Big Five Careers

Options for people who score high or low on the Big Five personality traits.

Posted Aug 26, 2019

Pxhere, Public Domain
Source: Pxhere, Public Domain

Typically, careers are recommended based on the person's skills, aptitudes, and interests, for example, as in the Holland RIASEC Codes: hands-on, investigative, artistic, social, entrepreneurial, or office-detail/computer work. 

Less often are careers matched to today’s popular Big 5 personality traits: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Emotional Stability.

Of course, with thousands of careers and variants thereof, I can only scratch the surface here. I’ve picked careers that capitalize on each personality trait (low as well as high-scoring) and that Psychology Today readers might enjoy and do well at. For each category, I offer merely one or occasionally two or three careers that may be particularly worth your attention.

A couple of tips

Where you fit on the Big Five is often determined by self-report but this website offers a free assessment of where you fall on each trait. Consider focusing on areas in which you score well above or well below average.

Of course, many people of all personality types might find success and contentment in any or none of these careers. But examining the listed career(s) in your category may boost your chances.

1a. High Openness

Psychology Researcher. This seems an obvious choice for people who are creative and abstract thinkers, signature characteristics of the High Openness person. Alas, getting to exercise those attributes typically requires not just a Ph.D. and perhaps a post-doc but a willingness to focus narrowly: Early in your doctoral program, identify a fundable research area, perhaps an understudied but potentially fruitful basic research area, for example, regarding gene expression or neural circuits. Or if you’d prefer more quickly practical findings, you might choose a promising applied research area within autism, depression, ADHD, intelligence, or Alzheimer’s, for example, working for a biotech or pharmaceutical company.

1b. High Caution/consistency

Psychometrist. They typically administer intelligence, personality, and aptitude tests. These tests tend to demand the precise following of standard procedure.

2a. High Conscientiousness

Bioethicist. This is a psychology-related career in which life-and-death decisions are frequent thus requiring a high level of conscientiousness. A typical issue faced by bioethicists: helping a couple with a genetic predisposition to depression decide whether to have children. Or, more macro, in a single-payer health care system, should everyone legally in the U.S. or not, paying into the system or not, be entitled to the same level of health care?

2b. High Easy-Goingness

Art, music, horticultural, or pet therapist. Such counselors tend to work with patients for which major, quick improvement isn’t required or expected, and where an easy-going artsy, feeling-centric person may be well-suited.

Artist or fiction writer specializing in psychological themes. The standard definition of High Easygoingness usually includes artistic, creative sensibilities, hence this is a good, albeit financially risky, pick.

3a. Extraversion

Salesperson of psychology related products, for example, tests, practice management software, or psychologist office leasing.

Fundraiser, especially for a psychology-related nonprofit, for example, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, The National Association of Gifted Children, or Autism Speaks.

3b. Introversion

Lab technician or technologist. Whether working with data, animals, or even humans, this sometimes psychology-related career is well-suited to introverts because the amount and complexity of human interaction tends to be limited and/or structured.

4a. High Agreeableness

A human resources specialist, especially in organizational development, conflict resolution, or inclusion or harassment training.

Mediator. The good mediator has the ineffable gift of calming people, enabling them to be more rational than often is the case in disputes. The High-Agreeableness person is likely to have that gift.

4b. Low Agreeableness

Self-employed consultant. Possible psychology-oriented niches: developing an organization’s employee selection paradigm, developing an organization’s psychologically oriented documents, for example, the employee handbook including how emergencies are to be handled.

5a. High Emotional Stability

High-stress jobs such as hostage negotiator or psychologist in a mental hospital or in private practice with volatile patients.

5b. High Sensitivity

Therapist in solo private practice specializing in a relatively low-stress area: perhaps phobias or mild anxiety. Also, career counselor or personal coach. 

The takeaway

Because of space limitations, I’ve listed only a few careers. So use this article merely as one data point in your search for a well-suited career.

I read this aloud on YouTube.

This is part of a series. The others include Career Change for Counselors, Career Change for Teachers, Career Change for Creatives, 10 Big-Impact Careers, Career Change Ideas for Boomers, 11 Big Money and Status Careers, Future-Ready Careers,  and Careers for Liberals, Conservatives, and Libertarians.