It’s not my intention to give full information or an extensive discussion on every theory. This website is intended to be a starting point and the main difference with other websites is the visual representation of the theory, which I hope will help get to grips with the theory. There are also links it the bottom to get your further research started.

Five-factor Model (FFM) or OCEAN Model

Ernest Tupes & Raymond Christal 1961

Introduction to the Five Factor Model

The Five Factor Model, also called ‘the Big Five’ or Ocean Model is based on Goldberg’s recognition of which five personality traits are the primary factors of personality and it attempts to catch the main personality traits, as defined by it’s developers, in a useable, predictive and descriptive model. This model is widely claimed to be grounded on a more scientific basis than the Myers-Briggs Model and builds on the work of Catell and his 16PF Model.

De Fruyt and Mervielde (1997) also recognise significant overlap of some of Holland’s typology with the Big Five which provides at least some link to these and career typology through Holland’s theory. The five factors in the model below are recognised, through research, as those most widely applicable and most predictive. Therein lies at the same time a critique of the Five Factor Model that can also be levied at all the personality theories: the five factors within this model may be significant and predictive but they are also at the same time reductive, a very small selection of all the personality traits that make up someone’s personality. The way the theorists proposing this model get around this is by treating the five as factors, made up of many related traits. Let’s leave the critique for that section however, and let’s have a look as to how this model works.

  • Unlike other models, this model doesn’t expect every individual to fit in with a certain number of personalities, but offers a continuum within each of the five factors, which means there are a wide variety of personality configurations possible within the Five Factor Model. This to some extent gets around the critique against the Holland and Myers-Briggs models at least.
  • It’s also important to note that there isn’t a binary choice between those factors. For instance, Extraversion isn’t opposed to another factor called Introversion, but is a factor, the measure of fulfilment of which is measured against a range of criteria. This means it doesn’t offer, and can’t offer, a neat set of a number of personalities everyone is supposed to neatly fit in with, like Holland and Myers-Briggs.
  • In addition to this, the Big Five Model suggests a variable model of personality, rather than a fixed one where someone’s ‘personality label’ is attached to them across time and place.
  • Unlike Jungian models of personality, the Big Five Model has, through it’s basis in research, a more solid foundation in biology than other models.

Five-factor model (FFM) or OCEAN model representation.

Here too, I decided not to offer a full explanation of each of the five factors as there is enough information available on this in a variety of sources and this website is not intending to repeat exactly what is said elsewhere but in the first instance to offer a visual representation and secondly a brief introduction to the theory. I would suggest exploring and/or and/or for an explanation of the five factors.

What I do try and do on here as well is to related theories to practice, which is especially important with those that are not strictly ‘theories of career guidance and counselling’ and ‘theories of career coaching’. So let’s see how this can be translated for career practitioners…

Six personality traits instead of five? – The Hexaco Model

The Hexaco model is an example of how the Five Factor Model isn’t the definitive model of personality theory. In their bookThe H Factor of Personality’, Ashton and Lee argued in favour of a sixth Factor: Honesty-Humility. Their research is also based on a lexical study of several European and Asian languages. The many adjectives linked to personality they found in those languages were then whittled down to the six factors in their model. Further information on their inventory or model can be found on but I found it important to mention this here to show the relative nature of the Five Factor Model’s basis in science, even if it is based on substantial (and different) research. Of course this means the Five Factor Model has therefore significant validity, but it’s important to realise this is not ultimate validity. Please bear in mind that the Hexaco model is not the Big Five Model with another factor ‘stuck on’. There are a lot of commonalities between the two, but also some differences.


The Five Factor Model in Career Guidance and Counselling & Career Coaching

The first thing to recognise is that the Five Factor Model doesn’t offer an easy and sometimes simplistic way in, like Holland’s RIASEC model or Myers-Briggs. It doesn’t offer ‘a personality profile’ to the client, which is then almost magically and automatically linked to a range of career options. In my view, this is both a strength and a weakness.

  • It is a weakness in the sense that it will almost by definition require further exploration with the client to discover how their personality fits in with any ideas they may have, or the other way round, in discovering career options that may fit in with the client’s Big Five personality profile.
  • This is at the same time a strength because this makes easy and ‘simplistic’ matching difficult to impossible. The way the model is conceived and works almost prohibits those who want easy answers from using it. Unlike tools like Holland’s typography where someone can do a quick test and then supposedly finds their ideal career options, the client and the adviser are forced to relate the results of the Big Five test to how the client relates to these and any career ideas they may have. The other way round, where the client doesn’t have any idea of what direction they would like to move into, almost forces the client to consider career options carefully in relating them to how they relate to the Five Factors and their results within the test.

In short, the Big Five promote further discussion, exploration and questioning, which is why I like it more than the at first sight ‘quick and easy solutions’ Holland offers. Of course, precisely those ‘quick and easy solutions’ also have their place within practice but require a practitioner who is conscientious in doing the additional leg work with the client that’s required to use these responsibly and in a meaningful way for the client’s longer term planning.

How to use this in practice, once a good test is acquired by the practitioner and worked through by the client, should then almost be self explanatory:

  • If the client has an idea of what area they would like to look at or move into, the personality requirements for that area can then be explored and discussed with the client and the result of their test related to this and discussed and explored further.
  • Should the client not have an idea of what area to look at or move into, then the practitioner and the client can discuss the result of the test in general and then explore areas of work that fit in with its result, making sure the client understands that the outcome is their decision and this is not going to offer a fixed or black and white ‘boxed’ solution to what they ‘should’ do.

No need to say, this is not a technique that can be applied if only one 1 hour appointment is available. At least, I would find it impossible to use the Five Factor Model with a client in that timeframe in a responsible, ethical way.



Further to the critique in the introduction, let’s have a look in slightly more detail. Below are a lot of links for you to explore, which signifies that not everyone perceives the Five Factor Model to be the be all and end all of personality theorising or research. It’s important that while reading other people’s critique of this model, or any model, to make up your own mind based on the evidence you find and in practice, the experiences you have.

Goldberg cut down Catell’s 16 significant personality traits to a mere five. Whether this is necessarily a good thing remains to be seen in my view, as it further simplifies a very complex concept, someone’s personality, to an abstract representation of someone’s personality, thereby potentially at the same time distilling what he sees as the ‘essence’ of personality but also by default limiting a more full understanding of the many different aspects of personality.

As part of building your own critique I would suggest taking the assessment yourself and look at both the questions and the results with a critical eye.

  • Do the results represent you well?
  • Do the questions allow you to answer them clearly and unambiguously? – in other words, are you represented in the questions?
  • How do your results relate to the career you’re engaged in? ‘Are you in the right place?’
  • Would this be appropriate or useful to use with the clients you work with?
    • If not – why not? What is missing?
    • If yes, how would you use this and what would its shortcomings/associated difficulties be?


Useful links:

Links on the Hexaco Model


  • De Fruyt, F., & Mervielde, I. (1997). The five-factor model of personality and Holland’s RIASEC interest types. Personality and Individual Differences, 23(1), 87–103.

Trying out some versions of the Big Five test

Accessible academic links: