How knowing your personality type can help you succeed

Not only does it pay to know your personality, but once you do, you can make your traits work for rather than against you. Here’s what the experts say.

Personality used to be categorised into types, with “type A” (think ambitious, goal-oriented and susceptible to stress) and “type B” (think laid-back, patient and flexible) being the two main ones.

But now, it’s all about the “Big Five” approach, also known as the five-factor model.

Rather than types, it focuses on five broad personality traits – openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.

Professor Nick Haslam, of the University of Melbourne, says the Big Five have two major advantages.

“First, they have a much stronger scientific basis than type A and B and so forth, and second, the Big Five are spectrums, whereas types are categories – you either belong or you don’t,” Prof Haslam says.

In contrast, you don’t belong to a single Big Five factor.

“Instead, everyone has a position on each of the factors,” he explains.

Why it’s worth knowing your ‘Big Five’ personality score

You can take a Big Five personality test and Prof Haslam says it’s worth finding out how you score across all five factors.

“Knowing our personality traits can help us select activities and goals that we’re more likely to succeed at – for example, if you know you’re high in conscientiousness, you can be confident you’ll perform well in roles that require focus, attention to detail, and thoroughness,” he says.

Prof Haslam says it can also help you predict which activities and goals you’ll probably find challenging.

“That might motivate us to work extra-hard to accomplish them, or to be strategic and withdraw from things that will cause us strife,” he explains.

“For example, introverted people have a harder time in leadership roles than extraverts.

“If you know you’re an introvert, you can decide whether to invest extra effort to compensate for the challenges you’ll face as a leader, or you might decide to direct your energies to other activities that will be less stressful and more rewarding.”

Link between personality and business success

New research shows that founders of start-ups have distinct personality traits, which are vital for business success.

“We find that personality traits don’t simply matter for start-ups, they are critical to elevating the chances of success,” study lead author Professor Paul X. McCarthy says.

Breaking the Big Five personality traits down further into 30 subdomains, the research data showed, for example, that adventurousness within the openness trait matters because people with this tendency have a preference for variety, novelty and starting new things.

Lower levels of modesty, a subdomain of agreeableness, is also significant because it means these people like being the centre of attention.

And, having a higher activity level, a subdomain of extraversion, is important because it fosters exuberance.

But don’t worry if you don’t have all these traits – not only are start-ups with at least three founders more likely to succeed than solo-founded ones, but those with diverse combinations of founder types have at least eight times more chance of success.

“While all start-ups are high risk, the risk becomes lower with more founders, particularly if they have distinct personality traits,” Prof McCarthy, adjunct professor at UNSW Sydney, says.

Can your personality change?

Prof Haslam says not only can personalities change, they also tend to naturally, over the course of adulthood.

“For example, we tend to become less neurotic and open, and more agreeable and conscientious,” he says.

“Most of this is just a process of maturation and a result of the new experiences and responsibilities we face as we grow up.”

But, Prof Haslam says, there’s also some evidence that people can deliberately change their personality to a certain extent.

“That is less likely to happen if you believe personality is fixed rather than having what’s often called a ‘growth mindset’ and believing that change is possible with effort,” he explains.

There’s another reason to shed the “personality is fixed” idea.

“It tends to be associated with a range of undesirable qualities, such as making snap judgments about people, believing stereotypes tend to be accurate, and being less likely to compromise with others,” Prof Haslam says.

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Written by Karen Fittall.