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Why Recruiting for Personality Matters


By Dan Sines

A quick quiz: When making a hiring decision, what matters more: job seekers’ relevant skills or their personalities?

If you answered “skills,” then you are in the minority.

According to a survey of professionals in a range of industries, 78 percent of respondents identified personality as the single-most desirable quality in a worker. In fact, initial skill set was the thing that mattered least to these employers. (Source: Hyper Island Executive Study, April 1, 2014.)

It’s not surprising that so many employers find it critical to hire workers who mesh with their cultures and values. Yet many of them are, frankly, terrible at assessing the very quality they deem most important. (Source: Harvard Business Review, “When Leaders are Hired for Talent but Fired for Not Fitting In,” June 14, 2017.)

If companies routinely fail to make good choices for the most high-profile jobs in the organization, can we expect that they’ll somehow perform better filling positions lower in the org chart? Don’t think so.

Why We Routinely Get It Wrong

Why are we so bad at understanding people’s personalities?

We humans habitually trust what we refer to as our “guts” when it comes to making decisions big and small. We opt for what feels right, what coheres with our previous experiences. The bad news is that we’re often wrong. Perhaps worse, we have an excessively high level of confidence in our own processes.

The renowned psychologist Daniel Kahneman devotes his critically acclaimed best-seller “Thinking, Fast and Slow” to this issue, to the “puzzling limitation of our mind: our excessive confidence in what we believe we know, and our apparent inability to acknowledge the full extent of our ignorance and the uncertainty of the world we live in.”

This “over-reliance on intuition at the expense of scientifically valid selection tools,” as the authors of the Harvard Business Reviewarticle put it, can have a devastating effect on companies. For example, 95% of companies say they’ve made bad hires, due in part to how they make decisions. (Source: Brandon Hall Group, “Avoiding the Negative Impacts of a Bad Hire,” September 1, 2015.)

Yes, an interview can give us a clue about a candidate’s personality. But the potential for false positives and negatives runs high, given that some talk a better game than they can play, while others don’t accurately represent themselves due to nervousness induced by the pressure of an interview.

The Cost of Bad Hires

You might be tempted to shrug at this news. We all win some and lose some, right? Sure, but hiring badly is massively expensive, so it’s vital to win a lot more often than you lose.

There is no line for it on a typical profit-and-loss spreadsheet. But the evidence is conclusive that low employee retention is one of the biggest drags on corporate profitability. In fact, studies have calculated that replacing one employee can cost anywhere from 50% to 400% of the departing employee’s annual salary. (Source: ERE Media, “What Was Management Thinking? The High Cost of Employee Turnover,” April 22, 2015.)

How to Get it Right

Understanding all of this, many forward-thinking employers are tuning out their guts and tuning in to psychology-backed assessments to uncover candidates’ personality types and traits. With the results of a test that can be completed in just minutes on a mobile device, employers can gauge how applicants will mesh with their company culture.

Psychology tests can reveal all sorts of relevant information about applicants, such as:

  • What type of work ethic do they have?
  • What is their level of emotional intelligence?
  • Are they action-takers, planners, or visionaries?
  • Are they reliable?
  • Where do they fall on the big five personality dimensions of openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism?

Such tests also can be customized to meet a company’s specific needs and wants.

Bottom Line

Both skills and personality matter to the success of a new hire, and the best-performing organizations recruit for both. But as for my answer to our initial question on which is more important, I’m in the majority: I think finding the right fit for your organization is paramount because while skills can be taught, personality traits are inherent and don’t really change.

For ideas on how to leverage proven science to build the organization, start by exploring your own personality. Try this assesment – it’s backed by real science and is a fun and engaging experience for applicants. Whether they fit your organization or not, they’ll walk away with self-discovery and an appreciation for your employment brand!

About the Author: Dan Sines is the chairman, CEO, and co-founder of Traitify, the world’s leading provider of visual personality assessments. An entrepreneur to the core, Dan is driven to create unique and personalized experiences in all aspects of life.

Social Handles: Traitify – @traitify and Dan Sines – @dansines