Success in the new career era 1
Big Five traits and intrinsic success in the new career era: A 15 year longitudinal study on
employability and work-family conflict
Cite as :
Wille, B., De Fruyt, F., & Feys, M. (2013). Big Five traits and intrinsic success in the new career era: A 15 year
longitudinal study on employability and work-family conflict. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 62,
The present investigation contributes to research on the dispositional source of intrinsic
(subjective) career success in three general ways. First, two indicators of career success were
considered, i.e. perceived employability and work-family conflict, which closely align with
the characteristics of contemporary boundaryless careers. Second, facet level associations
were examined, providing a more fine grained description of personality-success relations.
Third, besides concurrent associations, we also examined the prospective effects of traits on
career success assessed 15 years later. Overall, our results further substantiated an individual
difference perspective on career success, with both outcomes being significantly and
substantially predicted by Big Five traits, even when controlling for a number of demographic
and career related characteristics. Further, results indicated that facet level analyses can
contribute significantly to our theoretical understanding of trait-success associations. Finally,
a comparison of concurrent and longitudinal analyses indicated temporal stability of
personality-success relations, although the predictive validity of separate traits was also found
to vary across time.
Keywords: Personality, Big Five traits, Work-family conflict, Employability, Career success,
Career development, Organizational behavior, Belgium, Flanders
Success in the new career era 2
Success in the new career era 3
Over the past decades, considerable research attention has been devoted to the
antecedents of career success (e.g., Boudreau & Boswell, 2001; Judge, Higgins, Thoresen, &
Barrick, 1999; Seibert & Kraimer, 2001; Stumpp, Muck, Hulsheger, Judge, & Maier, 2010).
While initial studies mainly focused on human capital attributes and demographic factors,
more recent work also addressed the dispositional nature of career outcomes, with personality
traits receiving a great deal of attention given their effects on related domains of
organizational behavior such as job performance (e.g., Barrick & Mount, 1991) and job
satisfaction (e.g., Judge, Locke, Durham, & Kluger, 1998). To date, research has convincingly
demonstrated the validity of traits to predict traditional indicators of success, such as career
satisfaction and occupational or financial attainment (Judge et al., 1999; Seibert & Kraimer,
The aim of this study is to contribute to research on the dispositional source of career
success in three general ways. First, we want to expand this line of research by considering an
additional set of two success criteria that closely align with recent developments in the career
landscape. We specifically argue that employability and work-family conflict are important
and relevant work outcomes in contemporary careers, and, hence, can be incorporated in
studies examining the dispositional source of career success. As a second contribution, we
aim at further developing our theoretical knowledge on dispositional effects on career
outcomes by considering more fine grained personality facet information in our predictive
models. These can shed light on contrary hypotheses and findings from previous studies that
considered only broad personality domains. Finally, the present study draws on a unique
research design that allows studying personality-success relationships concurrently as well as
longitudinally, providing fundamental insights into the predictive validity of traits over a
substantial and vital time interval, namely the first 15 years of the professional career.
Career success in the new career era
Success in the new career era 4
Career success has been defined in terms of the positive psychological and work-
related outcomes accumulated as a result of one’s work experiences (Judge, Cable, Boudreau,
& Bretz, 1995). Although career researchers have traditionally focused on objective or
extrinsic indicators of success (e.g., attained organizational position and salary level), interest
has increased in alternative, subjective outcomes over the past years to obtain a more
comprehensive understanding of career success (e.g., Judge et al., 1995; Ng, Eby, Sorensen,
& Feldman, 2005; Seibert & Kraimer, 2001). Subjective or intrinsic career success is broadly
defined as “an individuals’ reactions to his or her unfolding career experiences” (Heslin,
2005, p. 114). It has been argued that –in a context of boundaryless careers– the subjective
interpretation of one’s career status, rather than objective position, can be considered as the
major indicator of career success (Heslin, 2005).
As a result, intrinsic success has increasingly been adopted within career success
research over the past decade (Greenhaus, 2003; Hall, 2002), and has most commonly been
operationalized as either job or career satisfaction (Heslin, 2005). Following Heslin’s (2005)
recommendation, the present study attempts to broaden the conceptualization of intrinsic
career success in order to include reactions to actual and anticipated career-related events
across a wider range of outcomes. Specifically, we aim at contributing to the
conceptualization and measurement of subjective career success by considering those criteria
that reflect “what employees want” (Heslin, 2005, p. 117). Hereby, two important factors
emerge. First, inspection of the top 10 satisfaction factors outlined in the SHRM Employee
Job Satisfaction and Engagement Research Report (2011) reveals that the main thing that U.S.
employees want at the moment is employment security. Clearly, individuals’ perceptions of
being marketable by current or future employers constitute an important aspect of their
current career evaluations. A second career outcome that reflects what employees today find
important connects to changes in workforce attitudes toward work. Specifically, research on
Success in the new career era 5
generational differences in work values indicates an increased desire to balance work goals
and personal goals (Smola & Sutton, 2002). Finegold and Mohrman (2001), for instance,
found that among 4500 knowledge workers and managers from eight countries, work-life
balance was rated as the most important out of the many facets of a career.
In an attempt to broaden the conceptualization of subjective career success, hereby
drawing on research on what is particularly important for employees today across nations, the
present study focuses on perceived employability and work-family balance as indicators of
intrinsic career success. In the paragraphs below, these constructs are described more
elaborately and it is argued that both these subjective career evaluations are particularly
relevant in the context of contemporary boundaryless careers.
Employability and work-family conflict in the new career era
Career researchers have argued that career success should be studied in the context of
“the new career era”, which refers to the extensive writing on the changing career
environment (e.g., De Vos & Soens, 2008; Eby, Butts, & Lockwood, 2003). The present study
responds to this call by considering two subjective career outcomes that closely align with
characteristics of contemporary careers.
First, global trade competition, the fast pace of technological innovation, and
government deregulation of industry have led to widespread corporate layoffs, workplace
restructuring, and the increasing use of a contingent workforce (Hirsch & De Soucey, 2006;
König, Probst, Staffen, & Graso, 2011). Along with these economic realities, career
researchers have identified a transition from relatively stable organizational career paths to so-
called boundaryless careers (Arthur, 1994). Individuals can no longer expect lifetime
employment within one organization or steady hierarchical career paths. Instead, individuals
are increasingly confronted with the possibility of involuntary job loss, lateral job movement
within or across organizational boundaries, and career interruptions (Arthur & Rousseau,
Success in the new career era 6
1996). Accompanying these changing career perspectives, there is also a shift in
accountability for career development from employers to employees, who are considered
responsible for acquiring knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics valued by
current and prospective employers (Fugate & Kinicki, 2008; Van der Heijde & Van der
Heijden, 2006). With jobs and career paths being less long term and stable, individuals who
are successful are now those who are able to remain value-added to their present employer
(e.g., through learning and/or training) and who are viewed as marketable by other
organizations (Bird, 1994; Eby et al., 2003; Rothwell & Arnold, 2007; Sullivan, Carden, &
Martin, 1998). Hence, it has been argued that employability can and should be regarded as an
important factor in understanding career success in the contemporary career era (Bird, 1994;
De Vos, De Hauw, & Van der Heijden, 2011; Eby et al., 2003; Hall, 2002; Sullivan et al.,
1998), and individuals’ perceptions of their marketability in particular have already been
studied as an indicator of intrinsic career success in addition to the more traditional career
satisfaction measures (e.g., De Vos & Soens, 2008; Eby et al., 2003). Employability is a broad
term and can be studied from different perspectives (e.g., contextual vs. individual) and at
distinct levels (individual, organizational, and industrial) (Van der Heijde & Van der Heijden,
2006). In this study, we consider employability as an indicator of success in unstable
contemporary careers, and therefore focus on individuals’ evaluations of their marketability as
reflected in their perceived ability to find another job (see also De Vos & Soens, 2008; Eby et
In addition to this reality of unstable and unpredictable careers, another far-reaching
development in modern career landscape has been described. Specifically, changing
demographics and increased competition are afflicting work and family roles. Employees are
working longer hours and are increasingly confronted with higher workloads (e.g., Galinsky,
Bond, & Hill, 2002; Kodz et al., 2003). Women are participating in the labor market at an
Success in the new career era 7
increasing rate, many have children and some are single parents (Paulin & Lee, 2002). The
growing number of dual-earner couples can profit from bolstered family incomes, but are at
the same time confronted with challenging dual responsibilities in work and families. It is in
this context that the topic of balancing work and private life has gained increasing interest
among scholars, and studies in American (e.g., Eagle, Miles, & Icenogle, 1997) as well as
European (e.g., Geurts, Kompier, Roxburgh, & Houtman, 2003) populations indicate that a
substantial proportion of employed parents experience work-family conflict at least some of
the time. Furthermore, cross-sectional and longitudinal research has also provided consistent
evidence that work-family conflict is associated with various negative outcomes like the
experience of stress, physical and mental health problems, job exhaustion and intentions to
leave an organization (Allen, Herts, Bruck, & Sutton, 2000; Frone, 2000; Frone, Russell, &
Cooper, 1997; Kelloway, Gottlieb, & Barham, 1999; Kinnunen, Vermulst, Gerris, &
Mäkikangas, 2003). As denoted by Judge and Kammeyer-Mueller (2007) and Heslin (2005),
the extent to which individuals perceive a negative interference from the work role to the
family role can therefore be considered as a valuable indicator of intrinsic success in
Work-family conflict is commonly defined as “a form of inter-role conflict in which
the role pressures from the work and family domains are mutually incompatible in some
respect” (Greenhaus & Beutell, 1985, p. 77). These role pressures are directional and produce
negative effects from one domain to the other (Frone, Russell, & Cooper, 1992), and
researchers and theorists have recently focused on the degree to which participation in the
family role is hindered by participation in the work role–termed work-to-family conflict
(WFC), and the degree to which participation in the work role is impeded by participation in
the family role–termed family-to-work conflict (FWC). Empirical support for the distinction
between both forms of role conflict comes from several sources, including differential
Success in the new career era 8
outcomes (e.g., Mesmer-Magnus & Viswesvaran, 2005) and antecedents (e.g., Byron, 2005).
Since the focus of the present study is on employees’ career success, it is restrained to an
examination of work-to-family conflict, which has been shown to originate mainly in the
work domain as opposed to the family domain (see Byron, 2005).
Personality theory provides a valuable framework for understanding and
hypothesizing associations between traits and experiences in various life domains, including
vocational life (Hogan, 1991). It specifically proposes that a dynamic organization of mental
structures and coordinated mental processes determines individuals’ emotional and behavioral
adjustments to their environments (i.e., characteristic patterns of behavior, thoughts, and
feelings; Allport, 1937, 1961; James & Mazerolle, 2000). Further, this theory states that there
are recurring regularities or trends in a person’s psychological features–attitudes, emotions,
and ways of perceiving and thinking– that exist inside a person that explain the recurring
tendencies in an individual’s behavior (Hogan, 1991). As such, a central presumption of
personality theory is that an individual possesses a predisposition to behave, think, and feel in
a relatively consistent manner over time and across diverse situations. This relative cross-
situational consistency is captured by the term “personality trait”.
Over the past decades, the Five-Factor Model of personality (FFM; McCrae & Costa,
1987) has evolved to a frequently examined typology of personality in the field of
organizational behavior (e.g., Barrick & Mount, 1991; Costa, 1996; Judge, Heller, & Klinger,
2008; Templer, 2011). The FFM includes the traits of Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness to
experience, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness, and each of these traits have previously
been related to traditional indicators of extrinsic and/or intrinsic career success (for an
overview, see for example Judge & Kammeyer-Mueller, 2007).
Success in the new career era 9
In accordance with personality theory, linkages between Big Five traits and
subjective success in contemporary careers can be expected because these dispositions
influence (a) specific behavioral patterns relevant for these outcomes (e.g., coping strategies,
resource acquisition, work orientation), as well as (b) perceptions about, or experience of,
strain associated with engagement in the work role. Specific hypotheses regarding the
associations between Big Five traits and perceived employability and work-family conflict are
discussed in greater detail below.
Big Five traits and perceived employability
Although we are not aware of prior studies that investigated the associations between
perceived employability and the FFM, specific expectations can be formulated for each of the
Big Five drawing on trait descriptions and insights from personality theory. First, traits like
Neuroticism and Extraversion can be related to subjective work outcomes because of their
direct effects on evaluative processes. Individuals high on Neuroticism are characterized by an
enduring tendency to experience negative emotional states and to interpret situations in a
pessimistic way (Costa & McCrae, 1992). Studies investigating the relationships between
Neuroticism and job satisfaction, for example, have consistently found a negative correlation
(Judge et al., 1998). In this regard, high levels of anxiety and low self-esteem may also
nourish discouraged marketability perceptions, and we therefore predict a negative
relationship between Neuroticism and perceived employability (Hypothesis 1a).
Whereas theory and evidence suggest a negative relationship between Neuroticism and
intrinsic career success, the opposite is true with respect to Extraversion. Extraverts generally
hold more positive evaluations to life in general and their careers in specific (Furnham &
Zacherl, 1986; McCrae & Costa, 1991), and research has indeed shown positive associations
between Extraversion and indicators of intrinsic career success like job and career satisfaction
(Judge et al., 1999; Judge et al., 1998). In addition to this ‘positivity bias’, individuals high on
Success in the new career era 10
Extraversion are characterized as active and assertive, and they are therefore likely to take
actions to deal with unsatisfactory career situations (Seibert & Kraimer, 2001), such as low
employability perceptions. For these reasons, we expect a positive association between
Extraversion and perceived employability (Hypothesis 1b).
Conscientiousness and Openness to experience can be expected to influence career
success mainly through relevant work behaviors. Specifically, these traits have been related to
engagement in learning and development activities at work, which could in turn affect
employability perceptions. Those scoring high on Conscientiousness have a constant striving
for success and express a tendency to set challenging goals and to do what it takes to succeed
(Barrick, Mount, & Strauss, 1993). These qualities make high conscientious individuals more
likely to invest in training and learning efforts and to perceive the need for and value of
expanding one’s capabilities (Maurer, Lippstreu, & Judge, 2008). From the perspective that
training history is an important component of employability (Forrier & Sels, 2003), we can
therefore expect Conscientiousness to be positively related to perceived employability
Similarly, Barrick and Mount (1991) note that Openness to experience includes
characteristics such as being curious, broad-minded and intelligent, and they demonstrated
that this trait is linked to work-related behavior, including success in training/learning settings
and favorable attitudes toward learning. In a reality of less stable employment and a need to
constantly be on the lookout for ways to build new skill sets, Openness can therefore also
expected to be positively related to perceived employability (Hypothesis 1d).
Finally, it has been shown that traits affecting interpersonal behavior could facilitate
networking activities, both internal and external (e.g., Wolff & Muck, 2009). Agreeableness is
associated with characteristics as being cooperative, compliant, trusting, kind and warm
(Judge & Ilies, 2002), and this trait particularly predicts prosocial interpersonal behavior
Success in the new career era 11
(Costa & McCrae, 1992). Under the assumption that the availability of a wide professional
network can enhance marketability perceptions, we also expect Agreeableness to be positively
associated with perceived employability (Hypothesis 1e).
Big Five traits and work-family conflict
Although researchers have started to examine the role of specific dispositional factors,
like trait affectivity (e.g., Stoeva, Chiu, & Greenhaus, 2002), self-evaluations (e.g., Boyar &
Mosley, 2007; Noor, 2002), or isolated personality traits (e.g., Grzywacz & Marks, 2000) to
predict work-family conflict, studies considering a comprehensive personality framework
(e.g., The FFM) for this purpose are scarce (e.g., Michel, Clark, & Jaramillo, 2011; Michel,
Kotrba, Mitchelson, Clark, & Baltes, 2011). Furthermore, it has been argued that much of the
research on work-family conflict is cross-sectional and that longitudinal studies addressing the
topic are severely lacking (Boyar & Mosley, 2007; Bruck & Allen, 2003; Michel et al., 2011).
As for perceived employability and drawing on personality theory, expectations regarding
personality effects on work-family conflict can be formulated based on their consistent
influence on behavioral patterns and general evaluative tendencies.
Empirical research has consistently found a strong positive relationship between
Neuroticism and trait Negative Affect (Watson & Clark, 1992), which facilitates withdrawal
motivation (e.g., apprehensiveness and cautiousness; Watson, Wiese, Vidya, & Tellegen,
1999). When faced with conflicting demands from work and nonwork roles, this withdrawal
approach suggests that individuals high on Neuroticism seek fewer solutions to help manage
demands from multiple domains (Michel et al., 2011). Indeed, research has found a negative
association between Neuroticism and the use of effective coping strategies (Watson &
Pennebaker, 1989). In addition to these associations with behavioral responses, Neuroticism
influences emotional reactions to the experience of strain. Research has shown that
individuals high in Neuroticism have a heightened responsiveness to negative stimuli, causing
Success in the new career era 12
them to generally experience more job and family stress (Zellars & Perrewe, 2001). This, in
turn, increases the degree of conflict experienced (Stoeva et al., 2002). For these reasons and
consistent with previous research (Bruck & Allen, 2003; Michel et al., 2011; Wayne,
Musisca, & Fleeson, 2004), Neuroticism is expected to be positively related to perceived
work-family conflict (Hypothesis 2a).
Contrary to Neuroticism, Extraversion has been found to relate strongly and positively
to trait Positive Affect (PA; Watson & Clark, 1992), and it has been posited that this positive
emotionality facilitates an approach motivation (e.g., goal-directed behavior; Watson et al.,
1999). In the context of negative work-nonwork spillover, this means that those high in
Extraversion (and PA) would seek out more proactive solutions to help manage competing
demands from various roles (Michel et al., 2011). This is supported by research showing that
these individuals have increased life satisfaction because they actively develop resources for
living well (Cohn, Fredrickson, Brown, Mikels, & Conway, 2009). In addition, due to their
more positive nature individuals high on Extraversion have been found to perceive fewer life
stressors (Michel & Clark, 2009; Stoeva et al., 2002). For these reasons and consistent with
previous research (Grzywacz & Marks, 2000; Michel et al., 2011; Wayne et al., 2004),
Extraversion is expected to be negatively related to perceived work-family conflict
With regard to the effects of Conscientiousness, it has previously been suggested that
characteristics like being purposeful, punctual and organized are supposed to make
individuals more effective at managing their time, tasks, and conflicts that arise between work
and home domains (Bruck & Allen, 2003; Wayne et al., 2004). Indeed, Conscientiousness has
been linked with effective problem solving behaviors, support seeking, and cognitive
restructuring coping behaviors (Connor-Smith & Flachsbart, 2007), which could help
individuals reduce negative work-nonwork spillover (Michel et al., 2011). This is further
Success in the new career era 13
supported by research demonstrating that more conscientious individuals experience less
detrimental effects from work role ambiguity (Miller, Griffin, & Hart, 1999), the latter being
an established antecedent of work-to-family conflict (Michel et al., 2011). On these grounds
and consistent with previous research (Bruck & Allen, 2003; Michel et al., 2011; Wayne et
al., 2004), Conscientiousness is expected to be negatively related to work-family conflict
It has previously been argued that, because of their affiliative nature, individuals high
in Agreeableness should be more likely to build a support network, which they can rely on
when coping with work and nonwork demands (Michel et al., 2011; Wayne et al., 2004).
Evidence therefore is provided from various lines of research. First, characteristics associated
with Agreeableness, such as kindness, sympathy and trust, have been shown to enhance the
likelihood of emotional support from coworkers (Zellars & Perrewe, 2001), and absence of
support has been named as one of the factors contributing to work-family conflict (Greenhaus
& Beutell, 1985). Further, Connor-Smith and Flachsbart (2007) found that Agreeableness was
indeed positively related to support seeking coping behaviors. For these reasons and
consistent with previous research (e.g., Michel et al., 2011; Wayne et al., 2004) we expect a
negative association between Agreeableness and work-family conflict (Hypothesis 2d).
Finally, for Openness to experience it has been argued that characteristics as
imagination and originality should be associated with a tendency to come up with creative
solutions when conflict arises, thus, resulting in less work-family conflict (Michel et al., 2011;
Wayne et al., 2004). However, as prior research generally failed to find significant
associations between Openness and aspects of work-family conflict (Bruck & Allen, 2003;
Wayne et al., 2004), we opt not to formulate any specific hypotheses. Openness is
nevertheless included in our analyses for exploratory reasons and because we want to examine
the validity of the entire Big Five personality framework.
Success in the new career era 14
Facet level associations
The Big Five factors are structured in terms of a hierarchy, with five higher order
personality factors (domains) aggregating a number of heterogeneous lower level traits
(facets) (Costa & McCrae, 1992). In terms of criterion validity, there is disagreement
concerning the relative usefulness of the Big Five factors and the more specific lower level
traits to predict real-life criteria (i.e. the ‘bandwidth-fidelity dilemma’, see for instance Ones
& Viswesvaran, 1996). However, from a theoretical perspective it has been argued that the
more narrow personality variables are, the greater the conceptual clarity and interpretability of
empirical results due to greater homogeneity in the construct being tapped into (Ones &
Viswesvaran, 1996). Given that research on the dispositional source of perceived
employability and work-family conflict is still in its initial stage, additional clarification of
empirical results is highly desirable.
For example, while most researchers have argued that Agreeableness should be
negatively related to perceived work-family conflict because of stronger social support
networks (Michel et al., 2011; Wayne et al., 2004), some have argued for opposite effects.
Specifically, Bruck and Allen (2003) hypothesized that Agreeableness may predispose
individuals to be taken advantage of by the demands of others because of a strong concern to
maintain harmony with others. This illustrates that different hypotheses are plausible
depending on the specific aspects (facets) of Agreeableness that are supposed to play a role. If
one stresses the beneficial effects of characteristics such as being trusting and tender minded
with regard to social network building, then one would propose a negative relationship
between Agreeableness and work-family conflict. If one stresses the altruistic (i.e.
consideration of others) and/or compliant (i.e. submitting to others) aspects of Agreeableness,
then one could propose a positive relationship with work-family conflict.
Success in the new career era 15
As another example, previous researchers have repeatedly hypothesized a negative
effect of Conscientiousness on perceived work-family conflict, hereby stressing the beneficial
effects of characteristics such as being efficient and well organized (e.g., Bruck & Allen,
2003; Michel et al., 2011; Wayne et al., 2004). However, from an alternative point of view
one could also expect a positive effect of Conscientiousness when focusing on the
achievement striving component of this trait. This is supported by research indicating a
significant positive association between Conscientiousness and work involvement
(Diefendorff, Brown, Kamin, & Lord, 2002), the latter being also a positive predictor of
work-family conflict (Michel et al., 2011).
For perceived employability as well, Big Five factors may be too broad predictors to
understand the specific causal mechanisms. Regarding the effect of Extraversion, for instance,
two different processes (i.e. a generally positive attitude toward life experiences and an
assertive and active behavioral style) were suggested in the present study that may drive more
favorable employability perceptions in extraverted people.
These examples illustrate that insight into the more fine grained associations between
personality and career outcomes would enhance our theoretical understanding of trait-success
associations. To the best of our knowledge, no prior research has examined the dispositional
source of perceived employability or work-family conflict at the level of personality facets.
These analyses were conducted in an exploratory manner in the present study.
Cross-sectional and longitudinal relationships
Although an examination of concurrent associations already provides a valuable
source of evidence, several arguments can be made for considering a longitudinal design to
study dispositional antecedents of employability and work-family conflict. Particularly,
longitudinal designs have the irrefutable benefit that they are more appropriate to shed light
on the issue of causality, as conclusions from cross-sectional studies could be potentially
Success in the new career era 16
spurious (Judge & Kammeyer-Mueller, 2007). Especially when people are asked to
concurrently provide subjective evaluations about themselves and their professional situation,
it seems likely that there is some contamination between both, complicating inferences with
regard to causality. In addition to this methodological caveat, special attention for the issue of
causality is also warranted from a more theoretical perspective. Specifically, interest has
increased over the past decade in examining reciprocal relations between traits and work
outcomes, and studies have now demonstrated that the experience of a satisfying career can
also contribute to personality trait development (Roberts, Caspi, & Moffitt, 2003). Finally, a
comparison of concurrent and longitudinal associations is further justified by prior research
demonstrating that the validity of traits can substantially vary across time with respect to work
outcomes like job performance (Lievens, Ones, & Dilchert, 2009) and extrinsic career success
(Judge et al., 1999).
The present study investigates both concurrent personality-success relations after 15
years of labor market experience and prospective effects of traits, measured at the very
beginning of the career, for subsequent career success 15 years later. From an exploratory
perspective, we specifically examine (a) the relative importance of T1 versus T2 traits to
predict intrinsic career success (i.e. usefulness analysis; Judge et al., 1999), and (b) the
validity of traits to predict career success when both personality assessments (T1 and T2) are
Design and participants
To test these hypotheses, data are used from a well-documented longitudinal research
project on individual differences, labor market entrance, and career development in a Flemish
college alumni sample (De Fruyt, 2002; De Fruyt & Mervielde, 1997, 1999; Wille, De Fruyt,
& Feys, 2010). In 1994, 934 final year college students from various disciplines enrolled in
Success in the new career era 17
this research program by filling out extensive personality questionnaires three months prior to
graduation. A first follow-up of the sample was conducted one year later, focusing on
participants’ initial employment status and nature of employment one year after graduation
(see De Fruyt, 2002; De Fruyt & Mervielde, 1999). In 2009, a second follow-up was
organized, inviting participants to report online on (a) their personality, (b) their past career
trajectories (see Wille et al., 2010), and (c) the indicators of career adjustment after 15 years
of labor market experience. For the present study, data are used from the first assessment in
1994 (Time 1; T1) and reports collected in 2009 (Time 2; T2).
The issue of dropout is inherent in longitudinal research designs, especially when time
intervals are large. In this study, 206 participants (124 men and 82 women) could be included
that provided valid personality descriptions and perceived employability reports at T2. To test
for selectivity in dropout, continuers (n = 206) were compared to dropouts (n = 728) in terms
of their T1 Big Five domain and personality facet scores, but no significant differences
between both groups were found. For work-family conflict, we only included data of a
subsample of 173 participants (104 men and 69 women) that were either married, living with
their partner, reported being in a stable relationship, or indicated having at least one child
living at home. These criteria are common in research on work-family interference (e.g.,
Beutell & Greenhaus, 1982; Bruck & Allen, 2003; Frone et al., 1992) and were necessary
conditions to adequately answer our work-family conflict questionnaire. Similar as to the
employability sample, no significant mean differences in T1 personality scores were found
between the 173 continuers and 761 dropouts.
We examined the participants’ job titles to get a picture of the type of work they
typically fulfilled at T2. There was a large variety of jobs, with occupations ranging from
software engineer to academic professor. As all participants were highly educated, jobs were
typically higher level white-collar functions across various industries including Building
Success in the new career era 18
industry (n = 8), Power and waterworks (n = 5), Financial industry (n = 13), Health care (n =
11), Sales (n = 4), Hotel and catering (n = 1), Manufacturing (n = 37), Agriculture (n = 2),
Education (n = 30), Government (n = 42), Transport and communication (n = 6), and
Professional services (n = 47).
Personality. At both T1 and T2, five personality factors and their 30 facets were
assessed using a Dutch adaptation of the NEO PI-R (Costa & McCrae, 1992), translated by
Hoekstra, Ormel and De Fruyt (1996). This instrument consists of 240 items, 48 items per Big
Five trait and eight items for each of the 30 underlying facets. Each item reads as a
description of behavior that has to be answered on a five point scale ranging from “strongly
disagree” to “strongly agree”. The Dutch Revised NEO Personality Inventory is a faithful
translation of the NEO PI-R, with a factor structure and psychometric properties closely
resembling the normative US Inventory (De Fruyt & Mervielde, 1997). Internal consistencies
(Cronbach alpha) of all Big Five scales were high and ranged from .81 (Openness to
experience, T1) to .91 (Neuroticism, T1 and T2; Extraversion, T1; Agreeableness, T1; and
Conscientiousness, T2). Moderate internal consistencies were found for the NEO-PI-R facets,
ranging from .62 (O6: Values, T1) to .87 (N1: Anxiety, T2; O1: Fantasy, T2). A description
of the 30 NEO PI-R facets is given in Appendix A.
Intrinsic career success. Perceived employability was measured at T2 by four items
adopted from the Career Worries Scale of the Career Attitudes and Strategies Inventory
(CASI; Holland & Gottfredson, 1994): “I worry about being able to find another job”, “I
couldn’t find another job if I quit my current job”, “I would have difficulty finding persons to
recommend me for a new job”, and “I don’t know how to find another job”. A five-point
Likert-type scale was used with responses ranging from strongly disagree (1) to strongly agree
(5). All items were reverse scored such that high scores reflect high perceived employability
Success in the new career era 19
(M = 3.16, SD = 0.63). To assess the degree of work-family conflict, five items were adopted
from the Family Commitment Scale of the CASI: “Problems and frustrations at work
occasionally reduce my ability to be a good partner or parent”, “I short-change my family or
partner by working too much”, “Too much thinking about work isolates me from my family”,
“I would like to have more time for my family or partner”, and “My family has complained
that I spend too much time at work”. Again, items had to be scored using a five-point Likert
format, and high scores on this scale reflect a high degree of work-family conflict (M = 2.71,
SD = 0.79). An exploratory factor analysis (principal component extraction and VARIMAX
rotation) of all 9 career success items clearly demonstrated two separate factors explaining
58.7% of the variance, with each item loading primarily and substantially (> .40) on its
intended factor. A confirmatory factor analysis (conducted in MPlus5) provided further
support for the construct validity of our outcome measures by showing that this two-factor
model yielded good model fit indices (χ2/df = 2.28, CFI = .95, TLI = .94, RMSEA = .06). A
competing one-factor model evidenced poor model fit (χ2/df = 12.02, CFI = .58, TLI = .42,
RMSEA = .23).
Control variables. As research on the determinants of perceived employability is still
scarce, we mainly relied on literature concerning the determinants of work-family conflict to
identify a number of relevant control variables. Specifically, gender, parental status, and
number of hours worked were included as these variables have been shown to be related to
work-family conflict (e.g., Wayne et al., 2004). We did not have to control for education level
as all participants were highly educated, though we controlled for employment in the (1)
profit or (2) non-profit industry to account for the broad occupational backgrounds of
participants. Gender was coded (1) male and (2) female. Parental status was operationalized
by the number of children, ranging from 0 to 4 (M = 1.37, SD = 1.12). Hours worked was
measured by asking participants about the average number of hours worked per week (M =
Success in the new career era 20
43.46, SD = 8.99). All of these control variables were included on exploratory grounds when
examining the dispositional source of perceived employability.
We first computed concurrent and longitudinal correlations between all control
variables (T2), Big Five personality traits (T1 and T2), and both indicators of intrinsic career
success (T2). The results are shown in Table 1. First, two significant associations were found
between our control variables. Gender was positively associated with industry, indicating that
women were more likely to work in non-profit environments compared to men (r = .18, p <
.01). In addition, women reported a smaller number of weekly work hours (r = -.27, p < .001).
Gender was also significantly correlated with Big Five trait scores, indicating that -at
both personality assessments- women scored significantly higher on Neuroticism (T1: r = .24,
p < .001; T2: r = .20, p < .01) and Agreeableness (T1: r = .17, p < .05; T2: r = .19, p < .01).
The association between gender and Openness was only significant for the T1 personality
assessment (r = .18, p < .01). We further found some differences in mean personality scores
between industries. Specifically, individuals in non-profit work environments at T2 scored
higher on T1 Openness (r = .18, p < .01) and T2 Agreeableness (r = .15, p < .05).
While none of the control variables were significantly associated with perceived
employability, our results did indicate two significant associations with work-family conflict.
Specifically, higher levels of work-family conflict were reported by individuals working
longer hours (r = .21, p < .01) and those having more children (r = .19, p < .05).
Although not shown in Table 1, we also examined rank-order stability in Big Five
traits across the 15-year interval. The results indicated relatively high levels of cross-time
stability, with uncorrected test-retest correlations ranging between .58 (Agreeableness) and
Success in the new career era 21
Measured concurrently at T2, each of the five personality traits correlated significantly
with at least one of both success indicators. Higher ratings of perceived employability were
provided by individuals lower on Neuroticism (r = -.39, p < .001) and higher on Extraversion
(r = .27, p < .001) and Conscientiousness (r = .18, p < .01). For work-family conflict,
significant concurrent associations were found with Neuroticism (r = .42, p < .001), Openness
(r = -.17, p < .05) and Agreeableness (r = -.27, p < .001).
As can be seen in the lower part of Table 1, both indicators of intrinsic success also
correlated significantly with Big Five traits as measured 15 years earlier at T1. For perceived
employability, the associations with Neuroticism and Extraversion remained significant (r = -
.31, p < .001 and r = .18, p < .01 respectively). For work-family conflict, a positive
association with Neuroticism (r = .29, p < .001) and negative associations with Openness (r =
-.15, p < .05) and Agreeableness (r = -.27, p < .001) were replicated when personality was
considered at T1.
Insert Table 1 about here
To test our hypotheses with regard to Big Five personality traits and intrinsic career
success, we conducted a series of four hierarchical regressions (2 dependent variables 2
trait assessments). In these analyses, all control variables were entered in a first step, followed
by the Big Five traits measured at either T1 or T2. These results are shown in columns
‘T2T2’ (for concurrent associations) and ‘T1T2’ (for longitudinal associations) of Table 2.
Note that columns ‘T1,2T2’ will be discussed later on in this manuscript.
Consistent with our expectations (Hypothesis 1a), perceived employability was
negatively related to Neuroticism, and this association was significant in both concurrent and
longitudinal analyses (β = -.37 and -.31 respectively, p < .001). In addition, employability was
Success in the new career era 22
also found to be positively related to Openness (Hypothesis 1d; β = .19, p < .01), although this
effect was restricted to the concurrent analysis. While we expected employability to be
positively related to Agreeableness (Hypothesis 1e), the concurrent regression results
indicated a significant negative association with this trait (β = -.14, p < .05). Finally, the
expected positive associations between employability and Extraversion (Hypotheses 1b) and
Conscientiousness (Hypotheses 1c) failed to reach significance when Big Five traits were
entered as a set in either concurrent or longitudinal analyses.
With regard to work-family conflict, the expected positive association with
Neuroticism (Hypothesis 2a) was confirmed when examined both concurrently and
longitudinally (β = .45 and .32 respectively, p < .001). Hypothesis 2d that stated a negative
association between Agreeableness and work-family conflict was confirmed for personality
measured at the career start (β = -.20, p < .01), but this effect disappeared when examined
concurrently with work-family conflict at T2 (β = -.11, p > .05). The expected negative
association with Extraversion (Hypothesis 2b) was not confirmed, neither in concurrent nor in
longitudinal analyses. Also in contrast with our expectations (Hypothesis 2c), we found that
individuals high on Conscientiousness reported higher levels of work-family conflict (β = .14,
p < .05), although this effect was also only significant when T1 measures of personality were
considered. Finally, although no significant associations were expected, T2 Openness to
experience was negatively related to concurrent perceptions of work-family conflict (β = -.15,
p < .05).
Insert Table 2 about here
Facet level analyses
Facet level analyses were conducted in order to get a more detailed picture of
personality-success associations. The results in Table 3 show the partial correlations between
Success in the new career era 23
both intrinsic career outcomes and each of the 30 NEO PI-R facets, measured concurrently
(columns ‘T2T2’) as well as prospectively (columns ‘T1T2’). Correlations are controlled
for the same control variables that were included in the domain level regressions.
With regard to perceived employability, the results first show that the consistent
negative association with Neuroticism is accounted for by all six facets except N5:
Impulsiveness and N2: Angry hostility. The positive (non-significant) domain level
association with Extraversion reflects relatively consistent relationships with E4: Activity
(T2: r = .16, p < .05; T1: r = .17, p < .05), E5: Excitement seeking (T2: r = .21, p < .01; T1: r
= .20, p < .01), E6: Positive emotions (T2: r = .30, p < .001; T1: r = .14, p < .05) and to a
lesser extent E3: Assertiveness (only a significant concurrent association; r = .19, p < .01).
Only two facets of Openness were significantly related to employability: more favorable
marketability perceptions were consistently associated with O4: Actions (T2: r = .22, p < .01;
T1: r = .24, p < .01) and with middle adulthood O6: Values (r = .15, p < .05). Interestingly,
two opposite effects were found with regard to the effects of Agreeableness facets. While A1:
Trust, measured at young and middle adulthood correlated positively to perceived
employability (T2: r = .18, p < .05; T1: r = .15, p < .05), a negative association was found
with middle adulthood A5: Modesty (r = -.15, p < .05) and young adulthood A2:
Straightforwardness (r = -.14, p < .05). Finally, middle adulthood employability was
positively associated with concurrent measures of C1: Competence (r = .33, p < .001), C4:
Achievement striving (r = .25, p < .01), and C5: Self discipline (r = .34, p < .001). Of these
Conscientiousness facets, only C5: Self discipline predicted perceived employability in the
longitudinal analyses (r = .17, p < .05).
Work-family conflict was positively associated with all subscales of Neuroticism,
although the effects of N5: Impulsiveness and N6: Vulnerability were only significant when
middle adulthood measures were considered (r = .16, p < .05 and r = .38, p < .001
Success in the new career era 24
respectively). Contradictory results were found for facets of Extraversion: although work-
family conflict was negatively associated with early adulthood E1: Warmth (r = -.17, p < .05),
early adulthood E2: Gregariousness (r = -.23, p < .01), middle adulthood E5: Excitement
seeking (r = -.18, p < .05) and with both assessments of E6: Positive emotions (r = -.33, p <
.001 for T2 and r = -.21, p < .01 for T1); a significant positive association was found with E4:
Activity, at least when measured at T2 (r = .17, p < .05). Only one Openness facet, i.e. middle
adulthood O5: Ideas, demonstrated a modest negative relationship with work-family conflict
(r = -.20, p < .05). Further, the results showed that the negative concurrent and longitudinal
associations with Agreeableness are attributable to the consistent negative effects of A1: Trust
(T2: r = -.24, p < .01; T1: r = -.25, p < .01), A2: Straightforwardness (T2: r = -.16, p < .05;
T2: r = -.16, p < .05), A3: Altruism (T2: r = -.18, p < .05; T1: r = -.19, p < .05) and A4:
Compliance (T2: r = -.25, p < .001; T1: r = -.22, p < .01), while the effect of A6:
Tendermindedness was only significant in the longitudinal analysis (r = -.22, p < .01). Finally,
work-family conflict was negatively associated with middle adulthood measures of C1:
Competence (r = -.31, p < .001) and C5: Self discipline (r = -.26, p < .01), and positively with
young adulthood measurement of C4: Achievement striving (r = .17, p < .05).
We subsequently performed a series of stepwise multiple regressions in order to
identify the most parsimonious set of predictors (NEO PI-R facets and control variables) that
are most effective in predicting both dependent variables (e.g., De Fruyt, 1997; Watson,
2001). For the concurrent associations between personality facets and perceived
employability, stepwise analysis produced a solution accounting for 26.3% of the variance
with N3: Depression (16.9%), O4: Actions (4.2%), C1: Competence (3.5%), and N1: Anxiety
(1.7%) significantly predicting perceived employability. In the longitudinal analysis, a
regression model was obtained explaining 21.7% of the variance with N1: Anxiety (13.1%),
N4: Self consciousness (2.3%), O4: Actions (2.3%), C5: Self discipline (2.2%), and E5:
Success in the new career era 25
Excitement seeking (1.8%) significantly predicting perceived employability. Regarding the
concurrent prediction of work-family conflict, the stepwise regression indicated a model
explaining 39.2% of the variance attributable to N1: Anxiety (12.7%), N6: Vulnerability
(6.3%), work hours (6.1%), number of children (5.0%), O5: Ideas (2.9%), E6: Positive
emotions (2.9%), E4: Activity (1.8%), and C1: Competence (1.5%). Finally, the longitudinal
stepwise analysis for work-family conflict produced a solution accounting for 31.4% of the
variance with N3: Depression (9.2%), A6: Tendermindedness (8.7%), work hours (4.2%),
number of children (4.0%), C4: Achievement striving (3.8%), and N2: Angry hostility (1.5%)
as significant predictors.
Insert Table 3 about here
Concurrent versus longitudinal associations
Lastly, the relative importance of T1 versus T2 domain level traits was evaluated in
two ways. First, a ‘usefulness analysis’ (e.g., Judge et al., 1999) was conducted to compare
the percentages of incremental variance explained by both trait assessments (see Table 4). In
addition, we also examined which Big Five traits remained significant predictors when both
trait assessments were considered simultaneously (see columns ‘T1,2T2’ in Table 2). The
results in Table 4 indicate that middle adulthood personality traits accounted for substantially
more of the variance in both success indicators compared to traits measured 15 years earlier:
the percentages explained variance dropped from .20 to .11 (employability) and from .26 to
.18 (work-family conflict) when T1 traits are used as predictors compared to T2 traits.
Furthermore, although we found middle adulthood traits to add significantly and substantially
to the prediction of employability and work-family conflict beyond early adulthood traits
(∆R2 = .10 and .12 respectively, p < .001), the increments associated with young adulthood
traits were not significant. However, at the level of individual traits, the results in Table 2
Success in the new career era 26
(columns ‘T1,2T2’) do provide support for the validity of T1 traits, especially with regard to
work-family conflict. It is specifically demonstrated that two Big Five traits, T1
Agreeableness and T1 Conscientiousness, continue to be significant predictors of this career
outcome even when T2 personality is taken into account (β = -.18 and .18 respectively, p <
Insert Table 4 about here
Big Five traits and contemporary career success
In times of severe economic recession and employers mainly focusing on downsizing
and cost reduction, workers from around the globe must contend with the reality of rising job
insecurity (König et al., 2011). Given that an individual’s perceptions of employability are
both an indicator of intrinsic career success and a critical condition for extrinsic career
success (De Vos et al., 2011; Forrier & Sels, 2003; Hall, 2002; Van der Heijde & Van der
Heijden, 2006), it is important to investigate potential dispositional correlates.
In addition, we also studied the interference between work and family roles as a
second by-product of current careers. Because men and women are increasingly occupying
dual roles of breadwinner and homemaker, the issue of work-family conflict has become more
prominent, and the significance of this construct has extensively been denoted by studies
demonstrating significant associations with indicators of personal and professional well-
being. Nevertheless, up until now the issue of work-family conflict has been conspicuously
absent from the literature on personality and career success (Heslin, 2005; Judge &
Success in the new career era 27
All together, our results largely confirmed our expectations regarding the associations
between Big Five traits and both indicators of contemporary intrinsic career success, although
some relationships failed to reach statistical significance. For example, although we expected
extraverts to report lower levels of work-family conflict because of their tendency to evaluate
life more positively and/or effective goal-directed behaviors, no significant effects were
found. Although this is in contrast with what can theoretically be expected, it should be noted
however that some prior studies also failed to find any significant associations between
Extraversion and indicators of work-family conflict (Rantanen, Pulkkinen, & Kinnunen, 2005;
Stoeva et al., 2002). This strengthens the idea that Extraversion has a less significant impact
on work-family conflict compared to for example Neuroticism, which held a relatively strong
association with inter-role conflict, both concurrently and longitudinally. Individuals high on
Neuroticism might detect and report incompatibilities between work and family roles more
easily and experience these as more threatening than would individuals low on Neuroticism.
Our results thus further validate the idea of Neuroticism being an important risk factor for
experiencing work-family conflict (e.g., Bruck & Allen, 2003; Rantanen et al., 2005).
Two of our findings differed substantially from our hypotheses and from what has
been reported elsewhere. First, instead of a positive association between employability and
Agreeableness, our concurrent regression analysis indicated a significant negative association,
implying that low agreeable individuals reported higher levels of marketability compared to
those higher on Agreeableness. Although this is in contrast with our reasoning about the
potential benefits of empathic interpersonal skills for networking activities, it is not entirely
opposed to what is known about the effects of Agreeableness on other success indicators.
Specifically, research on extrinsic career success has indicated negative associations between
Agreeableness and outcomes like income, hierarchical level, and number of acquired
promotions (e.g., Boudreau & Boswell, 2001). The fact that we identified a similar
Success in the new career era 28
association with self-perceived marketability follows this pattern and could hence be an
indication that this outcome is to some extent related to these traditional indicators of extrinsic
career success. Nonetheless, our finding that perceived employability is also significantly
associated with Openness to experience, a trait that has typically been shown to demonstrate
no or very inconsistent associations with extrinsic career success (e.g., Boudreau & Boswell,
2001; Judge et al., 1999), simultaneously indicates the uniqueness of this construct as a
A second finding that specifically caught our attention concerns the positive
longitudinal association between Conscientiousness and work-family conflict. While previous
research found some support for the hypothesis that planning and organizing skills
characteristic for conscientious individuals should help them to prevent family conflicts from
occurring (e.g., Bruck & Allen, 2003), our results paint another picture. Specifically, our
finding that individuals high on Conscientiousness perceive higher levels of work-family
conflict 15 years later could be a result of their strong persistence in the pursuit of
professional goals, next to the achievement of family objectives and commitment. This is
further supported by research demonstrating that highly Conscientious individuals tend to
place work more central in their lives (Diefendorff et al., 2002).
Interestingly, the results of our study unexpectedly showed a significant negative
association between concurrent measures of Openness to experience and perceived work-
family conflict. One explanation might be that we used a very comprehensive personality
measure that considers various facets of the complex Openness domain. Indeed, facet level
analysis indicated that only one specific aspect of Openness, i.e. O5: Ideas, was significantly
related to perceived work-family conflict. Individuals high on this facet are open-minded and
willing to consider new, perhaps unconventional ideas. Our findings could suggest that these
Success in the new career era 29
individuals use more creative solutions to manage work and nonwork domain stressors than
those low on this facet of Openness (e.g., Michel et al., 2011).
As the example above indicates, an important contribution of the present study
entailed the possibility to examine facet level associations besides the effects of the broad Big
Five domains. As expected, these more fine grained analyses provided a number of valuable
new insights into the specific nature of trait-success associations. With regard to perceived
employability, for instance, we found that O4: Actions (i.e., openness to new experiences on a
practical level) in particular contributed to the positive association with Openness, providing a
first and provisional indication that engagement in skill development activities might indeed
foster employability perceptions. Furthermore, the rather unexpected negative relationship
between employability and Agreeableness can -in part- be explained by referring to the
tendency of low agreeable individuals to be less modest. Of course, it remains to be examined
whether this modesty only downgrades subjective perceptions and reports of employability, or
actually contributes to less favorable situations of personal market value. With regard to
work-family conflict, facet level results suggest that the absence of a significant association
with Extraversion might be due to opposite facet level effects neutralizing each other at the
domain level. Furthermore, while previous researchers hypothesized that higher energy levels
might enable extraverts to accomplish more in a given amount of time, thereby reducing
work-family conflict (e.g., Wayne et al., 2004), our results rather indicate that higher activity
levels contribute to inter-role conflict. On the other hand, the results indeed illustrate that their
increased focus on the positive aspects of situations acts as a counterforce for developing
problems with work/life balance. Finally, facet information also helps to explain the
unexpected longitudinal association between work-family conflict and Conscientiousness.
Indeed, this seems to reflect a stronger level of achievement striving in highly conscientious
individuals at the beginning of their career.
Success in the new career era 30
In sum, the design of our study allows for some general theoretical conclusions about
the nature of personality-success relations. Our results particularly indicate that the existence
of these associations as well as their strength is dependent on (a) whether traits are studied
separately or simultaneously in relation to these outcomes, and (b) whether they are examined
concurrently or longitudinally. With regard to the first condition, we believe that this points
out the importance of using comprehensive personality taxonomies, like the Big Five
framework, when examining the dispositional source of career outcomes. Clearly, including
only one or two separate traits does not allow a complete examination of personality effects
on career success. Secondly, comparing concurrent associations with long-term prospective
effects of traits on career outcomes provided a number of interesting insights into the stability
of personality-success relations. As expected, we found that the strength of these associations
was generally stronger in concurrent compared to longitudinal analyses, as indicated by the
percentages of explained variance. Furthermore, our results also indicated that the predictive
validity of separate traits also varied over time, and that this moreover depended on the
specific career outcome that was considered. For employability, for instance, we identified
two significant concurrent associations (with Openness and Agreeableness) that were not
significant when studied longitudinally. For work-family conflict, on the other hand,
Agreeableness and Conscientiousness showed long-term prospective effects on future career
success, but these effects disappeared in the concurrent analysis. The latter is especially
important because it implies that the results of our ‘usefulness analysis’ should be nuanced:
although we found that young adulthood traits did not significantly add to the prediction of
career success in terms of incremental validity, these results concerning work-family conflict
did indicate some relevance in considering personality traits measured at the very beginning
of the career when studying dispositional risk factors.
Success in the new career era 31
In terms of implications for practice, it is important to note that establishing a
significant dispositional source of subjective career outcomes does not reduce the
responsibility of organizations in optimizing these outcomes for employees. In the present
study, personality assessments accounted for 21 to 30 percent of the variance in perceived
employability and work-family conflict respectively, leaving much of the variance in both
career outcomes unexplained and open to other factors, such as environmental influences.
Indeed, research has recently demonstrated that participation in competency development
initiatives offered by the organization is important for enhancing employees’ marketability
perceptions (De Vos et al., 2011). Similarly, research on the antecedents of work-role conflict
has indicated that many of the influential factors, such as work role stressors, are under the
control of the organization, and organizations that are interested in reducing levels of work-
family conflict would particularly benefit from focusing on reducing work role conflict, work
role ambiguity, and work role overload (Michel et al., 2011).
However, the fact that personality traits only explain a part of the variation in intrinsic
career success does not mean that these results are not valuable from an applied perspective.
Specifically, knowledge of individual differences may help to maximize the effectiveness of
organizational programs. For example, neurotic individuals could benefit from Employee
Assistance Programs (EAPs) developed to help them understand their propensity to view
experiences negatively and to coach them how to view (a) their own labor market value as
less precarious and (b) work-family conflict as less threatening. Also, when working on
individuals’ perceptions of employability, our results suggest tackling overly modest
tendencies and conversely promoting a more self-confident and ambitious attitude. Finally, in
order to alleviate concerns regarding work-family conflict, highly agreeable employees could
be trained in techniques describing how to efficiently demonstrate resistance when others’
requests jeopardize a personal planning. Less conscientious individuals could be taught
Success in the new career era 32
specific work behaviors in order to enhance personal efficiency (e.g. trough time management
Limitations and research perspectives
Several limitations with this study should be noted. First, although we are convinced
that self-perceptions of work-family conflict and employability are valuable criteria, we
acknowledge that peer reports of these constructs (e.g., spouse reports of work-family conflict
and supervisor ratings of employability) would offer important additional information.
Specifically, they could help to answer the question to what extent personality traits are
merely affecting personal perceptions, rather than actually shaping “objective” situations.
Second, some conceptual comments can be made concerning both indicators of
success included in this study. We only approached work-family balance from a conflict
perspective, while researchers have also argued for the benefits of multiple role occupation.
Therefore, future research could also consider positive spillover between work and family
roles as an indicator of contemporary career success. With regard to employability, it should
be noted that we only studied external marketability, i.e. the beliefs that one is valuable to
other employers. Future research, using for instance Rothwell and Arnold’s (2007) perceived
employability scale, could also consider internal marketability as an additional indicator of
With respect to the sample, while it was diverse in terms of the type of jobs held as
well as industries and organizations sampled, participants were highly homogeneous with
regard to age, education level, and race. Although these characteristics impose a number of
limitations with regard to the generalizability of our findings, they simultaneously offered the
opportunity to investigate trait effects on career success in a sample of participants that were
all going through the same career stage and were all confronted with similar challenges,
irrespective of their specific professional backgrounds. The fact that we only included
Success in the new career era 33
Flemish college alumni has to be acknowledged given that past research on more traditional
indicators of career success has suggested that differences exist in trait-success associations
between cultures (e.g., Boudreau & Boswell, 2001).
A unique feature of our study entailed the possibility to examine the longitudinal
associations between personality traits and two indicators of intrinsic career success, and to
compare these results with findings from concurrent analyses. It should be noted, however,
that T2 personality traits and T2 career success were measured at the same point in time,
meaning that associations between these variables can be overestimated due to response
tendencies and/or participants’ current affective states. To provide a more accurate estimate of
the concurrent associations between personality and career success, the measurement of both
constructs should be separated in time (e.g., a one-month time interval).
Finally, the present investigation focused on personality traits as distal antecedents of
intrinsic career success, and future research is needed to clarify the more proximal processes,
such as job choice or work behavior, through which traits can influence career success. For
example, we replicated the negative association between work-family conflict and
Agreeableness in our longitudinal study, but questions remain about the precise interpretation
of this effect. Is it due to a specific use of and access to social support mechanisms at work
(e.g., Bruck & Allen, 2003), or does it reflect an egocentric tendency of low scorers to value
their own professional prosperity over the quality of their family life? In a similar vein, future
research is needed that examines whether and how specific job (e.g., performance) or career
related behaviors (e.g., engagement in training activities) mediate the relationship between
personality traits and employability.
The present study contributed to research on the dispositional source of career success
by including an additional set of two success indicators that are highly relevant in
Success in the new career era 34
contemporary boundaryless careers. This study was the first to examine longitudinal and
concurrent associations between Big Five traits and perceived employability, opening the
door for future investigations on the antecedents of this relatively new construct in career
research. In addition, as suggested by Judge and Kammeyer-Mueller (2007) and Heslin
(2005), the issue of work-family conflict was successfully added to the scope of success
research, and our longitudinal design provided further evidence for the potential dispositional
risk factors that have also been identified in former cross-sectional studies. Finally, the
possibility to explore facet level associations with both outcomes proved to be a promising
way toward a better understanding of their dispositional source. It is concluded that the
present study offers a number of valuable insights into the dispositional nature of career
success beyond more traditional and extensively studied outcomes like satisfaction or
financial and hierarchical attainment.
Success in the new career era 35
Allen, T., Herts, D., Bruck, C., & Sutton, M. (2000). Consequences associated with work-to-
family conflict: A review and agenda for future research. Journal of Occupational
Health Psychology, 5, 278-308.
Allport, G. W. (1937). Personality: A psychological interpretation. New York: Holt.
Allport, G. W. (1961). Pattern and growth in personality. New York: Holt, Rinehart &
Arthur, M. B. (1994). The boundaryless career: A new perspective for organizational inquiry.
Journal of Organizational Behavior, 15, 295-306.
Arthur, M. B., & Rousseau, D. M. (1996). Introduction: The boundaryless career as a new
employment principle. In M. B. Arthur & D. M. Rousseau (Eds.), The boundaryless
career: A new employment principle for a new organizational era (pp. 3-20). New
York: Oxford University Press.
Barrick, M. R., & Mount, M. K. (1991). The big five personality dimensions and job
performance: A meta analysis. Personnel Psychology, 44, 1-26.
Barrick, M. R., Mount, M. K., & Strauss, J. P. (1993). Conscientiousness and performance of
sales representatives: Test of the mediating effects of goal-setting. Journal of Applied
Psychology, 78, 715-722.
Beutell, N. J., & Greenhaus, J. H. (1982). Interrole conflict among married women: The
influence of husband and wife characteristics on conflict and coping behavior. Journal
of Vocational Behavior, 21, 99-110.
Bird, A. (1994). Careers as repositories of knowledge: A new perspective on boundaryless
careers. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 15, 325-344.
Boudreau, J. W., & Boswell, W. R. (2001). Effects of personality on executive career success
in the United States and Europe. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 58, 53-81.
Success in the new career era 36
Boyar, S. L., & Mosley, D. C. (2007). The relationship between core self-evaluations and
work and family satisfaction: The mediating role of work-family conflict and
facilitation. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 71, 265-281.
Bruck, C. S., & Allen, T. D. (2003). The relationship between big five personality traits,
negative affectivity, type A behavior, and work-family conflict. Journal of Vocational
Behavior, 63, 457-472.
Byron, K. (2005). A meta-analytic review of work-family conflict and its antecedents.
Journal of Vocational Behavior, 67, 169-198.
Cohn, M. A., Fredrickson, B. L., Brown, S. L., Mikels, J. A., & Conway, A. M. (2009).
Happiness unpacked: Positive emotions increase life satisfaction by building
resilience. Emotion, 9, 361-368.
Connor-Smith, J. K., & Flachsbart, C. (2007). Relations between personality and coping: A
meta-analysis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 93, 1080-1107.
Costa, P. T. (1996). Work and personality: Use of the NEO-PI-R in industrial/organisational
psychology. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 45, 225-241.
Costa, P. T., & McCrae, R. R. (1992). NEO-PI-R professional manual. Odessa, FL:
Psychological Assesment Resources.
De Fruyt, F. (1997). Gender and individual differences in adult crying. Personality and
Individual Differences, 22, 937-940.
De Fruyt, F. (2002). A person-centered approach to P-E fit questions using a multiple-trait
model. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 60, 73-90.
De Fruyt, F., & Mervielde, I. (1997). The five-factor model of personality and Holland's
RIASEC interest types. Personality and Individual Differences, 23, 87-103.
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.
Success in the new career era 37
De Vos, A., De Hauw, S., & Van der Heijden, B. I. J. M. (2011). Competency development
and career success: The mediating role of employability. Journal of Vocational
Behavior, 79, 438-447.
De Vos, A., & Soens, N. (2008). Protean attitude and career success: The mediating role of
self-management. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 73, 449-456.
Diefendorff, J. M., Brown, D. J., Kamin, A. M., & Lord, R. G. (2002). Examining the roles of
job involvement and work centrality in predicting organizational citizenship behaviors
and job performance. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 23, 93-108.
Eagle, B. W., Miles, E. W., & Icenogle, M. L. (1997). Interrole conflicts and the permeability
of work and family domains: Are there gender differences? Journal of Vocational
Behavior, 50, 168-184.
Eby, L. T., Butts, M., & Lockwood, A. (2003). Predictors of success in the era of the
boundaryless career. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 24, 689-708.
Finegold, D., & Mohrman, S. A. (2001). What do employees really want? The perception vs.
the reality. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum,
Forrier, A., & Sels, L. (2003). The concept employability: A complex mosaic. International
Journal of Human Resources Development and Management, 3, 102-124.
Frone, M. R. (2000). Work-family conflict and employee psychiatric disorders: The national
comorbidity survey. Journal of Applied Psychology, 85, 888-895.
Frone, M. R., Russell, M., & Cooper, M. L. (1992). Antecedents and outcomes of work-
family conflict: Testing a model of the work-family interface. Journal of Applied
Psychology, 77, 65-78.
Success in the new career era 38
Frone, M. R., Russell, M., & Cooper, M. L. (1997). Relation of work-family conflict to health
outcomes: A four-year longitudinal study of employed parents. Journal of
Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 70, 325-335.
Fugate, M., & Kinicki, A. J. (2008). A dispositional approach to employability: Development
of a measure and test of implications for employee reactions to organizational change.
Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 81, 503-527.
Furnham, A., & Zacherl, M. (1986). Personality and job satisfaction. Personality and
Individual Differences, 7, 453-459.
Galinsky, E., Bond, J. T., & Hill, E. J. (2002). When work works: A status report on
workplace flexibility: Families and Work Institute.
Geurts, S. A. E., Kompier, M. A. J., Roxburgh, S., & Houtman, I. L. D. (2003). Does work-
home interference mediate the relationship between workload and well-being? Journal
of Vocational Behavior, 63, 532-559.
Greenhaus, J. H. (2003). Career dynamics. In W. C. Borman, D. R. Ilgen & R. J. Klimoski
(Eds.), Comprehensive handbook of psychology. Industrial and organizational
psychology (Vol. 12, pp. 519-540). New York: Wiley.
Greenhaus, J. H., & Beutell, N. J. (1985). Sources of conflict between work and family roles.
Academy of Management Review, 10, 76-88.
Grzywacz, J. G., & Marks, N. F. (2000). Reconceptualizing the work-family interface: An
ecological perspective on the correlates of positive and negative spillover between
work and family. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 5, 111-126.
Hall, D. T. (2002). Careers in and out of organizations. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.
Heslin, P. A. (2005). Conceptualizing and evaluating career success. Journal of
Organizational Behavior, 26, 113-136.
Success in the new career era 39
Hirsch, P. M., & De Soucey, M. (2006). Organizational restructuring and its consequences:
Rhetorical and structural. Annual Review of Sociology, 32, 171-189.
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. (1991). Personality and personality measurement. In M. D. Dunnette & L. M.
Hough (Eds.), The Handbook of Industrial and Organizational Psychology (Vol. 2,
pp. 873-919). Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press, Inc.
Holland, J. L., & Gottfredson, G. D. (1994). Career Attitudes and Strategies Inventory: An
inventory for understanding adult careers. Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment
James, L. R., & Mazerolle, M. D. (2000). Personality in work organizations. Thousand Oaks:
Sage Publications, Inc.
Judge, T. A., Cable, D. M., Boudreau, J. W., & Bretz, R. D. (1995). An empirical
investigation of the predictors of executive career success. Personnel Psychology, 48,
Judge, T. A., Heller, D., & Klinger, R. (2008). The dispositional sources of job satisfaction: A
comparative test. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 57, 361-372.
Judge, T. A., Higgins, C. A., Thoresen, C. J., & Barrick, M. R. (1999). The Big Five
personality traits, general mental ability, and career success across the life span.
Personnel Psychology, 52, 621-652.
Judge, T. A., & Ilies, R. (2002). Relationship of personality to performance motivation: A
meta-analytic review. Journal of Applied Psychology, 87, 797-807.
Judge, T. A., & Kammeyer-Mueller, J. D. (2007). Personality and career success. In L.
Peiperl & H. Gunz (Eds.), Handbook of career studies. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Success in the new career era 40
Judge, T. A., Locke, E. A., Durham, C. C., & Kluger, A. N. (1998). Dispositional effects on
job and life satisfaction: The role of core evaluations. Journal of Applied Psychology,
Kelloway, E. K., Gottlieb, B. H., & Barham, L. (1999). The source, nature, and direction of
work and family conflict: A longitudinal investigation. Journal of Occupational
Health Psychology, 4, 337-346.
Kinnunen, U., Vermulst, A., Gerris, J., & Mäkikangas, A. (2003). Work-family conflict and
its relation to well-being: The role of personality as a moderating factor. Personality
and Individual Differences, 35, 1669-1683.
Kodz, J., Davis, S., Lain, D., Strebler, M., Rick, J., Bates, P., et al. (2003). Working long
hours: A review of the evidence: Department of Trade and Industry.
König, C. J., Probst, T. M., Staffen, S., & Graso, M. (2011). A Swiss-US comparison of the
correlates of job insecurity. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 60, 141-
Lievens, F., Ones, D. S., & Dilchert, S. (2009). Personality scale validities increase
throughout medical school. Journal of Applied Psychology, 94, 1514-1535.
Society for Human Resource Management, (2011). Employee job satisfaction: The external
forces influencing employee attitudes. Alexandria, United States.
Maurer, T. J., Lippstreu, M., & Judge, T. A. (2008). Structural model of employee
involvement in skill development activity: The role of individual differences. Journal
of Vocational Behavior, 72, 336-350.
McCrae, R. R., & Costa, P. T. (1987). Validation of the five-factor model of personality
across instruments and observers. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52,
Success in the new career era 41
McCrae, R. R., & Costa, P. T. (1991). Adding Liebe und Arbeit: The full five-factor model
and well-being. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 17, 227-232.
Mesmer-Magnus, J. R., & Viswesvaran, C. (2005). Convergence between measures of work-
to-family and family-to-work conflict: A meta-analytic examination. Journal of
Vocational Behavior, 67, 215-232.
Michel, J. S., & Clark, M. A. (2009). Has it been affect all along? A test of work-to-family
and family-to-work models of conflict, enrichment, and satisfaction. Personality and
Individual Differences, 47, 163-168.
Michel, J. S., Clark, M. A., & Jaramillo, D. (2011). The role of the Five Factor Model of
personality in the perceptions of negative and positive forms of work-nonwork
spillover: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 79, 191-203.
Michel, J. S., Kotrba, L. M., Mitchelson, J. K., Clark, M. A., & Baltes, B. B. (2011).
Antecedents of work-family conflict: A meta-analytic review. Journal of
Organizational Behavior, 32, 689-725.
Miller, R. L., Griffin, M. A., & Hart, P. M. (1999). Personality and organizational health: The
role of Conscientiousness. Work & Stress, 13, 7-19.
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.
Noor, N. M. (2002). Work-family conflict, locus of control, and women's well-being: Tests of
alternative pathways. Journal of Social Psychology, 142, 645-662.
Ones, D. S., & Viswesvaran, C. (1996). Bandwidth-fidelity dilemma in personality
measurement for personnel selection. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 17, 609-
Paulin, G. D., & Lee, Y. G. (2002). Expenditures of single parents: How does gender figure
in? Monthly Labor Review, July, 16-37.
Success in the new career era 42
Rantanen, J., Pulkkinen, L., & Kinnunen, U. (2005). The Big Five personality dimensions,
work-family conflict, and psychological distress. Journal of Individual Differences,
Roberts, B. W., Caspi, A., & Moffitt, T. E. (2003). Work experiences and personality
development in young adulthood. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84,
Rothwell, A., & Arnold, J. (2007). Self-perceived employability: Development and validation
of a scale. Personnel Review, 36, 23-41.
Seibert, S. E., & Kraimer, M. L. (2001). The Five-Factor Model of personality and career
success. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 58, 1-21.
Smola, K. W., & Sutton, C. D. (2002). Generational differences: Revisiting generational work
values for the new millennium. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 23, 363-382.
Stoeva, A. Z., Chiu, R. K., & Greenhaus, J. H. (2002). Negative affectivity, role stress, and
work-family conflict. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 60, 1-16.
Stumpp, T., Muck, P. M., Hulsheger, U. R., Judge, T. A., & Maier, G. W. (2010). Core self-
evaluations in Germany: Validation of a german measure and its relationships with
career success. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 59, 674-700.
Sullivan, S. E., Carden, W. A., & Martin, D. F. (1998). Careers in the next millennium:
Directions for future research. Human Resource Management Review, 8, 165-185.
Templer, K. J. (2011). Five-factor model of personality and job satisfaction: The Importance
of agreeableness in a tight and collectivistic asian society. Applied Psychology: An
International Review, 61, 114-129.
Van der Heijde, C. M., & Van der Heijden, B. (2006). A competence-based and
multidimensional operationalization and measurement of employability. Human
Resource Management, 45, 449-476.
Success in the new career era 43
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.
Watson, D., & Pennebaker, J. W. (1989). Health complaints, stress, and distress: Exploring
the central role of negative affectivity. Psychological Review, 96, 234-254.
Watson, D., Wiese, D., Vidya, J., & Tellegen, A. (1999). The two general activation systems
of affect: Structural findings, evolutionary considerations, and psychobiological
evidence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76, 820-838.
Watson, D. C. (2001). Procrastination and the five-factor model: a facet level analysis.
Personality and Individual Differences, 30, 149-158.
Wayne, J. H., Musisca, N., & Fleeson, W. (2004). Considering the role of personality in the
work-family experience: Relationships of the big five to work-family conflict and
facilitation. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 64, 108-130.
Wille, B., De Fruyt, F., & Feys, M. (2010). Vocational interests and big five traits as
predictors of job instability. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 76, 547-558.
Wolff, H. G., & Muck, P. M. (2009). Persönlichkeit und networking: Eine analyse mittels
interpersonalem circumplex. Zeitschrift für Personalpsychologie, 8, 106-116.
Zellars, K., & Perrewe, P. (2001). Affective personality and the content of emotional social
support: Coping in organizations. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86, 459-467.
Success in the new career era 44
Intercorrelations among study variables
2. Industry (T2)
3. Work hours (T2)
4. Children (T2)
10. Employability (T2)
11. Work-family conflict (T2)
Note. Correlations below the diagonal are for the young adulthood assessments of personality (T1). Correlations above the diagonal are for the
middle adulthood personality assessments (T2). Gender is coded (1) male and (2) female; Industry is coded (1) profit and (2) non-profit sector.
Where appropriate, coefficient alphas are on the diagonal. For Big Five traits, T1 alpha is followed by T2 alpha. * p < .05; ** p < .01; † p < .001.
Success in the new career era 45
Longitudinal and concurrent relations between Big Five traits and intrinsic career success
Work-family conflict (T2)
Work hours (T2)
Note. Neu = Neuroticism; Ext = Extraversion; Ope = Openness to experience; Agr = Agreeableness; Con =
Conscientiousness. Standardized β coefficients are reported from the extended model. * p < .05; ** p < .01; †p
Success in the new career era 46
Partial correlations between NEO PI-R facets and intrinsic career success
N2: Angry hostility
N4: Self Consciousness
E5: Excitement seeking
E6: Positive emotions
Openness to experience
Success in the new career era 47
C4: Achievement striving
C5: Self discipline
Note. Reliabilities (Cronbach alpha) of personality facets are provided for T1 and T2
respectively. T2T2 refers to middle adulthood traits predicting middle adulthood career
success (concurrent analysis). T1T2 refers to young adulthood Big Five traits predicting
middle adulthood career success (longitudinal analysis). Correlations are controlled for
gender, industry, work hours and number of children. * p < .05; ** p < .01; † p < .001
Success in the new career era 48
Usefulness analysis of young and middle adulthood personality assessments (Big Five traits)
Big Five traits
Young adulthood personality
Middle adulthood personality
Note. R2 values are when the respective blocks of traits were entered alone into the regression.
Incremental (∆) R2 values are when the young adulthood personality traits were entered after
the 5 middle adulthood traits, or when the 5 middle adulthood were entered after the young
adulthood traits. Combined personality values are when all 10 traits were entered into the
equation together. Gender, industry, work hours and number of children were included as
control variables in all analyses. *** p < .001
Success in the new career era 49
NEO PI-R facets
…are apprehensive, fearful, prone to worry, nervous, tense and
N2: Angry hostility
…are hot-tempered, angry, and frustrated.
…are prone to feelings of guilt, sadness, hopelessness and
N4: Self consciousness
…are uncomfortable around others, sensitive to ridicule, and
prone to feelings of inferiority.
…are unable to resist cravings, hasty, sarcastic and self-centered.
…are easily rattled, panicked, and unable to deal with stress.
…are characterized as being outgoing, talkative and affectionate.
…are convivial, have many friends, and seek social contact.
…are dominant, forceful, and socially ascendant.
…are described as being energetic, fast-paced and vigorous.
E5: Excitement seeking
…crave excitement and stimulation.
E6: Positive emotions
…are seen as cheerful, high-spirited, joyful, and optimistic.
…have a vivid imagination and an active fantasy life.
…have a deep appreciation of art and beauty.
…experience deeper and more differentiated emotional states and
feel both happiness and unhappiness more intensely than
…prefer novelty and variety to familiarity and routine.
…enjoy both philosophical arguments and brain-teasers
…are seen as tolerant, broad-minded, nonconforming, and open-
…have a disposition to believe that others are honest and well
…are characterized as being direct, frank, candid, and ingenuous.
…have an active concern for others' welfare as shown in
generosity, consideration of others, and a willingness to assist
others in need of help.
Success in the new career era 50
…tend to defer to others, to inhibit aggression, and to forgive and
…are humble and self-effacing although they are not necessarily
lacking in self-confidence or self-esteem.
…moved by others' needs and emphasize the human side of
…feel well prepared to deal with life. They are perceived by
others as being efficient, thorough, confident and intelligent.
…are neat, tidy and well organized.
…adhere strictly to their ethical principles and scrupulously
fulfill their moral obligations.
…have high aspiration levels and work hard to achieve their
C5: Self discipline
…have the ability to motivate themselves to get the job done.
…are cautious and deliberate. They are described as being
cautious, logical, and mature.