How your personality will affect your career

Dr Laramie Tolentino
Mal Chenu
16 March 2020
Macquarie Business School


Being proactive and having a sense of curiosity are among the characteristics that help workers get ahead, says Macquarie researcher Dr Laramie Tolentino.

A willingness to adapt, to be flexible and to meet challenges head-on are crucial factors in career success, says Dr Laramie Tolentino, Senior Lecturer of Management at Macquarie Business School. And the good news is, those personality traits can be developed over time if at first they don’t come naturally.

Use it or lose it: Traits such as confidence and optimism can play a role in how well your career progresses.

Dr Tolentino has conducted extensive research into career adaptability and work-life management. She has a particular interest in assisting young people’s transition to work. One of the areas she has considered is how personality traits affect success.

“My research indicates that your willingness to adapt, to be flexible and to anticipate and accept challenges are important factors in career advancement,” says Tolentino.

“Adaptability means finding a good fit between your competencies and your work environment. And it’s not just having the skill, it’s effectively using it that’s critical.

Curiosity for learning is key

“The most important trait is that of a proactive personality. This is essentially having concern for the future and a sense of curiosity; to seek out opportunities that will help you to succeed in your work life. If you are goal and learning-oriented, you are on the right track.”

Tolentino says personality influences behaviour and that characteristics such as confidence, optimism, self-regulation, discipline and even the ability to adjust to different social settings can affect your career advancement. And it’s not just a nature versus nurture situation. While we are born with certain traits, it is possible to enhance them.

“Personality traits are formed by heredity as well as environmental influences,” she says. “While we have certain predispositions – more or less of certain traits – they are malleable. Traits can be developed over time. You can train yourself to build on your inherent qualities.

“Schools can foster and enhance these traits. Employers can – and often do – provide training that will assist employees to develop adaptability.”

The right stuff: Adaptable people tend to have greater political skills, which are very important for advancement, says Tolentino.

Tolentino’s oft-cited research has been published in leading management and applied psychology journals such as Human Resource Management, Journal of Vocational Behavior, Journal of Career Assessment and Journal of Research in Personality.

“The empirical evidence suggests adaptability will help you cope with the ever-changing challenges you are likely to face in your job. It is similar to resilience but resilience is more about bouncing back from a negative experience or challenge. Adaptability has more of a proactive dimension - you don’t just wait for the challenge and see how you go, you prepare for it so you are ready when it arises,” she says.

“Individuals who are adaptable also tend to have greater political skills. They are considered more agreeable by their colleagues and bosses. Political skills are very important for advancement.”

The big four indicators of success

There are four aspects surrounding career adaptability, which Tolentino calls The Four C's. She says it is important to showcase these traits during job interviews but even more important to display them in the long term, in the job itself, as they could be the key to promotion and advancement.


Care about your future. Be proactive in your planning and orientation. University is preparing you for your career by providing the knowledge you will need but you should also look at taking on internships, developing appropriate skills and other preparatory projects. Look ahead and prepare for the tasks that lie ahead, both in study and in work.


This refers to the personal success factors within your control and might include things such as effort, persistence and self-discipline; what some call ‘grit’.


Have a sense of exploration. Imagine yourself in different roles and even careers.


Develop a belief that you can actualise your goals. That you can make them happen. That you can overcome any barriers and obstacles. This also involves having the ability to seek out information.

Who wants to be an entrepreneur?

“We found in our research that developing entrepreneurial skills is similar to career adaptability, in that The Four C’s are essential here too,” Tolentino says.

“In addition to these however, it is also important to have environmental reinforcement, that is, exposure to entrepreneurial activities, such as a family business. We found this exposure and strong development of The Four C’s solidifies entrepreneurial intentions for young people.”

Dr Laramie Tolentino is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Management at Macquarie Business School.


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