Survival Skills: Who Will Succeed in the Automated Labor Market?

Characteristics of Successful Employees

Automation has long been altering labor markets and eliminating jobs. Recent research suggests that up to 47% of U.S. jobs are at risk of becoming automated within the next 20 years.1 That percentage varies from country to country, but it consistently falls above the 40% mark. Although automation is largely thought to threaten low-skill jobs, advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence have made advanced-skill jobs, such as contract lawyer or diagnostician, vulnerable.

Companies have focused on reskilling existing employees — and not simply hiring new employees for new skills — for two related reasons. First, recruiting, hiring, and onboarding new employees with in-demand skills is an expensive undertaking. Second, as the rate of technological change increases, the skills companies need also change more quickly. In other words, the skills a company requires today can quickly become obsolete.

Characteristics of Successful Employees

We examined what characteristics help immunize people from technology-driven job loss and what skills experts believe will help people in the future labor market. The former helps identify what draws people to jobs more resistant to automation. The latter helps identify what people need to succeed in a variety of jobs, if needed.

Rodica Damian, PhD, who was part of Hogan’s Distinguished Speaker Series last year, found that people with five characteristics were more likely to choose less automatable jobs: intelligence, maturity (largely Conscientiousness), extraversion, job interests focused on arts and science, and lack of job interests focused on things and people.

The World Bank argues that people need three skills for the upcoming workforce: advanced cognitive skills, sociobehavioral skills (such as interpersonal skills and teamwork), and adaptability.2

The National Research Council’s task force on 21st century work skills identified a similar set of skills: cognitive skills (such as problem solving), interpersonal skills (such as teamwork), and intrapersonal skills (such as adaptability and self-management).3

A large focus of reskilling efforts concern identifying skill gaps that companies can fill using traditional training, such as for data science techniques. Although these types of skills are helpful, the characteristics suggested in our research tend to converge around three relatively stable characteristics: having good interpersonal skills, being able to learn new skills as needed, and being dependable and hardworking. These three characteristics are the basis of the Hogan General Employability Report, which uses decades’ worth of Hogan research to predict successful performance across multiple types of jobs and industries.

Identifying Candidates for Reskilling

When trying to identify people who will be successful when reskilling or transferring to new jobs, we recommend the following:

  • Go with a well-validated assessment – Many of the characteristics companies need are measured by personality or cognitive ability assessments. Understanding how these assessments predict meaningful outcomes helps guarantee you can make meaningful decisions.
  • Use an assessment that’s up-to-date and recently validated – Job characteristics change over time. Working populations change over time. The point of reskilling is to overcome older job characteristics. Recent validation studies help show that an assessment continues to predict performance. Recent norms help you better understand and compare people.
  • Look out for between-group differences – Reskilling or upskilling is an opportunity to give everyone a chance to succeed. A fair assessment can help ensure no group is left behind.

Click here to watch our on-demand webinar, “Future-Proofing Your Talent for Tomorrow’s Workplace.”

*This post was authored by Hogan’s Darin Nei, PhD, and Brandon Ferrell, PhD.


  1. Frey, C. B., Osborne, M. (2013). The Future of Employment. Oxford Martin Programme on Technology and Employment.
  2. World Bank. (2018). World Development Report 2019: The Changing Nature of Work.
  3. National Research Council (US) Committee on the Assessment of 21st Century Skills. (2011). Assessing 21st Century Skills: Summary of a Workshop. National Academies Press.