Person-job (PJ) fit is defined as the compatibility between individuals and the job or tasks that they perform at work. This definition includes compatibility based on employee needs and job supplies available to meet those needs, as well as job demands and employee abilities to meet those demands. In the past, the term PJ fit has been used to describe fit with occupations or vocations as well, but more recently it has been distinguished from this broader form of fit.
Based firmly in interactional psychology, the underlying premise of PJ fit is that characteristics of the person and the job work jointly to determine individual outcomes. There are many theories that involve joint influence of person and job characteristics, but fit is a specific domain in which commensurate measurement is generally considered essential. Commensurate measures assess the person and job along the same content dimensions, thus allowing an assessment of fit or match to be determined. Often the combined effects of conceptually related person and job measures such as the need for achievement and job complexity are interpreted as PJ fit; however, because they employ non-commensurate measures they do not fall within the fit domain, as strictly defined. In the following text, further discussion on the various conceptualizations of PJ fit and their consequences is presented.
Two Conceptualizations of Person-Job Fit
Two primary conceptualizations characterize research on PJ fit. The first is the correspondence between employee needs or desires and the supplies that a job provides. Alternately labeled needs-supplies or supplies-values fit, this is the most commonly investigated form of PJ fit. Much of the research in this domain is based on Lyman Porter’s need satisfaction questionnaire, or similar measures, which ask people to describe how much their current job provides (actual) of a particular characteristic and also how much of that characteristic is desired (ideal).
The basic notion of needs-supplies fit is that negative consequences result when job supplies fall short of personal needs, whereas positive consequences are maximized when environmental supplies exactly match personal needs. The theories imply, but often do not directly test, that negative consequences also result when there is an excess of supplies (i.e., the job provides more than what the individual wants or needs). Research by John R. P. French, Jr., Robert Caplan, and R. Van Harrison was some of the first to explicitly examine outcomes associated with conditions of both deficiency and excess. Their research, which spanned much of the 1960s and 1970s, emphasized the psychological and physiological strain that results from a mismatch between the subjective environment and person (that is, the environment as it is perceived by the individual, and the person as perceived by self).
In the mid-1990s Jeff Edwards elaborated on areas of misfit, suggesting four possible processes that can occur when job supplies do not correspond with individual needs. When excess supplies exist, individuals will benefit if they can either carry over these supplies to fulfill other needs, or conserve the excess to fulfill a later need. Alternatively, when excess supplies hinder the future fulfillment of needs (depletion) or interfere with fulfilling other needs, individuals will suffer from greater strain. Edwards proposed an advanced analytic strategy labeled polynomial regression and three-dimensional surface plot analysis to allow for closer inspection of misfit and fit relationships. These techniques were specifically proposed as alternatives to the commonly used algebraic difference scores or direct measures of the discrepancy between desired and actual job attributes.
The second conceptualization of PJ fit considers fit from the perspective of the organization rather than the individual. Demands-abilities fit occurs when the individual possesses the abilities (skills, knowledge, time, energy) to meet job demands. When environmental demands exceed personal abilities, strain and negative affective consequences are likely to result. When personal abilities exceed environmental demands, the four processes described previously (carryover, conservation, depletion, and interference) could also apply. The concept of demands-abilities fit is the basis for traditional selection techniques that seek to find qualified applicants to fill job vacancies. Research by David Caldwell and Charles O’Reilly III operationalized this approach by using a profile comparison process to examine the match of individual abilities to specific task requirements. However, techniques such as polynomial regression could also be used to assess this conceptualization of fit.
Consequences of Person-Job Fit
Person-job fit has been found to have the strongest positive correlations with job satisfaction and intent to hire, followed by moderate to strong positive correlations with organizational attraction, organizational commitment, and satisfaction with coworkers and supervisors. Moderate negative correlations exist with intent to quit and strain. With regard to behaviors, PJ fit is moderately correlated with overall performance and tenure (positive) and weakly associated with turnover (negative). For all outcomes, needs-supplies fit is a better predictor than demands-abilities fit, but for strain the effects are almost equivocal. In general, direct and indirect measures of perceived fit have stronger relationships with criteria than do measures of actual or objective fit. This is in keeping with French and colleagues’ perspective that fit between the subjective person and environment is more proximal to outcomes than fit between the objective person and environment.
Research on PJ fit has been popular since the early 1960s. In the beginning much of the PJ fit research was combined with research on person-vocation fit and was conducted under the rubric of need fulfillment or need satisfaction. More recently the trend has been to distinguish PJ fit from other forms of fit and to focus on areas of both fit and misfit as predictors of affective, behavioral, and physiological outcomes.
- Caldwell, D. F., & O’Reilly, C. A., III. (1990). Measuring person-job fit with a profile comparison process. Journal of Applied Psychology, 75, 648-657.
- Caplan, R. D. (1987). Person-environment fit theory: Commensurate dimensions, time perspectives, and mechanisms. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 31, 248-267.
- Edwards, J. R. (1996). An examination of competing versions of the person-environment fit approach to stress. Academy of Management Journal, 39(2), 292-339.
- French, J. R. P., Jr., Caplan, R. D., & Harrison, R. V. (1982). The mechanisms of job stress and strain. London: Wiley.
- French, J. R. P., Jr., Rogers, W., & Cobb, S. (1974). Adjustment as person-environment fit. In D. A. H. G. V. Coelho & J. E. Adams (Eds.), Coping and adaptation. New York: Basic Books.
- Porter, L. W. (1961). A study of perceived job satisfactions in bottom and middle management jobs. Journal of Applied Psychology, 45, 1-10.