This item is the archived peer-reviewed author-version of:
Vocational Interests and Big Five Traits as Predictors of Job Instability
Wille, B., De Fruyt, F., & Feys, M.
In: Journal of Vocational Behavior, Volume 76 (3), pages 547 - 558, 2010.
To refer to or to cite this work, please use the citation to the published version:
Wille, B., De Fruyt, F., & Feys, M. Vocational interests and Big Five traits as
predictors of job instability. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 76, 547-558.
Vocational Interests and Big Five Traits as Predictors of Job Instability
Although empirical research on this topic is scarce, personality traits and vocational interests
have repeatedly been named as potential individual level predictors of job change. Using a
long-term cohort study (N = 291), we examined RIASEC interest profiles and Big Five
personality scores at the beginning of the professional career as predictors of subsequent job
changes, both internal as well as external, over the next 15 years. Overall, results provide
additional evidence for an individual difference perspective on job instability, although our
findings vary across instability variables. Consistent with previous research, external job
changes in particular related to individual differences. Specifically, scores on Investigative,
Artistic, Enterprising and Conventional scales showed to be the most important interest
related predictors. With regard to Big Five personality traits, strongest associations were
found with Agreeableness and Openness. In addition, facet level analyses proved to be useful
to further clarify linkages between personality and job instability.
Keywords: Job instability, job change, career mobility, inter-organizational mobility, extra-
organizational mobility, RIASEC interests, Big Five traits
Over the past decades, research on job change widened its focus and went through
some interesting evolutions. First, there was a growing interest in patterns of job mobility
over a period of time, expanding the study of single turnover behaviors. Consequently, the
conceptualization of job change now surpasses mere turnover behavior and is frequently
labeled as job mobility, or patterns of intra- and inter-organizational transitions over the
course of a person’s work life (Hall, 1996; Sullivan, 1999). In addition to this broader
conceptualization, there was also a shift in the way job change was valued. Specifically, the
notion of job changes being intrinsically inefficient was abandoned. At the macroeconomic
level, economists pointed out that job stability is not necessarily always a good thing as it
can disable companies to restructure their workforce in times of structural change. Moreover,
at the individual level, job change can be an opportunity to accumulate different work
experiences and accordingly increase personal performance and market value. In fact, a solid
body of research has shown that job shopping early in the career can be highly beneficial,
resulting in greater wage gains than staying put with one employer (Bartel & Borjas, 1981).
Clearly, these evolutions in job stability research are the product of a number of
factual changes in the labor market. Perhaps most perceptible are changes at the employer’s
side. As organizational lay-offs and restructuring are becoming more and more common now
(Littler, Wiesner, & Dunford, 2003), it is not surprising that employers today no longer
promote the idea of lifelong job security as a realistic employment goal. Concurrently,
longitudinal studies in American as well as European employees’ samples have shown that
organizational commitment is declining over time (Bentein, Vandenberg, Vandenberghe, &
Stinglhamber, 2005; Vandenberg & Self, 1993) and career researchers have identified a
transition from organizational to boundaryless or Protean careers. These labor market
evolutions are further illustrated by evidence strongly suggesting that job instability has
markedly increased over the past decades (Bernhardt, Morris, Handcock, & Scott, 1999;
White, Hill, Mills, & Smeaton, 2004).
As job instability is becoming a salient aspect in many employees’ work experiences,
research on this topic is necessary to help us understand how individual careers unfold. The
aim of present study is to gain further insight in possible individual level determinants of job
instability. In previous research, job instability has been studied from very different
viewpoints. In general, two main perspectives can be distinguished (Feldman & Ng, 2007).
A structural perspective suggests structural factors in the labor market as the main
determinants of employees’ mobility. Accordingly, job mobility is considered to be mainly
vacancy-driven (e.g., DiPrete, De Graaf, Luijkx, Tahlin, & Blossfeld, 1997). Although
important, it is not likely that these structural factors account for all variation in job mobility.
After all, even in times of severe economic recession, when job vacancies are limited,
employees can still be motivated to pursue job mobility options. It is clear that individuals
have different preferences toward job mobility, and the possible risks or uncertainties that
come with it. In an individual difference perspective, it is theorized that one’s career is, in
part, governed by internal attributes like personality traits and vocational interests (Ng,
Sorensen, Eby, & Feldman, 2007). Although this perspective seems intuitively logical and
although explicit hypotheses have been stated (e.g., Ng et al., 2007), empirical research on
the relationships between these individual difference variables and job mobility is scarce and
characterized by some important limitations. First, there has been much more research on
intentions to move and attitudes toward moving than on actual change behavior (Ng, Eby,
Sorensen, & Feldman, 2005). Second, very few studies have examined individual differences
in actual job moves over a longer period of time. Third, although theoretically considered
relevant, no studies have empirically investigated longitudinal relationships between
vocational interests and the frequency of actual job changes. The aim of this study is to
further expand research on job instability considered from an individual difference
perspective. Using a prospective longitudinal design, both vocational interests and
personality traits measured at the beginning of the career are examined as potential
predictors of job instability throughout the first fifteen years of the professional career,
further referred to as the first career stage.
Job Instability, Internal Mobility, and External Mobility
To date, multiple types and taxonomies of job mobility exist (e.g., Nicholson &
West, 1998). In this study, the focus is on the frequency of career transitions -both intra- and
inter-organizational- during the first 15 years of a person’s work life. As such, job instability
in this study refers to the aggregate of three different types of moving behaviors: (1) moving
to a different job within the same company, (2) moving to the same type of job with a
different organization, and (3) moving to a different type of job with a different organization.
In addition, we also differentiated between internal and external mobility behaviors. Internal
mobility refers to any substantial change in work responsibilities, hierarchical level, or title
within an organization. This includes internal promotions, transfers and demotions. External
mobility refers to any change in the employing firm.
Finally, our conceptualization of job instability does not differentiate between
voluntary and involuntary moving behaviors. The focus in this study is on the validity of
vocational interests and personality traits in the prediction of job instability during the first
fifteen years of the professional career. The individual difference perspective primarily
suggests that dispositional attributes affect a person’s preferences for and subsequent
(voluntary) behaviors associated with job mobility. However, there is evidence that
individual difference variables, like personality traits, can also affect vocational life
indirectly or employer-driven rather than employee-driven (De Fruyt & Mervielde, 1999). In
addition, it is often very hard to determine whether and to which extent job changes are
entirely voluntary. For example, employees can anticipate employer dismissal decisions by
means of job change. Furthermore, job changes are often the result of joint decision-making
between employer and employee (e.g., internal job changes as part of career management
programs) or between an employer and his/her partner (e.g., the decision to drop out of work
to take care of the children). Probably, individual difference variables like personality traits
and vocational interests affect these kinds of change decisions as well; processes which can’t
be tapped when only unambiguous and clear-cut voluntary job change decisions are
Vocational interests and job instability
Since its origin, Holland’s RIASEC theory of vocational personalities has been
widely applied to vocational life (Holland, 1997). In career research, the idea of
‘congruence’, which states that “people find environments reinforcing and satisfying when
environmental patterns resemble their personality patterns” (Holland, 1985, pp.53) has
received most attention. Numerous studies (e.g., Assouline & Meir, 1987) have found
congruence to be positively associated with job satisfaction, stability, and success.
The aim of the present study is to investigate the validity of vocational interest
profiles measured at the very beginning of the career for the prediction of job instability
throughout the first career stage. Holland’s (1985) descriptions of the six vocational
personalities do not explicitly deal with the frequency of job changes. However, these
descriptions do contain some cues on the desirability and likelihood of job instability for
each of the six interest types (see also Feldman & Ng, 2007).
The Enterprising type prefers activities that entail the manipulation of others to attain
organizational goals. This type values controlling others, the opportunity to be free of
control, and being ambitious. (S)he would find holding a position of power most gratifying
(Holland, 1997). This ambition and need to control others could motivate Enterprising types
to engage in job changes throughout the first career stage.
The Investigative type prefers activities that entail the observational, symbolic,
systematic, and creative investigation of physical, biological, and cultural phenomena. (S)he
has a wide range of interests, is open to new ideas and experiences and dislikes repetitive
activities (Holland, 1997). In addition, as they show substantial similarities with individuals
high on Openness to Experience, it can be expected that individuals with Investigative
interests are also more likely to welcome job opportunities. Their curious and experiential
nature could motivate Investigative types to engage in job change behaviors throughout the
first career stage.
The Artistic type prefers ambiguous, free, unsystematized activities that entail the
manipulation of physical, verbal, or human materials to create art forms or products. (S)he
values personal characteristics such as being imaginative and courageous but not being
obedient, logical, or responsible (Holland, 1997). Hence, their continuous pursuit of self-
expression and perhaps impulsive nature could encourage them to engage in job change
behaviors throughout the first career stage.
Hypothesis 1: Individuals with higher Enterprising, Investigative and Artistic career
interests at the beginning of their professional careers will experience more job
instability throughout the first career stage.
The Conventional type prefers activities that entail the explicit, ordered, systematic
manipulation of data and has an aversion to ambiguous, free, exploratory, or unsystematized
activities (Holland, 1997). People scoring high on Conventional interests prefer working on
familiar tasks and in familiar surroundings. So, the obedient, dutiful and conservative nature
of Conventional workers may discourage them to engage in job change behaviors throughout
the first career stage.
Hypothesis 2: Individuals with higher Conventional career interests at the beginning
of their professional careers will experience less job instability throughout the first
The Social type prefers activities that entail the manipulation of others to inform,
train, develop, cure, or enlighten. These individuals further dislike explicit, ordered,
systematic activities involving materials, tools, or machines. Contrary to the Social type, the
Realistic type prefers activities involving the manipulation of things (objects, tools, machines
and animals) and has an aversion to educational or therapeutic activities (Holland, 1997). For
both vocational personality types, original descriptions of vocational preferences and
adhered life goals and values do not provide explicit or implicit cues about the probability of
job change behaviors. Therefore, no specific relations between Realistic and Social interest
scores on the one hand and frequency of job changes on the other are expected here.
Hypothesis 3: Scores on Realistic and Social interest scales at the beginning of a
professional career will be unrelated to job instability experienced throughout the
first career stage.
Besides scores on the six interest scales, Holland’s (1985) theory also provides
secondary constructs (i.e. congruence, identity, coherence, consistency, differentiation, and
commonness) to further interpret a vocational interest profile. In the present study, we focus
on consistency and differentiation of interest profiles measured at the beginning of the career
as predictors of subsequent job instability.
An interest profile is consistent in terms of RIASEC theory if the theoretical types
most resembled are closely related or adjacent according to the hexagon (e.g., IA, SE).
Although evidence is scarce and findings are mixed, high consistency is generally
considered as positive and expected to be related to stability in work history (Holland, 1985;
Reardon & Lenz, 1998). Therefore, in our study, we expect people with higher levels of
interest profile consistency at the beginning of the career to experience less job instability
throughout the first career stage.
The construct of differentiation is concerned with the range of scores in the whole
interest profile and was originally created to capture what clinicians mean by a well-defined
profile (Holland, 1985). A person who closely resembles one theoretical interest type and no
other is highly differentiated, whereas a person who resembles all six RIASEC types to an
equal degree is undifferentiated. Overall, the construct of differentiation has received less
research attention compared to some of the theory’s other assumptions. With regard to career
stability, existing research mainly focused on student samples (e.g., Holland ,1968; Taylor,
Kelso, Longthorp, & Pattison, 1980) and generally showed that high differentiation groups
of students made more stable vocational choices than those of the low differentiation groups.
Based on these preliminary findings, we also expect people with higher levels of interest
profile differentiation at the beginning of the career to experience less job instability
throughout the first career stage.
Hypothesis 4: Higher levels of interest profile consistency and differentiation at the
beginning of a professional career are related to lower levels of job instability
experienced throughout the first career stage.
Big five traits and job instability
Personality has a long tradition in the study of vocational behavior. The idea that
personality is meaningfully related to the kinds of careers people choose and how they
perform in those careers is essential in most person-environment fit approaches to career
choice and adjustment (e.g., Dawis & Lofquist’s Theory of Work Adjustment, 1984). To
date, the Five-Factor Model of personality (McCrae & Costa, 1987) can be considered as the
most accepted personality taxonomy in the study of organizational behavior. Big Five
personality measures have repeatedly been studied in relation to work and career related
behaviors or outcomes (e.g., De Fruyt & Mervielde, 1999; Seibert & Kraimer, 2001).
Previous studies that examined Big Five traits in relation to job change behavior mainly
focused on turnover only at one point in time (Barrick & Mount, 1996). To our knowledge,
Van Vianen, Feij, Krausz, and Taris (2003) were the first to study Big Five personality traits
in relation to job changes over a longer period of time. Contrary to their hypotheses, they did
not find any evidence for the validity of Big Five traits in the prediction of voluntary job
changes. In the present study, the focus is on job instability during the first fifteen years of
the professional career, with no differentiation between voluntary and involuntary change
behaviors. Based on the conceptual meaning of the Big Five traits, specific hypotheses
concerning their relation to job instability can be formulated.
Agreeableness concerns the kinds of social interactions an individual prefers, from
compassion to tough mindedness. People scoring low on this dimension typically value self-
interest over getting along with others. Because of their egocentric and competitive nature,
we expect people with lower levels of Agreeableness at the beginning of the career to
experience more job instability throughout the first career stage.
Hypothesis 5: Lower levels of Agreeableness at the beginning of a professional
career are related to higher levels of job instability experienced throughout the first
Extraversion can be summarized as the quantity and intensity of energy directed
outwards into the social world. People scoring high on extraversion like to seek new
experiences and excitement (Watson & Clark, 1992). In addition, previous research (Vinson,
Connelly, & Ones, 2007) found some Extraversion related traits (an activity scale and an
outgoing scale) to be positively related with organization switching. Therefore, we expect
people with higher levels of Extraversion at the beginning of the career to experience more
job instability throughout the first career stage.
Openness to Experience refers to the active seeking and appreciation of experiences
for personal benefit. As job changes allow one to seek more new experiences, we also expect
people with higher levels of Openness at the beginning of the career to experience more job
instability throughout the first career stage.
Hypothesis 6: Higher levels of Extraversion and Openness to Experience at the
beginning of a professional career are related to higher levels of job instability
experienced throughout the first career stage.
Conscientiousness is the degree of organization, persistence, control and motivation
in goal directed behavior. Within this trait, a distinction is often made between two major
dimensions, achievement orientation and dependability, which complicate potential
relationships with job instability. On the one hand, Conscientiousness comprises features as
Competence (C1) and Achievement Striving (C4), which could lead to increased desire and
opportunities for (upward) mobility. Crockett (1962) for example found that people who
reported a stronger achievement motive had greater upward mobility in their career. On the
other hand, Conscientiousness also holds characteristics as Dutifulness (C3) and
Deliberation (C6), which could be inhibiting factors for job changes. Because of these
opposite facet level processes, which could neutralize each other at the domain level, we do
not expect to find a significant relation between Conscientiousness at the beginning of the
career and job instability throughout the first career stage.
Emotional Stability deals with people’s susceptibility to psychological distress. As
people low on Emotional Stability demonstrate nervousness and Anxiety (N1), they may not
be seen as desirable candidates for (upward) mobility (Ng et al., 2005). Similarly, high levels
of Self-Consciousness or social anxiety (N4) could hinder people scoring low on Emotional
Stability to consider or actively pursue job change opportunities. Conversely, high levels of
Angry Hostility (N2) and/or Impulsiveness (N5) could increase the likelihood of job change.
For example, Caspi, Elder, and Bem (1987) studied the lives of individuals over thirty years
and found that ill-tempered adults, displaying hostility and moodiness, led more erratic work
lives with a greater number of employers irrespective of their intelligence, socioeconomic
status, and educational level. As for Conscientiousness, we expect opposite facet level
processes to neutralize each other at the domain level, resulting in non significant relations
between Emotional Stability at the beginning of the career and job instability throughout the
first career stage.
Hypothesis 7: Domain level scores on Conscientiousness and Emotional Stability at
the beginning of a professional career are unrelated to job instability experienced
throughout the first career stage.
In personality psychology, divergent ideas exist on the question whether it is best to
use broadly defined personality traits or narrowly defined traits for the prediction of certain
outcomes. This has come to be referred as the ‘bandwidth-fidelity dilemma’. With regard to
the Big Five dimensions of personality, it has been argued that these are characterized by
great bandwidth (Briggs, 1989; Hogan, 1995) and some researchers (e.g., Ackerman, 1990;
Hough, 1992; Tett, Jackson, Rothstein, & Reddon, 1994) have used the bandwidth-fidelity
dilemma to argue against the use of broad personality variables. Their criticism is that too
much information is lost when data are aggregated to the level of the Big Five, and they
argue for a greater focus on more specific traits in organizational behavior. Likewise, Judge,
Klinger, Simon and Yang (2008) note that specific traits like impulsivity and hostility have
been extensively studied in psychology, except in organizational behavior research where
they are virtually non-existent. Therefore, from an exploratory perspective, this study also
examines facet level associations between Big Five traits and job instability during the first
Design and Participants
Present study is part of an ongoing longitudinal research program on personality
development and work related experiences in a Flemish alumni sample. In February-March
1994 (Time 1), three months before graduating, 934 college students from various faculties
enrolled in this study, completing personality and interest inventories. One year later (Time
2), a first follow-up was organized, focusing on their current educational or occupational
situations at that time (see De Fruyt & Mervielde, 1999). In 2009 (Time 3), exactly 15 years
after the first study, a second follow-up of the 1994-sample was conducted. As the sample
was last contacted in 1995, the first step for this follow-up consisted of tracing all research
participants. Letters were sent to all 934 home addresses as reported 15 years ago asking to
pass on any data that could help us to reach the addressee. Four weeks later, a reminder was
sent to those addresses that had not responded to the initial letter. In sum, 590 subjects
(63.17%) responded to this mailing and provided us with a valid email address. For subjects
that could not be reached with this mailing procedure, an alternative search was organized.
Their names were entered in an online search engine (Google) and alternatively looked up
via social and professional network sites (e.g. LinkedIn). Through this online search, 60
additional subjects were traced, bringing the total number on 650 potential participants,
69.59% of the entire 1994-sample.
Each of these potential participants were subsequently sent an email containing
further information on the research project and the request to participate. Subjects that were
interested in the study could find three internet links at the bottom of the document, each link
leading to a separate module of the entire survey. For the purpose of this study, only the
second module, which deals with participants’ professional careers over the past 15 years, is
considered. In sum, 291 (156 males and 135 females) of the 650 participants (44.77%)
completed this second module.
To test for attrition effects, we compared baseline interest and personality scores of
those who participated in this follow-up to the scores of those who dropped out. With regard
to T1 vocational interest scores, no mean differences were found between continuers and
drop outs. Similarly, no selectivity effects were found for interest profile differentiation and
consistency. With regard to Big Five personality traits, no differences were found between
continuers and drop outs at the domain level. However, at the facet level, we found that
continuers had higher average scores (p < .01) on Ideas (O5).
NEO-PI-R. At Time 1, the Big Five personality traits and their facets were assessed
using the Dutch authorized adaptation of the NEO-PI-R (Costa & McCrae, 1992; Hoekstra,
Ormel, & De Fruyt, 1996). The NEO-PI-R is a comprehensive personality questionnaire,
measuring five global and 30 more specific traits. For the entire 1994-sample (N = 934), the
NEO-PI-R yielded excellent Cronbach alpha coefficients on the domain level, that is, for
Neuroticism α = .92, Extraversion α = .90, Openness α = .88, Agreeableness α = .90, and for
Conscientiousness α = .92. For the NEO-PI-R facets, reliabilities ranged from .61 (O6: Values)
to .84 (N1: Anxiety, E3: Assertiveness, O1: Fantasy).
SDS/BZO95. Vocational interests at Time 1 were assessed using a Dutch authorized
adaptation (BZO95; Hogerheijde, Van Amstel, De Fruyt, & Mervielde, 1995) of the Self-
Directed Search (SDS), originally developed by Holland (1979). Cronbach alpha coefficients
for the composite RIASEC scales in the initial 1994-sample (N = 934) are .94 (Realistic), .90
(Investigative), .90 (Artistic), .90 (Social), .92 (Enterprising), and .90 (Conventional). In
addition to RIASEC scale scores, we also computed differentiation and consistency of T1
interest profiles. For differentiation, the Iachan index was used as this method is generally
believed to be more a more comprehensive measure compared to the original method of
subtracting the lowest interest score from the highest (Alvi, Khan, & Kirkwood, 1990). The
degree of consistency in interest profiles was calculated using Strahan’s (1987) C1 index,
which uses the top three Holland codes.
The second module of our 2009 online follow-up aimed at describing participants’
professional careers over the past 15 years (from September 1994 until April 2009) in a
standardized manner. For this purpose, they were asked to break this career stage down into
successive time intervals according to job and/or organizational changes. Each space of time
had to be specified with a starting and ending date and covered at least three months. In
addition, these intervals had to be coded according to the following categories: (1) first job,
(2) new job with a new employer or becoming self-employed, (3) same job with a new
employer, (4) new job with the same employer (promotion, demotion, rotation), (5) career
interruption (sickness, training, pregnancy, other), (6) same job as before career interruption
and (7) job-seeking. Job instability is operationalized as the total frequency of changing
behaviors, within and across employers (categories 2, 3, and 4). Internal mobility is
operationalized as the frequency of job changes within the same employer (category 4);
external mobility is the frequency of changing behaviors beyond the boundaries of a current
employer (categories 2 and 3). Table 1 gives an overview of the descriptive statistics of all job
Gender was used as a control variable as previous research has shown that it can be
related to career mobility (Van Vianen & Fischer, 2002). We did not control for years of
employment and level of education because of the homogeneity of the sample with regard to
these variables. For each of the participants, the first fifteen years of their careers is considered.
In addition, all participants were highly educated.
Table 2 displays the means, standard deviations, and intercorrelations among gender,
the Big Five personality traits, RIASEC interest scales, secondary interest constructs, and job
instability variables. Gender significantly correlated with three of the five personality traits,
with women showing lower scores on Emotional Stability (r = - .21, p < .01), and higher
scores on Openness to Experience (r = .13, p < .05) and Agreeableness (r = .17, p < .01). In
addition, all six RIASEC interest scales showed significant correlations with gender,
indicating higher scores for women on Artistic (r = .24, p < .01) and Social (r = .25, p < .01)
interests, and higher scores for men on Realistic (r = - .32, p < .01), Investigative (r = - .22, p
< .01), Enterprising (r = - .14, p < .05), and Conventional (r = - .14, p < .05) interests.
Finally, gender significantly correlated with job instability, indicating less instability for
women than for men (r = - .13, p < .05).
Vocational Interests and Job Instability
To further examine the associations between the vocational interests and job
instability, Poisson regression analyses were performed for job instability, internal mobility
and external mobility separately. This type of regression analysis is a special case of the
Generalized Linear Model which uses a log transformation to adjust for the skewness of the
data distribution. Poisson regression is especially relevant for the analysis of count data,
which reflect the number of occurrences of a behavior in a fixed period of time (e.g. number
of job or organizational changes). Each time, gender was entered in the first step as a control
variable, followed by the RIASEC interest scales in the second step, and the secondary
interest constructs in the final step.
Results show that gender was significantly associated with job instability (χ2 = 6.416,
p < .05) and external mobility (χ2 = 4.127, p < .05), with women showing fewer job changes
than men. For internal mobility, adding gender as a control variable did not significantly
increase model fit (∆χ2 = 2.308, ns).
In the second step, RIASEC vocational interest scales were entered in our prediction
model. Results show that this increased model fit for overall job instability (∆χ2 = 24.467, p
< .01) as well as for internal mobility (∆χ2 = 14.447, p < .05) as for external mobility (∆χ2 =
36.137, p < .01). With regard to overall job instability, results partially confirmed our first
hypothesis as we only found a significant positive association with Enterprising interest
scores. In addition, the negative relation between job instability and Conventional interest
scores confirmed our second hypothesis. Finally, in accordance with our third hypothesis, no
significant associations were found between job instability and Realistic or Social interest
When only internal job mobility was considered, only two significant associations
were found. First, our results show a positive association between Realistic interest scores
and internal mobility. In addition, higher scores on the Enterprising interest scale were also
related to more frequent internal job changes.
Most significant associations were found between interest scales and external
mobility. Specifically, we found a positive association with Investigative, Artistic and
Enterprising interests. In addition, higher scores on the Conventional interest scale were
related to less frequent external job changes.
In the final step of our Poisson regression analyses, we entered interest profile
differentiation and consistency as potential predictors of job instability, internal mobility and
external mobility respectively. Contrary to our expectations (Hypothesis 4), we did not find
any significant associations between the frequency of job changes and these secondary
interest constructs. All Poisson regression coefficients are shown in Table 3.
Big Five Domains and Job Instability
A second series of Poisson regression analyses were performed to further examine
the associations between the Big Five personality traits and job instability, internal mobility,
and external mobility. Again, gender was each time entered in the first step as a control
variable, followed by the Big Five domain scores in the second step.
The results show that adding the Big Five traits to our prediction model resulted in a
significant gain in the prediction of job instability (∆χ2 = 11.54, p < .05). As expected, a
significant negative association was found with Agreeableness (Hypothesis 5) and no
significant domain level associations were found with Emotional Stability and
Conscientiousness (Hypothesis 7). Finally, contrary to our expectations, we did not find a
significant association between job instability and Extraversion, or between job instability
and Openness to Experience (Hypothesis 6).
When differentiating between external and internal mobility, significant increase in
model fit was only found for external job changes (∆χ2 = 15.859, p < .01). Specifically,
external mobility was positively related with Openness to Experience and negatively with
Agreeableness. For internal mobility, the addition of Big Five traits did not result in a
significantly better model fit (∆χ2 = 8.892, ns). All Poisson regression coefficients are shown
in Table 4.
Big Five Facets and Job Instability
Associations between NEO-PI-R facets and job instability were examined using
partial correlations controlling for gender.
At the domain level, Agreeableness showed to be the most important personality
predictor for overall job instability. Facet level associations depict that Modesty (A5) is the
only Agreeableness related trait that is significantly correlated with job instability (r = - .13,
p < .05). Stronger facet level associations were found with Excitement Seeking (E5; r = .16,
p < .05) and Impulsiveness (N5; r = .18, p < .01). Finally, job instability was also
significantly related to Angry Hostility (N2; r = .14, p < .05), Openness to Actions (O4; r =
.14, p < .05), Openness to Ideas (O5; r = .14, p < .05), and Deliberation (C6; r = - .14, p <
With regard to internal mobility, domain level personality traits did not significantly
improve the fit of our prediction model. Likewise, we only found modest evidence for
predictive validity at the facet level as only two personality facets are significantly correlated
with internal mobility: Excitement Seeking (E5; r = .20, p < .01) and Warmth (E1; r = .14, p
External mobility was significantly predicted by Agreeableness (negative
association) and Openness to Experience (positive association). At the facet level also, most
significant correlations were found with Agreeableness related traits: Altruism (A3; r = - .19,
p < .01), Modesty (A5; r = - .18, p < .01), Compliance (A4; r = - .15, p < .05) and
Tendermindedness (A6; r = - .13, p < .05). The association between Openness to Experience
and external mobility is reflected in the positive correlation with Ideas (O5; r = .15, p < .05).
Finally, the strongest facet level associations with external mobility were found for Angry
Hostility (N2; r = .20, p < .01) and Dutifulness (C3; r = - .20, p < .01). All facet level partial
correlations are shown in Table 5.
Vocational Interests and Job Instability
Many researchers have theorized that individuals’ specific career interests also affect
job mobility and/or embeddedness (e.g., Lent, Brown, & Gail, 1994; Oleski & Subich,
1996). To our knowledge, this study was the first to empirically test longitudinal associations
between vocational interests and job instability, using Holland’s (1985) typology as this
model is most commonly adopted and validated in the careers literature (Prediger, 2000).
First, we used a series of Poisson regression analyses to examine the effect of all
RIASEC interest scales together while controlling for gender. Consistent with our
expectations, we found a significant positive association between Enterprising interests and
job instability. In addition, this positive association remained significant when only internal
or external job changes were considered. Professional ambition and a need to control others
could be one of the driving mechanisms behind these associations. Similarly, Chan, Rounds
and Drasgow (2000) found a positive relation between Enterprising interests and the
motivation to lead. However, our results do not offer a definite test of this explanation as we
did not distinguish between upward, downward or lateral job changes.
As Conventional types prefer working on familiar tasks and in familiar surroundings,
we hypothesized that Conventional career interests should be negatively related to job
instability. Indeed, we found that individuals scoring higher on the Conventional interest
scale reported less overall and external moving behaviors. As Douce and Hansen (1990)
note, Conventional career interests reflect a preference for routine and predictability in jobs
which could explain lower levels of job instability, especially external job changes.
Because of the curious and experiential nature of Investigative and Artistic types, we
expected a positive relation between these vocational interest scales and job instability.
However, this was only confirmed when only external job changes were considered.
Finally, as expected, we did not find any significant relations between overall job
instability on the one hand and Realistic and Social interests on the other. However, although
there are no clear reasons to believe that Realistic individuals will exhibit certain types of job
mobility (Ng et al., 2007), our results did indicate a significant positive relationship between
realistic interest scores and internal mobility.
In addition to RIASEC interest scales, we also tested the validity of Holland’s (1985)
secondary interest constructs of differentiation and consistency in the prediction of job
instability. Although they are often considered valuable from a practical point of view, these
concepts have produced mixed evidence in past research on career stability (Holland, 1997).
Consistent with Holland’s (1985) original assumptions, we expected lower levels of
differentiation and lower levels of consistency at the beginning of the professional career to
be related to higher levels of career instability during the subsequent 15 years of
employment. However, the results show that adding differentiation and consistency to our
prediction model did not significantly improve model fit for job instability, internal mobility
and external mobility. These findings could be explained by the conceptualization of career
instability that was used. In this study, job instability was operationalized as the frequency of
job changes over the past 15 years, irrespective of any intrinsic aspects of job changes.
Previous studies that looked at consistency and differentiation of vocational interests as
predictors of career instability primarily focused on the nature of job change rather than on
its frequency. In that perspective, frequent changes within the same domain also indicate
stability, whereas a single shift toward a totally different domain can be interpreted as
Big Five Personality Traits and Job Instability
Past research on personality and job change mainly focused on the prediction of
turnover intentions or single turnover behaviors. Present study attempted to expand this line
of research in two ways. First, job change is considered over a period of time, resulting in a
measure of job instability during the first 15 years of the professional career. Second, a
longitudinal design was used in which personality measured at the beginning of the career
was used as a predictor of subsequent job change behaviors. This prospective design is
particularly interesting given the growing evidence that personality, throughout adulthood,
can develop under the influence of work related experiences (e.g., Roberts, Caspi, & Moffitt,
Consistent with our hypothesis, we found a significant negative relation between
Agreeableness and overall job instability. In addition, people scoring low on Agreeableness
also changed employers more frequently. This negative association between Agreeableness
and external mobility can be interpreted in several ways. From an employee’s perspective,
voluntarily changing organizations can be considered as a difficult decision. Employees
leaving their organization may be perceived as rejecting their teammates and letting down
their employer. It could be that individuals scoring high on Agreeableness are more sensitive
for these uncomfortable consequences and value social peace and good relations over
personal ambition, resulting in less mobility behaviors. Individuals scoring low on
Agreeableness, on the other hand, care much less about interpersonal feelings or
relationships and experience less difficulties with the loss effects that accompany
organization switching. From an employer’s perspective, it could be argued that employees
high on Agreeableness are very much valued because of their positive contributions on team
performance (e.g., Peeters, Van Tuijl, Rutte, & Reymen, 2006), and therefore are tied to the
organization. Individuals low on Agreeableness, on the other hand, can be difficult to handle
with in groups or organizations and are therefore less retained by employers.
Contrary to our expectations, Extraversion and Openness to Experience were not
significantly associated with job instability. However, at least for Openness, we did find a
significant relation when only external job changes were considered. This association is
evident knowing that individuals high on Openness are characterized by being imaginative,
being independent-minded, having wide interests, being non-conformist, being innovative,
being complex, and being change oriented (John & Srivasatava, 1999). In addition, Vinson
et al. (2007) also found higher scores on Openness related traits to be correlated with more
frequent organization switching. Finally, consistent with our expectations, we did not find
any significant domain level associations between any of our job instability variables on the
one hand and Emotional Stability and Conscientiousness on the other.
In addition to the Big Five personality domains, we also explored the relations
between the frequency of job changes and the NEO-PI-R facets, controlling for gender. This
enables us to examine the idea that some Big Five traits (e.g., Emotional Stability,
Conscientiousness and Extraversion) are perhaps too broad to be related to job change
For Emotional Stability, we expected Anxiety and Self Consciousness to cancel out
the instability promoting effects of Angry Hostility and Impulsiveness. Although we did not
explicitly test this buffering hypothesis, results do show some indications in this direction.
Clearly, Angry Hostility and Impulsiveness are positively related to job instability, whereas
for Anxiety and Self Consciousness the trend is towards a negative association. Similarly,
for Conscientiousness, we expected opposite facet level effects of Competence and
Achievement Striving on the one hand, and Dutifulness and Deliberation on the other.
Results clearly support the negative effects of Dutifulness and Deliberation, especially with
regard to external mobility. For Competence and Achievement Striving, near zero
correlations were obtained.
Contrary to our expectations, we did not find a significant domain level association
between job instability and Extraversion. Nevertheless, facet level analyses did indicate
some aspects of Extraversion to be significantly related to job instability. Consistent with our
domain level expectations, we found a positive association between Sensation Seeking and
overall job instability. However, the need for environmental stimulation was only related
with the frequency of internal job changes. Similarly, we found a significant positive
association between Warmth and internal mobility. Warm people genuinely like people and
easily form close attachments to others, which indeed could be a prerequisite for internal job
changes. Finally, no Extraversion related traits were related to employer switching.
Besides explaining insignificant domain level relations, a facet level approach can
also offer a more detailed understanding of established domain level effects. For example,
with regard to Agreeableness, facet level analyses show negative associations with Altruism
(i.e. active concern with the welfare of others), Compliance (i.e. response to interpersonal
conflict), Modesty (i.e. tendency to play down on own achievements), and
Tendermindedness (i.e. attitudes of sympathy for others). In this light, from a personality
point of view, switching employers to some degree has an egocentric basis. This idea is
further sustained by the significant negative relation between external mobility and
Dutifulness (i.e. emphasis placed on importance of fulfilling moral obligations).
Using a prospective longitudinal design, this study examined the predictive validity
of personality and vocational interests, measured at the very beginning of the professional
career, for subsequent job mobility behaviors over the next 15 years. Overall, we found
additional empirical evidence for an individual difference perspective on job mobility.
To our knowledge, this study was the first to empirically test the longitudinal
predictive validity of vocational interests for job mobility behaviors over a long period of
time. Indeed, our results show that RIASEC interest scores, measured at the beginning of the
career, are to some extent related to subsequent job instability. Conversely, interest profile
differentiation and consistency did not significantly predict the frequency of job changes
over the next 15 years.
With regard to the Big Five personality traits, our results are consistent with previous
research showing only modest evidence for validity in the prediction of mobility behaviors.
Interestingly, we found the strongest association between job instability and Agreeableness,
which is often the ‘forgotten trait’ in the study of organizational behavior. In addition, the
possibility to look at facet level relationships between personality and job change variables
proved to be useful to ameliorate our understanding of certain domain level relations.
Further, this facet level approach also illustrates how some Big Five traits (e.g., Emotional
Stability and Conscientiousness) are perhaps too broad to the study individual differences in
Consistent with previous research, we also differentiated between internal and
external moving behaviors. Overall, our research findings suggest that the individual
difference perspective is less useful for the study of internal job mobility. Indeed it makes
sense that other factors, like organizational characteristics, are more important in the
prediction of internal job rotations than personality or vocational interests.
Finally, the present study is not free of limitations. First, our dependent variables (job
mobility, internal mobility, and external mobility) do not distinguish between voluntary or
involuntary mobility behaviors. The psychological processes underlying these two types of
job instability can be very different, meaning that our results could differ if voluntary and
involuntary mobility were studied separately. However, the purpose of this study was to
examine the broader picture of stability and change during the first 15 years of a professional
career from an individual difference perspective. Often, it is far from clear whether or not
job changes are voluntary or not as in many cases they are the result of a joint-decision
making process. In addition, this distinction is further complicated by the fact that people can
proactively anticipate employer decisions. Nevertheless, the results of our study demonstrate
that individual difference variables, like vocational interests and personality traits measured
at the beginning of the professional career, can to some extent predict subsequent job
instability over the next 15 years.
Second, we did not examine the direction of changing behaviors (upward, downward
or lateral). Some researchers (e.g., Feldman & Ng, 2007) formulate specific hypotheses
about personality traits, vocational interests, and direction of job change. However, we feel
that -in present labor market characterized by less clear-cut jobs, more diffuse
responsibilities, and hierarchical organizational structures fading away- the direction of job
change in terms of ‘upward, downward or lateral’ is often obscure and in many cases
Ackerman, P. L. (1990). A correlational analysis of skill specificity: Learning, abilities, and
individual differences. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 16, 883-901.
Alvi, S. A., Khan, S. B., & Kirkwood, K. J. (1990). A comparison of various indices of
differentiation for Holland’s model. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 36, 147-152.
Assouline, M., & Meir, E. I. (1987). Meta-analysis of the relationship between congruence
and well-being measures. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 31, 319-332.
Barrick, M. R., & Mount, M. K. (1996). Effects of impression management and self-
deception on the predictive validity of personality constructs. Journal of Applied
Psychology, 81, 261-272.
Bartel, A., & Borjas, G. (1981). Wage Growth and Job Turnover. In Studies in Labor
Markets, edited by Sherwin Rosen, pp. 65-90. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Bentein, K., Vandenberg, R. J., Vandenberghe, C., & Stinglhamber, F. (2005). The role of
change in the relationship between commitment and turnover: A latent growth
modeling approach. Journal of Applied Psychology, 90, 468-482.
Bernhardt, A., Morris, M., Handcock, M. S., & Scott, M. A. (1999). Trends in job instability
and wages for young adult men. Journal of Labor Economics, 17, 565-590.
Briggs, S. R. (1989). The optimum level of measurement for personality constructs. In: Buss,
D. M. and Cantor, N. (Eds) Personality Psychology. Recent Trends and Emerging
Directions. Springer, New York.
Caspi, A., Elder, G. H., & Bem, D. J. (1987). Moving against the World: life-course patterns
of explosive children. Developmental Psychology, 23, 308-313.
Chan, K., Rounds, J., & Drasgow, F. (2000). The relation between vocational interests and
motivation to lead. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 57, 226-245.
Costa, P. T. Jr., & McCrae, R. R. (1992). NEO-PI-R professional manual. Odessa, FL:
Psychological Assesment Resources.
Crockett, H. J. (1962). The achievement motive and differential occupational mobility in the
United States. American Sociological Review, 27, 191-204.
Dawis, R. V., & Lofquist, L. H. (1984). A psychological theory of work adjustment.
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
De Fruyt, F., & Mervielde, I. (1999). RIASEC types and Big Five traits as predictors of
employment status and nature of employment. Personnel Psychology, 52, 701-727.
DiPrete, T. A., De Graaf, P. M., Luijkx, R., Tahlin, M., & Blossfeld, H. (1997). Collectivist
versus individualist mobility regimes? Structure change and job mobility in four
countries. American Journal of Sociology, 103, 318-358.
Douce, L. A., & Hansen, J. C. 1990. Willingness to take risks and college women’s career
choice. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 36, 258-273.
Feldman, D. C., & Ng, T. W. H. (2007). Careers: Mobility, Embeddedness, and Success.
Journal of Management, 33, 350-377.
Hall, D. T. (1996). Protean careers of the 21st century. Academy of Management Executive,
Hoekstra, H. A., Ormel, J., & De Fruyt, F. (1996). NEO Persoonlijkheidsvragenlijsten NEO-
PI-R en NEO-FFI. handleiding [NEO Personality Inventories: NEO-PI-R and NEO-
FFI manual.] Lisse: Swets & Zeitlinger.
Hogan, R. (1995). On the insufficiencies of the Five-Factor Model for predicting managerial
effectiveness. Paper presented at the symposium, Specifying Personality Variables in
Employment Contexts, conducted at the 103rd Annual Meeting of the American
Psychological Association, August.
Hogerheijde, R. P., Van Amstel, B., De Fruyt, F., & Mervielde, I. (1995). Beroepskeuze Zelf-
Onderzoek versie 1995. Een gids voor opleidings- en beroepskeuze. Handleiding &
Testboekje – Nederlands/Vlaamse editie [Dutch/Flemish adaptation of the Self-
Directed Search manual]. Lisse: Swets & Zeitlinger.
Holland, J. L. (1968). Explorations of a theory of vocational choice: VI. A longitudinal study
using a sample of typical college students. Monograph Supplement, Journal of
Applied Psychology, 52, No. 1, Part 2.
Holland, J. L. (1979). The Self-Directed Search professional manual. Palo Alto: CA:
Consulting Psychologists Press.
Holland, J. L. 1985. Making vocational choices: A theory of vocational personalities and
work environments . Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Holland, J. L. (1997). Making vocational choices: A theory of vocational personalities and
work environments (3rd ed.). Psychological Assessment Resources: Odessa, FL.
Hough, L. (1992). The "big five" personality variables-construct confusion: Description
versus prediction. Human Performance, 5, 139-155.
John, O. P., & Srivastava, S. (1999). The Big Five taxonomy: history, measurement, and
theoretical perspectives. In: Pervin, L. A. and John, O. P. (eds), Handbook of
personality: theory and research. New York: The Guilford Press, pp. 102-138.
Judge, T. A., Klinger, R., Simon, L. S., & Yang, I. W. F. (2008). The contributions of
personality to organizational behavior and psychology: Findings, criticisms, and
future research directions. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 2/5, 1982-
Lent, R. W., Brown, S. D., & Gail, H. 1994. Toward a unifying social cognitive theory of
career and academic interest, choice, and performance. Journal of Vocational
Behavior, 45, 79-122.
Littler, C. R., Wiesner, R., & Dunford, R. (2003). The dynamics of delayering: Changing
management structures in three countries. Journal of Management Studies, 40, 225-
McCrae R. R., Costa P. T. Jr. (1987). Validation of the five-factor model of personality
across instruments and observers. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52,
Ng, T. W. H., Eby, L. T., Sorensen, K. L., & Feldman, D. C. (2005). Predictors of objective
and subjective career success: A meta-analysis. Personnel Psychology, 58, 367-408.
Ng, T. W. H., Sorensen, K. L., Eby, L. T., & Feldman, D. C. (2007). Determinants of job
mobility: An integration and extension. Journal of Occupational and Organizational
Psychology, 80, 363-386.
Nicholson, N., & West, M. (1988). Managerial job change: Men and women in transition.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Oleski, D., & Subich, L. M. (1996). Congruence and career change in employed adults.
Journal of Vocational Behavior, 49, 221-229.
Peeters, M. A. G., Van Tuijl, H. F. J. M., Rutte, C. G., & Reymen, I. M. M. J. (2006).
Personality and team performance: A meta-analysis. European journal of personality,
Prediger, D. J. 2000. Holland’s hexagon is alive and well—though somewhat out of shape:
Response to Tinsley. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 56, 197-204.
Reardon, R. C., & Lenz, J. G. (1998). The Self-Directed Search and related Holland career
materials: A practitioner’s guide. Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources,
Roberts, B. W., Caspi, A, & Moffitt, T.E (2003). Work experiences and personality
development in young adulthood. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84,
Seibert, S. E., & Kraimer, M. L. (2001). The Five-Factor Model of Personality and career
success. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 58, 1-21.
Strahan, R. F. (1987). Measures of consistency for Holland-type codes. Journal of
Vocational Behavior, 31, 37-44.
Sullivan, S. E. (1999). The changing nature of careers: A review and research agenda.
Journal of Management, 25, 457-484.
Taylor, K. F., Kelso, G. I., Longthorp, N. E., & Pattison, P. E. (1980). Differentiation as a
construct in vocational theory and a diagnostic sign in practice (Melbourne
Psychology Reports, No. 68). Melbourne, Australia. Department of Psychology,
University of Melbourne.
Tett, R. P., Jackson, D. N., Rothstein, M., & Reddon, J. R. (1994). Meta analysis of
personality job performance relations-A reply to Ones, Mount, Barrick & Hunter
(1994). Personnel Psychology, 47, 157-172.
Vandenberg, R. J., & Self, C. M. (1993). Assessing newcomers’ changing commitment to
the organization during the first 6 months of work. Journal of Applied Psychology,
Van Vianen, A. E. M., Feij, J. A., Krausz, M., & Taris, R. (2003). Personality factors and
adult attachment affecting job mobility. International Journal of Selection and
Assessment, 11, 253-264.
Van Vianen, A.E.M. ,& Fischer, A.H. (2002) Illuminating the glass ceiling: The role of
organizational culture preferences. Journal of Occupational and Organizational
Psychology, 75, 315-337.
Vinson, G. A., Connelly, B. S., & Ones, D. S. (2007). Relationships between personality and
organization switching: Implications for utility estimates. International Journal of
Selection and Assessment, 15, 118-133.
Watson, D., & Clark, L. A. (1992). On traits and temperament: General and specific factors
of emotional experience and their relation to the Five-Factor model. Journal of
Personality, 60, 441-476.
White, M., Hill, S., Mills, C., & Smeaton, D. (2004). Managing to change? British
workplaces and the future of work. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.