Can Your Personality Traits Predict Your Career Path?

Can Your Personality Traits Predict Your Career Path?


Consider an individual who is confident, organized, punctual, driven, disciplined and cautious. It should not be surprising to know that this individual has long been predicted to perform well at any job. He or she is what is known in the personality literature as conscientious, which is one of the best predictors (after cognitive ability) of job performance. Recent research, however, has shown that conscientiousness may not be best for all jobs, particularly jobs that require a high-degree of cognitive ability, and demonstrates the notion that the ideal mix of personality traits depends on the job. In this post, I look at what personality traits best fit the 10 most common jobs in the United States.

If you’re familiar with the science behind Good.Co, you’ve heard of the “Big Five,” or the five factor model (FFM) of personality, which describes the entire breadth of human personality as the blending of five different dimensions. Easily remembered using the mnemonic OCEAN, the Big Five comprise:

Openness to Experience

Personality research has focused on only a few jobs, and those are primarily in management, sales, and customer service. Therefore, to look at how personality might affect any single job we can use a proxy called vocational interests, which have been researched and linked to the FFM. The vocational interests are called Holland Codes and named after the late John L. Holland, an original theorist and professor emeritus at John Hopkins. In total, there are six categories, which explains why they’re often called the Big Six. (They’re also sometimes referred to by the acronym RIASEC.) The Big Six summary below uses definitions from ONET, the United States Department of Labor occupational database:

Realistic occupations frequently involve work activities that include practical, hands-on problems and solutions. They often deal with plants, animals, and real-world materials like wood, tools, and machinery. Many of the occupations require working outside, and do not involve a lot of paperwork or working closely with others.

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Investigative occupations frequently involve working with ideas, and require an extensive amount of thinking. These occupations can involve searching for facts and figuring out problems mentally.

Artistic occupations frequently involve working with forms, designs and patterns. They often require self-expression and the work can be done without following a clear set of rules.

Social occupations frequently involve working with, communicating with, and teaching people. These occupations often involve helping or providing service to others.

Enterprising occupations frequently involve starting up and carrying out projects. These occupations can involve leading people and making many decisions. Sometimes they require risk taking and often deal with business.

Conventional occupations frequently involve following set procedures and routines. These occupations can include working with data and details more than with ideas. Usually there is a clear line of authority to follow.


Finding the code for each job requires only a quick search on ONET, where the code or codes for each job are listed in the Interests section. We can take any job, find its RIASEC designation on ONET, and then see how that designation matches up with empirical findings on personality. Some jobs have two, three, or even more designations, but the one listed first is the most important.

Below is the personality summary for each Holland code, followed by the top 10 jobs and their associated Holland codes. The 10 most popular jobs were determined by this BLS survey, and the Holland Code-personality matches by consensus of two studies — “The five-factor model of personality and Holland’s RIASEC interest types,” by F. De Fruyt and I. Mervielde; and  L. M. Larson, P. J. Rottinghaus, and F. H. Borgen’s “Meta-analyses of Big Six Interests and Big Five Personality Factors.”

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The Holland Codes

Realistic workers are most likely to be have low neuroticism, be extraverted and conscientiousness; but agreeableness isn’t very important. In one study, they tended to be high in openness to experience, but in another they were low, which owes to the difficulty that remains in defining some personality dimensions.

Investigative workers exhibited the fewest associations with personality. Most correlations were low and insignificant, but it appears that some amount of openness to experience and a low amount of neuroticism are likely. (Recent research has found that personality suppression in more complex jobs, such as those that are most typically investigative, may contribute to the low or nonexistent number of correlations with personality dimensions.)

Enterprising workers are most likely to have low neuroticism, be highly extraverted and fairly conscientious. One study showed a tendency for agreeableness while another showed little tendency for agreeableness. A person’s openness to experience is generally unimportant.

Social workers are more likely to be extraverted, as well as be higher in openness to experience and agreeableness. They tend to be slightly conscientious and slightly low in neuroticism, but these relationships are weak.

Conventional workers are more likely to be low in neuroticism, significantly high in conscientious, and fairly high in openness to experience and extraversion. Agreeableness is unimportant.


The ten most common jobs and their associated Holland Codes:

  1. Retail salespersons: Enterprising, Conventional
  2. Cashiers: Conventional, Enterprising
  3. Combined food preparation and serving workers, including fast foods: Conventional, Realistic, Enterprising
  4. Office clerks, general: Conventional, Enterprising, Realistic
  5. Registered nurses: Social, Investigating, Conventional
  6. Waiters and waitresses: Social, Enterprising, Conventional
  7. Customer service representatives: Enterprising, Social, Conventional
  8. Laborers and freight, and material mover, hand: Realistic
  9. Janitors and cleaners, except maids and housekeeping cleaners: Realistic, Conventional
  10. Secretaries and administrative assistants, except legal, medical and executive: Conventional, Enterprising
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If you’re curious about a specific profession not in this list, you can conduct your own search on ONET and then use the above Holland Code-personality descriptions to discover what personality blend might characterize that profession. For example, my profession (Industrial-Organizational psychologist) is investigative, enterprising, artistic, and social.

Want to discover your own personality type? You can take an online inventory using questionnaire items developed by the International Personality Item Pool. (Note: this test should be used for educational purposes only.)


Discover your work personality on Good.Co:



About the Author

Daniel Maurath is currently finishing his Masters of Science in Industrial-Organizational Psychology at San Francisco State University and works as an Associate Data Scientist with Bright.com. Bright eliminates the noise in the hiring process by efficiently connecting job seekers to their best opportunities, and employers to their top prospects via the Bright Score (acquired by LinkedIn). Connect with Bright on Twitter @BrightJobs, LinkedIn.



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

Hogan, R., Hogan, J., & Roberts, B. W. (1996). Personality measurement and employment decisions: Questions and answers. American Psychologist.

De Fruyt, F., & Mervielde, I. (1997). The five-factor model of personality and Holland’s RIASEC interest types. Personality and Individual Differences.

Larson, L. M., Rottinghaus, P. J., & Borgen, F. H. (2002). Meta-analyses of Big Six Interests and Big Five Personality Factors. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 61(2), 217–239.


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