Hiring for Skills vs Personality: Is There a Clear Winner?

interviewing with team

I see it every day as a recruiter: one candidate is more qualified, but a hiring manager likes the personality of another much better.  Which way to go?  Do skills outweigh personality or can skills be taught to the right person? Or is there another way? I know many hiring managers who hire simply on “DNA” and “gut instinct”.

Depends on who you ask.  Shark Tank entrepreneurs Richard Branson and Robert Herjavec disagree on which is more important.  Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, says, “In my eyes, personality always wins over book smarts.  Company knowledge and job-specific skills can be learned, but you can’t train a personality. Time and time again I’ve seen people with a background of broad-ranging employment and skills hired for a job where they don’t necessarily tick the specialist criteria boxes, but become incredibly successful by offering a new level of understanding to the role.”

Herjavec, founder of cybersecurity firm Herjavec Group, has a more skill-based hiring philosophy.  He feels a candidate should have a single-minded passion for their specific, skilled role.  Here is how he determines that in an interview:  “If I’m interviewing for a sales role, I ask about the individual’s primary motivators. Then I let them know there is an opening in our marketing team and ask if they would be interested in learning more. To me, someone in sales needs to be laser focused on achieving their target and driving for that number. It’s not the same person that I would hire to work on our marketing or communications team. If you waver in your approach and express interest in the second role, you’re not the person for my team” (quotes originally posted on Inc.com).

Personality Traits Specific to Role Itself

Every hiring manager realizes the importance of hiring someone who will be a good fit with the company’s culture.  A team has to get along well enough to work together to achieve goals.  But what kind of personality matches up with a specific role might not get enough thought when hiring.

Hiring managers may hire who they “like” best without thinking through the personality traits specific to the role itself. “One of the main problems is subconscious bias,” Kimberly Giles reports in Forbes.com, “hiring people who are just like you.  When you do find any small commonality, you tend to exaggerate it, and in the end, you misread people and put the wrong people in the wrong positions.” 

When hiring, it may be better to brainstorm the personality traits needed for the specific position (as Herjavec mentions above).  For example, do you need an easy going, people person for a customer service role or do you need someone who can be tough when needed, who can manage people and is not afraid to criticize?

Skills Matter

Many skills can be learned on the job if a company hires someone who has the basic knowledge and the ability to learn quickly.  This is true.  But specialized roles require specialized skills.  Taking the time to train someone and teach skills on the job takes 1) productivity time away from the person doing the training 2) a person who is willing to and has the ability to train someone well.

Everyone wants to hire someone who has both the personality and the skills to be a perfect fit.  When considering both, take the extra time to think about these three things:

  • Consider the specific role (and even brainstorm a list of personality traits specific to that role).
  • Think about whether there is someone who can train a new hire well.
  • Consider the personalities of the immediate team members the new hire will be working with more than the personalities of those doing the hiring.
  • Be transparent. Acknowledge the challenging aspects a new associate may experience that could be viewed negatively. Their reaction may be everything you need to know.

 Job Seekers: Let Your Personality Shine Through

It’ll be a better long term fit if a candidate’s personality is a good match with the position, team, and company culture.  Candidates should highlight specific skills while revealing their passion for the position.

When revealing both passion for a specific role and personality, consider:

  • Creativity in a cover letter.
  • Informal interactions with potential coworkers before and after the official interview itself.
  • Storytelling during the interview. Giving specific, real life, memorable examples of situations where you shined.
  • Asking thoughtful, specific questions about the position and company to interviewers.
  • Getting to know the personalities of your future manager and associates.

Whether you’re seeking to hire specialized talent or looking for ways to continue your professional development, the recruiters at Artemis can customize an approach specific to your needs. Please visit our website for details on how we can assist you.

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