Assessing Employee and Candidate Capabilities

The assessment of noncognitive skills is a central focus of ETS's research on job readiness and 21st century skills. Noncognitive skills research, which includes understanding and validating personality factors relevant to the workplace, represents one of the important contributions we are making to both the academic literature and applied practice.

Personality assessment has a long history in psychology. While hundreds of personality traits or constructs have been studied over the years, in the last 20 years the field has reached consensus on a considerably smaller number of independent dimensions of significance, and much of the research on personality attributes has led to the development of the Five-Factor Model (FFM). The FFM serves as a broad theoretical framework for ETS's personality research.

The Five-Factor Model

This conceptual framework for personality research, also known as the "Big Five" or "OCEAN," comprises five broad traits:

  • Openness, which reflects imagination, intellect and adventurousness
  • Conscientiousness, which reflects competence, orderliness, deliberation and achievement-striving
  • Extraversion, which reflects assertiveness, gregariousness, positivity and excitement-seeking
  • Agreeableness, which reflects altruism, integrity, trust and cooperation
  • Neuroticism, which reflects anxiety, anger, worry and depression

Researchers have demonstrated that this framework can be applied across different cultures and rating sources. 1, 2

Noncognitive Factors Predict Performance on the Job and Academic Achievement

A body of literature in both education and organizational psychology supports the importance of the Big Five in predicting both educational and job effectiveness outcomes.

Generalized personality traits constitute one of several noncognitive factors that may impact classroom learning and academic performance. Personality assessment may also be informative about a student's strengths and weaknesses at the process level. For example, students high in Neuroticism may need help with stress management, students low in Conscientiousness with maintaining interest, and students high in Extraversion with managing social distractions.3

Similarly, these generalized personality traits also seem to be factors in workplace success. Research in the area of personality in the work environment has indicated that having high Conscientiousness and Extraversion generally tends to enhance one's job performance. Increased levels of Neuroticism and Agreeableness, however, tend to negatively influence employee success.

Additionally, strong time management skills and high self-efficacy appear to have a positive impact on well-being and job achievement. Constructs such as anxiety have a more complicated relationship with success. For example, a bit of anxiety can be a motivating factor for some; however, for others increased levels of anxiety can be problematic.

Implications for Educators and Employers

Studies of anxiety-by-treatment interaction in education imply that educators should consider designing personalized learning environments matched with key personality factors. For example, students high in anxiety should benefit more from structured learning-teaching environments, whereas students low in anxiety, as well as those higher on Extraversion or Openness, should benefit from unstructured learning-teaching environments.

Likewise, employers should consider promoting environments that develop crucial personality factors. For example, employees with low levels of Conscientiousness would benefit from a very structured, managed environment, while those with high levels of Conscientiousness would gain from opportunities to manage and lead projects.

Learn more about Relationships between Big Five and Academic and Workforce Outcomes.

Facets of the Big Five

Facets or subcategories are lower-order factors that are considerably less stable than the Big Five themselves. Many different models for facets have been proposed. At ETS, researchers have made use of facet models tailored to particular studies, whether through the employment of existing frameworks such as the NEO PI-R, subscales chosen from the International Personality Item Pool, or empirically derived facets for particular data collections.

Many studies and assessments break down the Big Five variables into further facets. The NEO PI-R (the name is based on the instrument's original construct of Neuroticism-Extraversion-Openness; the latter initials stand for Personality Inventory-Revised) represents one popular facet framework. The International Personality Item Pool (IPIP), an online repository for personality items based on commercial personality assessments like the NEO PI-R, also provides scales associated with facets for free use. At ETS, research studies have made use of facet frameworks derived both from NEO PI-R and IPIP scales, as well as tailored facet breakdowns for particular studies.4

Learn more about the NEO PI-R and IPIP scales. Facets of the Big Five

Assessment Methods

ETS is at the forefront of exploring innovative methods and technologies for assessing noncognitive skills. Given the challenges associated with assessing these skills in high-stakes, large-scale assessments, we are exploring alternative methods beyond simple self-reporting, which is susceptible to faking and coaching.5

Learn more about some of ETS's work developing and researching various assessment methods and techniques. Assessment Methods


1 Hogan, J. & Ones, D. S. (1997). Conscientiousness and integrity at work. In R. Hogan, J. Johnson & S. Briggs (Eds.), Handbook of personality psychology, pp. 513–541. San Diego: Academic Press.
2 Saucier, G. & Goldberg, L. R. (1998). What is beyond the Big Five? Journal of Personality, 66, pp. 495–524.
3 Matthews, G., Zeidner, M., & Roberts, R. D. (2006). Personality, affect, and emotional development. In P. A. Alexander & P. H. Winne (Eds.), Handbook in Educational Psychology (Second Edition), pp. 164–186. Mahway, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
4 MacCann, C., Duckworth, A., & Roberts, R. D. (2009). Identifying the major facets of Conscientiousness in high school students and their relationships with valued educational outcomes. Learning and Individual Differences, 19, pp. 451–458.
5 Ziegler, M., MacCann, C., & Roberts, R. D. (Eds.) (2011). New perspectives on faking in personality assessment. New York: Oxford University Press.