What is Personality?

Before discussing personality in selection we must first clarify what we mean by personality. Personality has been variously defined as: ‘One’s habits and usual style’ (Cronbach, 1984, p. 6); ‘a dynamic organization, inside the person, of psychophysical systems that create the person’s characteristic patterns of behaviours, thoughts and feelings’ (Allport, 1961, p. 11); ‘a person’s unique pattern of traits’ (Guildford, 1959, p. 5); and ‘relatively stable, internal factors, which produce consistent individual differences at the emotional and motivational level’ (Pervin & John, 2001, p. 4).

A single definition would never satisfy all stakeholders. However, a review of definitions reveals that certain features are agreed. Personality is seen as a relatively stable and consistent set of traits that interact with environmental factors to produce emotional, cognitive and behavioural responses. Such theoretical views are supported by empirical evidence that shows that there are numerous identifiable personality traits (Cattell, 1954) with some cross-situation stability (Funder & Ozer, 1983; Mischel, 1968), and develop through maturation (e.g., conscientiousness and emotional stability increase with age), while demonstrating relative and rank-order consistency in adulthood (Roberts & DelVecchio, 2000; Roberts & Mroczek, 2008). Importantly, measures of personality traits can be used to explain and predict a wide range of behaviours and outcomes both cross-sectionally (Roberts, Kuncel, Shiner, Caspi & Goldberg, 2007) and longitudinally (Chamorro- Premuzic & Furnham, 2003).

For the purposes of this chapter we suggest that personality be defined as a collection of traits that influence a person’s typical thought patterns (e.g., how deeply one considers the elements of a task), feelings (e.g., how anxious one is when faced with deadlines) and behaviour (e.g., how organized one is). There are three main assumptions with regard to the nature of personality traits that we adopt: 1) they are relatively stable (we discuss this further below); 2) each individual has a unique constellation of traits; and 3) they drive behaviour. Each of these assumptions is vital if personality is to predict behaviour at work.

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