When people hear, “personality hiring,” many think it means hiring the friendly, outgoing guy who makes everyone laugh. In fact, according to Forbes, many young workers believe they should be hired for their personalities and the positive energy they bring to the workplace.
However, true personality hiring is far more complex than rating charisma. It involves assessing the candidate for a good fit in your company culture, ability to adapt and learn, and how well they interact with managers and customers. It’s one part of your overall hiring strategy and may or may not take precedence over hiring for skills.
- Personality hiring means hiring a candidate based largely on aspects of their personality and how those traits will help them fit into the company.
- While personality is one major factor it does not mean disregarding skill level.
- It can lead to higher retention, better collaboration among employees, and a culture of growth and learning
What Is a Personality Hire?
A personality hire is someone who has enough technical skill for the job, but is primarily chosen because of what their personality can bring to the team.
The idea is that every employee has two roles: functional and psychological. The functional role is skill-dependent and relates directly to their tasks. The psychological one is personality-dependent and influences teamwork and company culture. That said, a personality hire is someone who has enough technical skill to perform (or learn to perform) the role they’re hired for—but were chosen primarily because they bring qualities like enthusiasm, congeniality, curiosity, or attention to detail that your company needs to achieve its mission. By that logic, you hire for character, and then train for skill.
Some examples of personality hiring might include:
- Favoring the outgoing, persuasive candidate over one who knows your products when it comes to a sales position, with the assumption that the outgoing candidate can learn the products.
- Seeking a highly detail-oriented candidate for a quality control position.
- A startup may look for employees who are comfortable with risk and are highly adaptable as opposed to those who prefer stability and clear directions.
- A nonprofit may favor people who show qualities of compassion and self-sacrifice.
Why Hire for Personality?
Hiring for personality does not exclude taking skills and talents into account. However, skills and accomplishments look to the past, while personality can be a predictor of future behavior. Thus, when you include personality in your hiring process, you are more likely to find new hires that will grow with your company.
Hiring by personality has also been shown to lead to better teams and is being used by successful corporations. Google, for example, has been basing hiring more on emotional intelligence and communication skills than technical know-how. Even now, hiring sites like Hiration say Google is looking for qualities like innovation, fresh perspective, and collaboration.
Finally, by paying attention to personality when hiring, you are more likely to find employees whose values and natural preferences mesh better with the company’s values, the role the person is filling, and the people they are working with. This results in more contented employees who want to stay.
When Is Personality More Important Than Skill?
Personality will always play a part in jobs, especially those that are team positions or deal with customers. However, there are times when a good (or on-brand) personality will be more important than the skill of your new hire. These times may include:
- Low-skill jobs and entry-level positions
- Jobs where you train
- Small companies where people may handle more than one task
- Jobs where the skills or tasks constantly evolve or change
- Management positions
- When you have an abundance of highly skilled candidates to choose from
- When you are building (or revamping) a company culture
Pros & Cons of Personality Hiring
|Good personality tests use standardized questions to minimize race or gender factors
|Personality hiring can appear discriminatory or biased
|Can lead to better placement
|Could screen out qualified candidates
|Can build better teams
|Can be more subjective than hiring for skills
|Can be done virtually
|Candidates may fake it
|Can predict behavior
On the positive side, personality hiring helps you find a candidate that fits better with your team, making them more likely to work well with coworkers and managers and do a better job. You can achieve this online with personality tests and through interviews, so it’s not especially expensive.
Personality hiring also lets you focus on the traits you feel your company needs or is missing, like hiring a creative thinker for a team that is blocked on a project, or a nurturing manager for a department with low morale.
On the downside, if you put personality over skills, you may end up with someone enthusiastic but underqualified while passing up someone with a more suitable skill set that does not need training early on. After all, just as people can learn new skills, they can also learn to do things outside their comfort zone—the natural introvert who learns to speak in public for her job, for example.
There’s also the risk that candidates will put on a false face to get hired. Finally, if you are not careful with personality tests, you can run afoul of anti-discrimination laws. (See our section on personality tests below.)
How to Hire for Personality
When hiring for personality, be aware of what you are doing. Know your objectives, use verified techniques that are legal and ethical, and be sure that your candidate is a good fit functionally as well as personality-wise.
Start by understanding what you are looking for. Determine the traits you need and which are negotiable. Think not only in terms of the immediate future but how the new personality hire will help the company grow in the long run. Some areas to consider are:
- How do the candidate’s values align with the company?
- What motivates the person: monetary rewards? Satisfaction in solving a puzzling issue? Peer approval? Mission goals?
- What personality types does your team need to succeed: someone who will look at details or the big picture? Someone who compromises or who fights for what they know is right?
- Does your company favor collaborative or competitive workers?
Next, choose a few ways to test personality. Having multiple methods can help you weed out people who may put on a personality they think you’re expecting for the sake of getting hired.
- Interview questions: Ask questions that reveal the traits you are looking for. For example, you may ask them to define personal success, share a time they had tough feedback, or ask what drives them at work.
- Simulations: These are exercises that mimic real-world scenarios and tasks and help you see how the candidate reacts in real life. Simulations include role-play, case studies, or group discussions.
- Interactions: Having a candidate interact with their potential team (like in a group interview) or in a discussion with their potential future manager can help you see how their personality meshes with existing employees.
- References: When contacting references ask about the candidate’s personality and behavior as well as their skills.
- Resumes: Resumes not only show skills but also personality. Look beyond the accomplishments to what those say about the person: Do they have a creative mind? Do they thrive under tight deadlines? Are they meticulous in details or more big-picture?
- Personality tests: Some personality tests evaluate people’s natural traits as they apply to the workforce.
Using Personality Tests for Hiring
Personality tests are very useful pre-employment assessment tools for companies, but not all tests are created equal when it comes to “hire for character, train for skill.” Some tests are designed to help coworkers understand each other and how to work together, but not for what makes a good hire. For example, even Myers-Briggs says using its personality test (one of the most common) is unethical when it comes to hiring.
While there are no laws determining which personality tests are legal to use for hiring, some tests are designed to uncover candidate traits. The following tests have been validated and designed with pre-employment assessment in mind:
- Talogy Caliper (formerly the Caliper Profile): Tests cognitive and behavioral traits.
- The Predictive Index: Start by identifying the job’s behavioral target, then have candidates take a test specifically geared to uncover those behavioral traits.
- Hogan Personality Inventory: This test measures how the candidate relates to others when they are at their best, based on seven factors: Adjustment, Ambition, Sociability, Interpersonal Sensitivity, Prudence, Inquisitiveness, and Learning Approach
- HEXACO Personality Inventory: This test assesses candidate traits of Honesty/Humility, Emotionality, Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Openness to experience.
- Highmatch (Formerly Berke) assessment: This test is more comprehensive now, with a personal assessment of your needs, then tests that measure for those needs.
- SHL Occupational Personality Questionnaire (OPQ): Assesses working preferences and strengths as well as areas to develop.
- Logical Reasoning tests: These vary but test logical reasoning, usually under time pressure.
In addition to choosing the right test, you need to be sure that the person administering the test and analyzing the results has the training to understand what the results mean. Misinterpreting these tests can not only cause you to make a bad decision but could put you in danger of discriminatory hiring practices, whether intended or not.
Legal Aspects of Personality Hiring
One thing personality hiring is not, is hiring someone just because you personally like them. However, it can give that impression, which could cause some legal issues or complaints on sites like Glassdoor. There aren’t any specific laws regarding personality hiring, but it is possible to be sued if it looks like you used personality hiring to reject someone in a protected group (whether race, gender, or disability).
Therefore, when personality hiring be sure to use tests that are designed and validated for personality hiring. Conduct interviews with the same care you’d use when hiring by skill, and (it should go without saying) don’t hire someone unqualified just because they make a great impression.
Personality Hiring Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Yes—but only the right ones. Most personality tests are not suited for hiring, but for assessing team and company culture issues or for personal development. Using these tests gives inaccurate results and can even get you sued. Check that the tests are certified for hiring and adhere to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidelines.
For HR, a personality hire is someone who was hired not only for their qualifications for the role but also because their personality makes them a good fit for the team and the company.
Nothing prohibits you from hiring someone based on personality. However, you need to be careful. You could end up on the wrong side of a lawsuit if the applicant can show you used the personality test or interview questions to discriminate against a protected class, including age or disability. Thus, use tests confirmed for hiring use and interview questions that apply to work situations and environment.
Personality plays an important role in how well an employee gets along with coworkers and management, adapts to their role, and enjoys their job. A good personality fit for your company is more likely to thrive in the workplace.
Herb Kelleher, founder of Southwest Airlines said, “You don’t hire for skills, you hire for attitude. You can always teach skills.” Personality hiring is about finding the candidate with the right attitude for the job, even if their other skills and qualifications aren’t a perfect match. This way, you get an employee who is a good match for your company and is willing to do what it takes to get the job done.