Can Personality Change: A Review of Hoff et al. (2020) Study on Predictions of Early Career Success and Satisfaction

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personalityIn the March 2021 publication of The Psychologist, Emily Reynolds’ article introduced us to the 2020 study of Hoff et al. which explored whether personality changes between adolescence and young adulthood predicted early career success and satisfaction.  Our assistant psychologist, Mya Kirkwood reviews the research findings.

Employing a longitudinal quasi-experimental design, they followed approximately 2,000 Icelandic youth from 2 representative samples between 2006 - 2018, gathering self-report data from Sample 1 every 4 years (on average), and Sample 2 every 6 years (on average).  

They explored 5 key aspects of early career success and satisfaction: educational  attainment; financial income; occupational prestige; career satisfaction, and job satisfaction. 

Information about participant’s income was gathered via self-reported pre-tax income and educational attainment was conceptualised as “highest obtained educational degree” (pg. 66)measured via objective information gathered from Iceland’s educational registry. 

Personality and satisfaction were measured using objective and reliable psychological testing tools. Adopting a trait-based approached to personality, an Icelandic adaption of the NEO Five-Factor Inventory (Jónsson & Bergþórsson, 2004) measured participants’ Big Five personality traits. To measure Occupational Prestige, participants’ most recent occupations were rated based on the status of their job in society using O*NET’s Achievement and Recognition work-value dimensions (O*NET Online, 2021). Finally, participants reported career satisfaction and job satisfaction on a five-item scale from Greenhaus, Parasuraman, and Wormley (1990) and a five-item scale from Brayfield and Rothe’s Revised Job Satisfaction Blank (1951), respectively. 

So, what did the evidence suggest and why has it excited the team at TOPPI? 

Firstly, this study found that not only did personality change between adolescence and young adulthood, but these changes in personality proved to be significant predictors of income and satisfaction related to one’s job and career as a young adult. 

Specifically, increases in emotional stability positively predicted income and career satisfaction; increases in conscientiousness and extraversion both positively predictors of career satisfaction, while increases in extraversion also positively predicted job satisfaction. 

These findings are encouraging because they could have affirming applications for young students and professionals on many levels.  

Firstly, they provide apprehensive young students and early career professionals with a novel approach to considering the role of personality on career success and satisfaction.  

Currently, Holland’s theory of vocational personality and work environments and RIASEC model (1997) “pervade career counselling” (Nauta, 2010) and their enduring influence can be seen in contemporary occupational psychometric testing tools, such as the ProfileXT toolHowever, the strict typology of these models can be daunting and even imply an individual’s’ personality is an impediment to their desired career  

– If my personality is not naturally investigative” will I dissatisfied or unsuccessful working within Pharmacy? A student might worry. 

The current findings into personality change place the discourse around career satisfaction, and hope, back into individuals’ hands – by showing that their personality is not fixed, and their personality can be developed in ways that could lead to greater job and career satisfaction. By conceptualising personality as traits which can be developedthe study suggests that any degree of trait development can lead to incremental increases in satisfaction. 

Snyder’s Hope Theory (2000) illustrates the importance of hope as an important cognitive and motivational system to achieving goals. By removing cognitive barriers to careers, such as perceived personality incongruency, and returning agency and pathways thoughts to the individual, by conceptualising personality as malleable traitsthe current findings encourage hope and empowerment within young professionals.  

Secondly, this study highlights the significance of accurate and reliable evidence-based psychological testing in successful career guidance for young students. For example, by incorporating the skills and knowledge of BPS-certified Test Users and certified psychological testing tools into early careers development, young people could develop accurate understandings of their personalitylevels of emotional stability, conscientiousness and extraversion and identify potential development areas which could increase career or job satisfaction. 

Important questions remain regarding the results of Hoff et al. (2020). The findings currently provide no explanation of the relationships or processes behind themWhy do these relationships exist, and how?   

Furthermore, the long-established Intention-Behaviour gap indicates that the route from intentions to develop one’s personality into behavioural developmental actions will be complexHow do we ensure that young professionals can, and do, translate their intentions into desirable and observable behavioural and personality changes?  

Applications of these findings will be most successful once we understand these two questions, but the findings of Hoff et al. (2020) are overwhelmingly empowering. Alongside novel insights into personality development and its role in occupational satisfaction, they provide hope and empowerment to young adolescents at the start of their professional journey, when, arguablyit is needed most. 


Brayfield, A. H., & Rothe, H. F. (1951). An index of job satisfaction. Journal of Applied Psychology, 35, 307–311. doi:10.1037/h0055617 

Greenhaus, J. H., Parasuraman, S., & Wormley, W. M. (1990). Effects of race on organizational experiences, job performance evaluations, and career outcomes. Academy of Management Journal, 33, 64–86. doi:10.5465/25 6352 

Hoff, K. A., Einarsdóttir, S., Chu, C., Briley, D. A., Rounds, J. (2021). Personality changes predict early career outcomes: Discovery and replication in 12-year longitudinal studiesPsychological Science, 32 (1), 64 – 79. 

Holland, J. L. (1997). Making vocational choices: A theory of vocational personalities and work environments (3rd ed.). Odessa, Florida. Psychological Assessment Resources. 

Jónsson, F. H., & Bergþórsson, A. (2004). Fyrstu niðurstöður úr stöðlun NEO-PI-R á Íslandi [First results of a standardization of NEO-PI-R in Iceland]. Sálfræðiritið/Icelandic Journal of Psychology, 9, 9–16 

Snyder, C.R. (2000). Hypothesis: There is Hope. In C.R. Snyder (Eds.), Handbook of HopeTheory, Measures and Applications (pp.3-21). San Diego: Academic Press. 

Nauta, M. N. (2010). The development, evolution, and status of Holland’s Theory of vocational personalities: Reflections and future directions for counselling psychology. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 57 (1), 11 – 12. 

O*NET OnLine (2021). Work Values Search for: Achievement, Recognition. Retrieved from: 

Reynolds, E. (2021, January 20). Here’s how personality changes in young adulthood can lead to greater career satisfaction. British Psychological Society: Research Digest. Retrieved from: 

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