Uncovering Curvilinear Relationships Between Conscientiousness and Job Performance: How Theoretically Appropriate Measurement Makes an Empirical Difference

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Abstract

The personality trait of conscientiousness has seen considerable attention from applied psychologists due to its efficacy for predicting job performance across performance dimensions and occupations. However, recent theoretical and empirical developments have questioned the assumption that more conscientiousness always results in better job performance, suggesting a curvilinear link between the 2. Despite these developments, the results of studies directly testing the idea have been mixed. Here, we propose this link has been obscured by another pervasive assumption known as the dominance model of measurement: that higher scores on traditional personality measures always indicate higher levels of conscientiousness. Recent research suggests dominance models show inferior fit to personality test scores as compared to ideal point models that allow for curvilinear relationships between traits and scores. Using data from 2 different samples of job incumbents, we show the rank-order changes that result from using an ideal point model expose a curvilinear link between conscientiousness and job performance 100% of the time, whereas results using dominance models show mixed results, similar to the current state of the literature. Finally, with an independent cross-validation sample, we show that selection based on predicted performance using ideal point scores results in more favorable objective hiring outcomes. Implications for practice and future research are discussed.

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