CAMPUS JOB SUPPLIERS' PREFERRED PERSONALITY TRAITS OF CHINESE GRADUATES: A GROUNDED THEORY INVESTIGATION [Social Behavior and Personality (New Zealand)]
(Social Behavior and Personality (New Zealand) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) In this study we examined the preferred personality traits of Chinese university graduates from the perspective of job suppliers during the campus recruitment season. We collected data from 689 job specifications posted by companies on 3 well-known campus recruitment websites in China. We also introduced the concept of big data. The results, obtained using grounded theory, revealed that suppliers' desired personality characteristics include self-motivation, self-balance, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness to experience. These types of personality traits are helpful to increase undergraduates' chances of employment and improve their employability.
Keywords: personality traits, preferences, university graduates, campus recruitment, grounded theory, big data, China.
There were nearly seven million university graduates in China in 2013, which was referred to as the toughest year for employment seekers (Jinghua News, 2013). In 2014, as the world of employment is still tough, the current job market is receiving much attention from universities, enterprises, and society in general. On the one hand, there is an imbalance between demand and supply in the labor force. It is difficult for graduates to find a job, and it is not easy for enterprises to hire an appropriate person. The underlying reason for this is that graduates are not matched with jobs. On the other hand, the psychological contract between employers and employees has changed from employment security to employability, meaning that stable and secure employment is no longer guaranteed. Employability is defined as a form of work-specific active adaptability that enables workers to identify and realize career opportunities. It facilitates the movement between jobs, both within and between organizations (Fugate, Kinicki, & Ashforth, 2004). As one of the dimensions of employability, a working personality is of great significance to personal and social development (Jia, 2006). This view is supported by a series of extreme events caused by interpersonal or vocational stress. For example, during 2010, of the 18 young employees working for Foxconn in China who attempted suicide, 14 died (Chan, 2013).
China is at present undergoing a new round of economic transition, according to the 12th Five Year Plan issued in October 2010. Because people are the core competence of an enterprise, it is critical at this time that human resources are updated and upgraded to adapt to this economic transition. It is evident that personality, rather than knowledge and skills, is a core standard for recruiting and retaining talented employees. For example, their recruitment advertisements show that P & G Company, Johnson & Johnson, and IBM place personality and ethics at the top of their recruitment criteria. However, as a multifaceted social, cultural, and psychological construct, personality is both more complex and subtle than are knowledge or skills in relation to development. Therefore, it would be beneficial to improve the efficiency of personality development.
In this study we used grounded theory as our research method to explore the preferred personality traits of Chinese graduates from the perspective of job suppliers during campus recruitment. Thus, our aim was to find the personality traits that increase a student's chances of employment and improve his or her employability. Our aim was also to deepen localization of global companies and internationalization of Chinese graduates. Our results should provide theoretical support and practical guidance for universities' development, students' employment, and corporate employee management.
Theoretical Background Personality and Employment Researchers have reached a consensus that personality is positively correlated with employment and career development. For example, in the 1980s, Holland (cited in Nordvik, 1996) proposed the personality-job fit theory, in which it was clearly indicated that personality has an impact on career development, with vocational interests playing a mediating role. Cattell (1946) produced the Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire (16PF), which has become an important tool for the evaluation of employees' personalities. He explored the effects of different traits on career adaptability. Similarly, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI; Myers & McCaulley, 1985) is also widely used in career adaptability assessment.
Later researchers such as Nordvik (1996), using the MBTI and the personality- job fit theory, showed that individuals with different personalities made noticeably different career choices and had different career adaptability resources. Tokar, Fischer, and Subich (1998) reviewed the literature from 1993 to 1997, and found that of the Big Five personality traits, extraversion, neuroticism, and conscien- tiousness were positively correlated with career adaptability. Other researchers also revealed that personality not only affected how people chose careers but also how they performed at work (Schneider & Hough, 1995), and that measures of personality provided job performance predictive information (Goffin, Rothstein, & Johnston, 2000). Penney, David, and Witt (2011) suggested that employee behavior and job performance could be accurately predicted by considering the interaction between the personality traits. Gellatly (1996), in his examination of how personality traits affect task performance, found that different personalities had a different impact on task performance. For instance, conscientiousness was inseparable from the expectation for success, which was, in turn, highly correlated with employee's goals and performance. Barrick, Mount, and Gupta (2003) found that neuroticism was correlated with the endeavor to accomplish a task, that is, people scoring low in neuroticism cared more about the task than those with a high score. Thus, enterprises' criteria for job candidates is a strong sense of responsibility (high in conscientiousness) and being emotionally stable (low in neuroticism). Moreover, Moran, Diefendorff, Kim, and Liu (2012) found that self-determination (i.e., a high level of autonomous motivation and a low level of external motivation) is positively related to job performance.
Researchers have investigated the construct of personality within the Chinese economy and culture, especially with regard to the impact of specific personality traits on employment and employee management. In this study, we have referred to Chinese researchers only, of whom Song, Zhang, Zhang, Cheung, and Leung (1993) formulated the Chinese Personality Assessment Inventory (CPAI) to measure the personality of Chinese people. Using the findings of studies on CPAI, Zhang and Zhou (2006) proposed a six-factor model of personality based on the NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PI; Costa & McCrae, 1985). Responses from the American and Chinese participants to the interpersonal relationship and openness to experience factors were used in that study. Yang (2010) used the Chinese version of the Revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PI-R; Costa & McCrae, 1992), the most widely used measure of personality. The relationship between personality and employment also varies according to cultural background. For example, Zhai, Willis, O'Shea, Zhai, and Yang (2013) found in their study in China that of the Big Five personality traits, extraversion only had an effect on job satisfaction. They concluded that there could be a cultural difference between Chinese and Western individuals in the relationship between the Big Five and job satisfaction. They found that extraversion, con- scientiousness, and neuroticism affect subjective well-being, similar to Western findings.
Our review of the literature in both Chinese and Western contexts indicated that although it is universally applicable that personality is closely related to employment, both the construct of personality and the relationship between personality and behavior differ according to political, economic, and cultural background. Cloninger (1996) stated that this is because of the cultural nature of personality. Personalities in different cultures will have different cultural characteristics.
Grounded Theory Grounded theory (GT) is a systematic methodology used in the social sciences, involving the generation of theory through the analysis of data. It was developed by Glaser and Strauss in 1967 (cited in Martin & Turner, 1986). There are several reasons why GT is applicable in this study. First, we used data from rudimentary descriptions of different jobs. "They need to be developed and transmitted widely and explicitly throughout the social science community" (Strauss, 1987, p. 1). Second, GT is mainly used in fields where there is no comprehensive and complete theory to explain social phenomena (Chen, 2000). We cannot formulate hypotheses and conduct quantitative research with regard to the effect of personality on employment based on existing theories that are inadequate. Only through qualitative research can we determine the basic laws and key elements, and the relationships between these elements. Third, GT "combines a specific style of research (or a paradigm) with pragmatic theory of action and with some methodological guidelines" (Strauss, 1987, p. 1). GT is useful for researchers across a broad spectrum of disciplines, regardless of "tradition" or "theoretical approach." Psychology, education, and business management are all included in this multidisciplinary study. We firmly believe that our findings can be furthered by the qualitative examination of materials.
The three steps of GT are open coding, axial coding, and selective coding. Open coding is conceptualizing on the first level of abstraction. Written data from field notes or transcripts are conceptualized line by line after which the concepts are renamed and modified into categories. Axial coding is a set of procedures in which data are put back in new ways after open coding by making connections between categories. Writing theoretical memoranda during axial coding is a very important step. The researcher sorts all the main categories and subcategories, and the latter supplements the former. Memoranda are theorizing write-ups of ideas about substantive codes and their theoretically coded relationships as they emerge during coding, collecting, and analyzing data. Finally, selective coding is used to find the core variable or the tentative core, and the relationships between these categories.
Big Data In the age of big data, the real world is becoming mirrored by the cyber world (Gelernter, 1991), as characterized by quantification, diversification, and rapidity. When human practice can be mirrored via the cyber world, online research is equivalent to that conducted in the real world and this is why big data are so popular.
Method Data Collection In our qualitative research approach, big data collection and use of GT should cover every observable detail. Thus, we used maximum variation sampling, so that the data collected will convey valuable mass information, and the findings will explain most research phenomena. The first step was data collection of recruitment information posted by www.ChinaHR.com, www.51job.com, and www.zhaopin.com using LocoySpider software, a data collection tool that can avoid data deviation caused by personal fatigue. Between January and April 2013, we collected 689 pieces of recruitment information, covering mainly popular positions such as those in marketing, sales, human resources, research and development, and finance; in industries such as fast-moving consumer goods, manufacturing, information technology, finance, and consulting; and in cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. All the data were manually adjusted and processed while being collected. Interference data were deleted, and words with similar meanings were integrated.
Procedure Recruitment texts were imported into ATLAS.ti.7, a powerful workbench for the qualitative analysis of large bodies of textual, graphical, audio, and video data. We then followed the three GT steps. Open coding (i.e., conceptualization) was already automatically done because each piece of the recruiting advertisement was precisely reorganized to represent the required personality traits of job seekers. When following standard procedure, the researcher disorganizes and reorganizes all original data, puts aside any theoretical hypotheses, and brings an open mind to coding everything to find out about the problem and its resolution. In this study we followed three rules in identifying and targeting the core category. First, the core category had to be universally applicable, guiding us in identification and analysis of the other categories. Second, the core category had to be the core appeal of the enterprise when connecting with stakeholders (i.e., employees) according to the labor market and social environment. Third, the core category had to be verifiable with all available data.
Results After open coding, the individual pieces of information were merged into 60 primary concepts. Because the primary concepts are relatively ambiguous, they need to be further modified and renamed for the purpose of categorization. During categorizing, we eliminated primary concepts with a low frequency of mentions (i.e., fewer than two), and obtained 42 concepts and 21 categories (see Table 1). After axial coding, the 21 categories were recombined into five main categories based on their logical relationships (see Table 2). Further analysis of the 21 categories obtained in open coding and the five main categories obtained in axial coding, and also interactive comparison with the original data, revealed that self-motivation was the core category. Self-motivation is a must for a job seeker. It is deeply rooted in people's unconditional values, and protection of self-being. Self-being is the subject of one's own experience of phenomena, such as perceptions, emotions, thoughts, and acts. Each individual is a unity of all the roles he or she plays (Ryckman, 2005).
Discussion Our results suggest that companies are seeking university graduates with the personality traits of self-motivation, self-balance, agreeableness, conscien- tiousness, and openness to experience, of which self-motivation is the main trait of interest.
Self-Motivation Although great material wealth has been created and accumulated in China since the 1970s, livelihood issues are becoming increasingly obvious. One of these is that the development of management theories cannot keep pace with that of social and economic practices. As a result, many companies experience the dilemma of "willing but incapable" in human resource management. Thus, employees need to take the initiative to identify and solve problems. At the same time, because they are regarded as highly accumulated human capital, university students are assumed to be equipped with the initiative and creativity to solve problems.
The characteristics of social and economic development in China and the personality attributes of university students desired by job suppliers reveal that self-motivation is essential to achieving a desirable working personality. The influence of self-motivation is reflected in an individual's decision making. Rational decision making leads to a desirable result.
Self-Balance The core nature of self-balance is flexibility. In this regard, McGregor (1960) proposed Theory Y, in which the belief that work is a natural activity is supported. Also, if employees are committed to objectives, they will exercise self-direction and self-control, and will seek and accept responsibility. Schein (1996) proposed the complex man approach because he thought that Theory Y was not suitable for every employee. In this theory he suggests that people's needs and potential change with age, knowledge, social status, and interpersonal relationships. Morse and Lorsch put forward Super Y theory (1970), in which it is asserted that employee motivation and attitudes change with their mental needs and work conditions. This theory conforms with self-motivation. The emphasis in both is that employees should be as flexible as possible so that they can adapt to a changing complex work environment. Deductively, self-balance is the biggest subset of self-motivation.
Conscientiousness, Agreeableness, and Openness to Experience The Big Five personality traits of conscientiousness, agreeableness, and openness to experience have different meanings in different situations. This is important in our focus on the job market and recruiting environment in China.
Conscientiousness is a tendency to show the self-discipline required to accomplish tasks, act dutifully, and be careful rather than hotheaded. It is becoming increasingly important because college students born in 1980s and 1990s are much criticized for their casualness and selfishness at work. Furthermore, conscientiousness is the only personality trait that is related to any job type. In contrast, agreeableness and openness to experience are important to specific jobs. For instance, agreeableness is an advantage in jobs that require sociability, and openness to experience is essential to people who are engaged in creative business. Thus, although different job types require different personalities, conscientiousness is a necessity in any situation. In the whole working personality model, the ratio of different personalities is different.
Agreeableness is not only a Big Five trait but it also relates to the warmth and reasoning dimensions in Cattell 16PF. It is embodied in outgoing character traits (character-oriented) and intelligent inner cultivation (communication skills and teamwork). Nowadays, children from single-child families live in a more closed environment than children with siblings. Consequently, they are inclined to be self-centered. However, in a socialized organization, attentive and generous rather than self-centered employees are needed. In addition, the sound temperament of agreeableness is related to an outstanding career. A professional appearance, appropriate behavior, and a graceful bearing promote a perception of agreeableness. In addition, an agreeable person shows more interest and divergent thinking about new things. This is an advantage with more advanced biosocial activities such as creative thinking and nonrational emotions becoming core to the new economy.
Openness to experience is a relatively higher-level personality trait that enterprises desire for job candidates, especially with the emphasis on originality and innovation in a knowledge-based economy. Increasingly, university students want to increase their core competence by improving their imagination and logical thinking skills. Researchers have shown that few people score high or low on measures of openness to experience, while most gain an average score. An open-minded person with abundant knowledge and rich work experience such as internship and social service, firmly believes in his or her competency and, thus, is able to promptly adapt to environmental changes. Western researchers van Hooft, Born, Taris, van der Flier, and Blonk (2005) found that individuals with strong perceived behavioral control will be more prepared and make more approaches such as checking listings on websites and in newspapers, when seeking jobs. However, with regard to employment, openness to experience is an extra rather than a required personality trait. It is an indicator of different work styles.
In conclusion, the Big Five categories cover almost all desirable personality traits for a qualified university graduate. The interactive model of the five personalities is shown in Figure 1.
Implications In this study, we believe there are important implications for undergraduates, enterprises, and higher education in regard to the personality traits that enterprises desire graduate students to possess. First, the core demand for graduates has changed from knowledge and skills to personality. Therefore, schools, students, and even families should pay more attention to the healthy development of personality characteristics. The sound cultivation of personality from early childhood may prevent students experiencing difficulties caused by emotional, interpersonal, academic, or vocational stress. Second, enterprises appeal for self-motivated, open-minded, responsible, and agreeable students. Although different personalities match different work types, a high level of the three Big Five personality traits of conscientiousness, agreeableness, and openness to experience is essential for all students to be a qualified employee. Third, students should know their inner thoughts about life and career and adhere to their objectives and beliefs. With rapid environmental changes, such as personnel turnover, recession, or inflation, it is important to be self-motivated.
Throughout human history, social economy is constantly progressing in tandem with the updating and upgrading of human resources. Logically, when social economy has a new sign or new mode of development, there will be a new demand for human resources. When the social human resources system completely absorbs and digests the demand, and produces enough new types of fresh human resources, there will be a solid talent base for economic transition. Consequently, signs of economic progress will turn into reality. We believe that the results of this study give theoretical and practical support to the updating and upgrading of enterprises' human resources as well as the development of social economy.
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LIJUN JIA, YUN XU, AND MEIJUAN WU East China Normal University Lijun Jia and Meijuan Wu, Business School, and Yun Xu, Preschool and Special Education School, East China Normal University.
This research was funded by the National Social Science Foundation of China (10CJY018).
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to: Meijuan Wu, Business School, East China Normal University, 500 Dongchuan Road, Shanghai 200241, People's Republic Of China. Email: [email protected] (c) 2014 Scientific Journal Publishers Ltd