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How to Hire for Personality and Train for Skills

Posted October 17, 2017

What’s the #1 trait people need for maximum employability?

According to a recent survey of 500 top employers, it’s being personable: friendly, open, and pleasant. Unfortunately, too many employers - and candidates - focus on skills rather than personality during the hiring process.

When someone’s personality is a mismatch for your company culture, it can have a major effect on the business. Not only are you out the $5,500 or more it costs to hire someone, but you’ve created a negative ripple in your organization that can spread to other employees, customers, and the financial bottom line.

If your organization is too focused on job candidates’ skills, it’s time to flip the process. Focus on personality first, and train for the skills later. Here’s how to do it.

Revisit Personality Testing

Start by taking a new look at personality testing. It’s probably not what you’re envisioning. Times have changed!

Have you ever taken an old-fashioned personality test? You answer a long list of - sometimes odd - questions that supposedly reveal insights about your personality. Real examples include questions like, “Do you like to go on blind dates?” and, “Which would you rather do: read a book or go bowling?” These controversial tests have largely been debunked as reliable sources of personality information, but some companies still use them.

Modern personality assessments are an enormous leap forward. Today, personality data can be gathered from numerous channels, like social media, professional profiles, public forums, written documents, and information volunteered by job seekers. Employers can even have private-message chats with top candidates and get a feel for their day-to-day personalities.

It’s no longer a “test” - it’s a full analysis of personality qualities, based on real-world sources. An assessment company can provide a detailed report about communication style, organizational skills, interpersonal habits, and even how people handle money.

Which Traits are Ideal?

As your hiring process evolves to focus on personality first, it’s crucial that your organization develops a list of must-have employee traits. Here’s a basic list of traits that most employers seek for typical office jobs:

  • Collaborative
  • Independent
  • Persistent
  • Teamwork-focused
  • Open-minded
  • Flexible
  • Able to see the big picture
  • Capable of conceptual thinking

In addition, specific fields call for personality traits that are ideal for the position. Here are a few examples from experts.

  • IT and web professionals: creative problem solving, persistence, organization
  • Salespeople: curiosity, unselfconsciousness, achievement orientation
  • Customer service representatives: conscientiousness, openness, warmth
  • Accountants: loyalty, flexibility, time management
  • Presidents and CEOS: relationship-building, confidence, risk-taking

Work with your company departments to develop detailed personality profiles for all positions. These can be matched to the results of personality assessments. Of course, you might not find all desired qualities in your next hire, but you will definitely be able to identify red flags for total personality mismatches.


Training After the Hire

In this personality-first method, your company focuses on skills, education, and other resume info only as a secondary step - after the personality fit seems solid. Job-specific skills are an added bonus for any candidate, but they don’t trump the personality aspect.

Why, exactly, is this a good strategy? Why are skills secondary to personality? It’s primarily because technology has reshaped our work environments. Skills now become outdated very quickly. And while you can retrain for skills - and retrain, and retrain - you can’t really teach personality, according to behavior experts and top CEOs.

After hiring the right person, you can take advantage of their existing skills or educate them to have the specific skill set you need. This process should go fairly smoothly, because you’ve already established that they’re a good fit for their role and the company culture.

Long-term Value

When you hire a person who really clicks with your organization, they tend to stick with you for the long haul. This reduces your hiring costs and supports productivity and growth for your company.

In fact, Northwestern University has developed a term for it: ELTV, or employee lifetime value. It’s the overall financial benefit the business gets from retaining workers. And savvy companies are learning that high ELTV isn’t just about dollars - it’s also about working with happy, productive employees who contribute to an environment everyone enjoys.


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