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Hiring for Fit – You Can’t Change Personality

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One of the most important factors that many overlook when hiring staff is this: personality matters. Successful long-term employees have a personality that matches both their role within the organization and the workplace culture. And while skills, knowledge, and ability develop with experience, an employee’s personality is unlikely to change. When hiring new employees or promoting internal employees into higher roles, don’t make the mistake of thinking you can alter a person’s disposition.Don’t Confuse Personality With Skills

Each successful employee within an organization has a combination of skill, personality, ability, knowledge, and experience that allows him or her to do their job well. Often an employer will hire someone new, or promote someone from within, thinking that they can develop the employee’s personality to fit the role, but this is a misguided approach. While it’s true that people can develop new skills and knowledge, no amount of training or professional development will change an employee’s personality and/or feelings about particular tasks. A risk-adverse employee can be coached into taking more risks in their role, but it’s highly unlikely that they will enjoy taking risks. Forcing staff to go against their natural traits can lead to unhappy, stressed out employees who underperform.

Instead, pair roles and teams with the right personality from the start by developing the traits within an employee that fit well with the role, rather than trying to change the traits that don’t fit. Identify within the employee their strongest characteristics that can benefit the organization and work to foster those.

Effective Interviewing Can Help Gauge Personality

In addition to evaluating work experience, skill, ability, and knowledge, a job interview is the best opportunity to get a sense of a candidate’s personality. There are many ways to read a person’s character through the answers they give in an interview; a hiring manager should strategically choose interview questions that probe for the deeper answers to assess if someone is a good fit for both the responsibilities and the culture.

Simple questions like these provide insight into a prospect’s work ethic and character:

  • What kinds of tasks do you most like and dislike?
  • What is an example of something you’ve done professionally that you are proud of?
  • How do you keep yourself organized?
  • What is your favorite and least favorite thing to do in your last few jobs?
  • What is one thing you hope to never do again?
  • What did you learn about yourself in your last job?
  • How would you describe your last manager?

And, despite the desire to ask outside-the-box questions – they are never a good idea. They distract both you and the candidate from the interview and can make you seem unstable. They also have the potential for swaying you into hiring someone you like instead of someone you feel will be successful for the role.

Body language can also indicate a candidate’s personality. For example, the hiring manager at a lighthearted and fun work environment should take note of how often the person smiles or laughs to see if the prospect will fit the company culture. If the role will require the employee to drive challenging situations forward, then the manager should look for signs of assertiveness and confidence. If the prospect demonstrates definite personality traits that clash with the position or current team, the hiring manager should reconsider – even if their resume looks promising.

Personality Tests: A Useful Hiring Tool. Sometimes.

There are a number of personality tests and questionnaires that hiring managers can use to identify a person’s key traits and analyze them against the job and work environment. These tests can be helpful in moderation. A personality test isn’t a magic wand for hiring, and many employers make the mistake of assuming the test results will tell them everything they need to know. But a personality test can only support – not replace – the time, proper process, and effective interview techniques that lead to a great hire or promotion.

To make the right hire or promotion, hiring managers must assess a person’s skills and abilities; but they must also understand the personality traits a candidate needs to succeed in the role and match them accordingly. People work effectively together when personalities match, so you’re looking for personality traits that fit with the job, the work environment, and the immediate colleagues. If a person checks all the other boxes, but their personality doesn’t seem to fit with the company culture, reconsider if he or she will flourish in the organization. Personalities tend to remain steadfast – and they can truly affect the employee’s contribution to the company.

Eileen Levitt

Eileen Levitt

As Founder and President of The HR Team, Eileen Levitt attains great personal satisfaction in helping small, mid-size, and emerging companies focus on what they do best: directing business growth and profitability.
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