How Useful is Conscientiousness for Predicting Job Performance?

Conscientiousness is a predictor of job performance in many jobs, job levels, and industries. But does being conscientious still predict job performance as strongly when characteristics and requirements of the job change? Is conscientiousness the Holy Grail of employee traits?

To learn more about this, the authors (Shaffer & Postlethwaite, 2013) conducted a meta-analysis (or statistical combination of past research) of 53 research studies where conscientiousness was a predictor of job performance. They then rated the jobs that were included in these studies on a number of factors including the level of worker autonomy, how much of the work followed a routine, how much thought and mental ability was required, and so on.


Overall, there were two big takeaways:

  1. Conscientiousness was a stronger predictor of performance for jobs that required more routine, structured work.
  2. Conscientiousness was a weaker predictor of performance in roles that required high levels of cognitive ability, possibly suggesting that intelligence in some way suppresses the influence of personality on job performance.


Taken together, conscientiousness may be more useful in roles with a lot of routine, which are more likely to be hourly or entry level roles. Alternatively, conscientiousness may not be as useful for higher-level roles that require more thought and mental ability. Thus, spending on assessments to determine applicant conscientiousness may only be selectively useful. This is a good lesson for predicting job performance, as well as strategic allocation of resources for successful hiring decisions.


Shaffer, J. A. & Postlethwaite, B. E. (2013). The Validity of Conscientiousness for Predicting Job Performance: A MetaAnalytic Test of Two Hypotheses. International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 21(2), 183-199.