles, we work to clarify these terms. In this first article, we focus on the traits often found in Big 5 personality tests. 

What Are the Big Five Personality Traits? 

Many personality assessments are built using “The Big Five Personality Traits.” These traits are widely accepted by the scientific community. They measure personality aspects along a continuum rather than lumping test takers into “types.” These traits are: 

  1. Extraversion describes a personality fueled by interaction with other people. Those measuring strongly in extraversion tend to surround themselves with people and fill their calendars with events. Introverts, on the other hand, are more productive working alone or primarily on tasks that require more interactions with things than with people. Unlike Extraverts, Introverts may find themselves exhausted after a workday filled with meetings or collaborative projects. 
  2. Neuroticism, which measures how often and how intensely a person experiences negative emotions, such as anger, mood swings, and anxiety. Those measuring high in the trait are more likely to have problems regulating their emotions in their workplace. (At Resource Associates, we measure using Emotional Stability, the inverse of Neuroticism; it reflects one’s overall level of adjustment, resilience, and emotional stability, which helps predict how someone might function in conditions such as job pressure and stress.) 
  3. Openness is a personality trait described aptly by its name. Those scoring high tend toward intellectual curiosity and are likely to embrace novel ideas and new ways of doing things. Those on the other end of this spectrum are often literal in their approach to ideas and lean toward practical solutions to problems. 
  4. Agreeableness, which measures a person’s tendency to put someone else’s needs before their own. It is a measure of their capacity for empathy and the likelihood they will get along with others. 
  5. Conscientiousness is the personality trait widely interpreted as the most predictive of success in many job settings. Those scoring high in the trait are good at pursuing goals and shunting aside distractions. Delayed gratification and self-discipline characterize those strong in this trait, although they might have trouble being spontaneous or flexible in their approach to work.

A Selection of Subtraits of The Big Five 

The Big Five are considered five broad dimensions of personality. Each has more narrow dimensions that fall underneath and easily number in the hundreds. Here is a sampling of a few that RA evaluates to predict workplace performance. 

  • Empathy and Interpersonal Sensitivity resemble compassion, which has the added element of feeling compelled to alleviate the source of another’s suffering. 
  • Self Confidence describes a belief in one’s self and one’s ability to succeed.  
  • Locus of Control shows whether a person holds a belief that success stems from personal initiative and effort and not luck or fate. 
  • Optimism reflects an individual’s attitudes and dispositions around prospects, plans, people, and the future. It highlights whether they will maintain an optimistic perspective even in difficult situations. 
  • Teamwork Orientation refers to the propensity of an individual for working as part of a team; whether they will tend to be cooperative and participative in group projects, and if they value team cohesion and solidarity.  

Many other personality traits are measured in Resource Associates’ personality assessments. A complete list of these traits with definitions can be found in our Personal Style Inventory Manual. 

Tracking Trends & More Terms 

The shortlist of terms in this blog post is a small sampling of vernacular that floods the world of personality testing. The field is dynamic, so new terms and concepts continue to make their way into the conversation.  

Fortunately, there is no shortage of sources such as blogs, websites, and social media to help keep abreast of new developments. Some sources are scientifically valid and others not so much. For more terms worth knowing, watch for our second blog in this series, which will offer insights on terms used in test result reports.