In studying the interaction between individuals and organizations a distinct need is felt to describe individuals in a standardized and meaningful way. This chapter is devoted to the possibilities to do so. I will try to give a survey of individual characteristics relevant to the world of work and organization and make clear what roles they can play. This task is harder than it looks. One might have expected that, in the course of its 100 years existence, empirical psychology would have created a systematic taxonomy, from which we only had to make our choice. But such an expectation is completely unwarranted. To be sure, there has been extensive research directed at individual characteristics—especially ‘basic’ ones—but the results are far from satisfactory. It has, on the contrary, given rise to fundamental questions having to do with the concept of personal characteristics itself.
Because of this, I will first have to discuss the theoretical status of the ‘individual characteristic’ concept. This exploration leads to a distinction of some classes of individual characteristics, among which ‘personality traits’ appear to take a special position. In the survey, which is given next, individual characteristics are treated as theoretical concepts. The operationalization of these concepts is discussed only briefly, because much is known about it from other sources. Finally, some remarks are made on the meaning of individual characteristics within psychological theory on work and organization and on their possible use in practical interventions.