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May 30th, 2014 by William

Don’t Cry Over Spilled Coffee

In her April 7, 2014 INC Magazine article, “Hiring? Personality Trumps Skills,” Jessica Stillman digs into what qualities you need to succeed in your job and to the surprise of many it’s all about your personality not your hard technical wizardry.

From an international survey of 500 professionals conducted by Hyper Island titled “Tomorrow’s Most Wanted,” Stillman tells us, “What we found most compelling about this research is how clearly it highlights that personality, not competence, is the determining factor of who’s going to get the most attractive jobs among tomorrow’s recruits, Also, there is a growing desire for talent with a unique combination of skill and flexibility−people who can collaborate, adapt quickly and are enjoyable company, but also have the drive to get things done. The research into what’s impressing employers at the moment found that personality far outweighed technical chops, even for higher-skilled roles. A whopping 78 percent of those surveyed said ‘personality’ was the most desirable quality in employees, beating out ‘cultural alignment’ (53 percent) and ‘skill-set’ (39 percent) by considerable margins.”

Of course the question in my mind is how a hiring manager can glean whether a candidate has a good “personality” from a cover letter or resume or even an interview? While we all believe that we’re excellent judges of a person’s personality−myself included−I’ve hired folks that I thought would be a good fit and it turned out disastrous.

Screening for a person’s “skill-set” can be objectively evaluated however, “personality” just doesn’t seem determinable during an interview no matter how many idiotic questions are asked like “what is your biggest weakness?” Most people who have interviewed a few times in their career have learned how to put on a pretty good façade during an interview. In fact the longer you’re in the workforce the better the bull-shitter you become. It seems to me that truly assessing someone’s personality can’t happen until they’re actually part of the organization and your can observe how they fit in and, more importantly, how they react to all the cultural idiosyncrasies that a particular workplace presents. In other words I don’t see how you can judge a person’s personality until you’ve seen how they react when truly under fire not just put on the spot with tough questions during an interview.

In his book Subliminal – How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior, ©2012, Leonard Mlodinow provides research into some of the underlying factors that drive how people are chosen during the hiring process. The results may surprise you. Mlodinow tells us, “To explore why some people get the job and others don’t, and whether those doing the hiring are aware of what drove their choices, researchers recruited 128 volunteer. Each subject–all of them female–were asked to study and assess an in-depth portfolio describing a woman applying for a job as councilor in a crisis intervention center. After studying the portfolio, subjects were asked several questions regarding the applicant’s qualifications, including:

• How intelligent do you think she is?
• How flexible?
• How sympathetic would she be toward client’s problems?
• How much do you like her?

“The key to the study was that the information given to different subjects differed in a number of details. For example, some subjects read portfolios showing that the applicant had finished second in her class in high school and was now an honor student in college, while others read that she has not yet decided whether to go to college; some saw a mention of the fact that the applicant was quite attractive, others learned nothing about her appearance; some read in the center’s director’s report that the applicant had spilled a cup of coffee on the director’s desk, while others saw no mention of the incident, and some portfolios indicated that the applicant had been in a serious automobile accident, while others didn’t. Some subjects were told they’d later meet the applicant, while others were not.

“These variable elements were shuffled in all possible combinations to create dozens of distinct scenarios. By studying the correlation of the facts the subjects were exposed to, and the judgments they made, researchers could compute mathematically the influence of each piece of information on the subject’s assessments.

“Some, such as the applicant’s high grades, were factors that social norms dictate ought to exert a positive influence on those assessing the job applicant. Other factors, such as the coffee-spilling incident and the anticipation of later meeting the applicant, were factors that social norms say nothing about in this regard.

“However the researchers had chosen those factors because studies show that, contrary to the expectations dictated by norms, they do have an effect on our judgment of people: an isolated pratfall such as the coffee-spilling incident tends to increase the likability of a generally competent-seeming person, and the anticipation of meeting an individual tends to improve your assessment of that individual’s personality.

“When the researchers examined the subjects’ answers they found that they showed impressive agreement. They drew their conclusions about which factors were influential from the social-norms explanation. For example they said the coffee-spilling incident would not affect their liking of the applicant, yet it had the greatest effect of all the factors. The expectation was that the academic factor would have a significant effect on their liking the applicant, but its effect was nil.”

In her Forbes October, 2013 article, “The 10 Skills Employers Most Want In 20-Something Employees” Susan Adams cites a survey by The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), a Bethlehem, Pa. non-profit group that links college career placement offices with employers. In the survey they asked hiring managers what skills they prioritize when they hire college grads. The results showed that despite all the emphasis in job descriptions on the need for technical skills, the most important qualities employers seek are basic teamwork, problem-solving and the ability to plan and prioritize.

Here are the 10 skills employers seek, in order of importance:

• Ability to work in a team
• Ability to make decisions and solve problems
• Ability to plan, organize and prioritize work
• Ability to communicate verbally with people inside and outside an organization
• Ability to obtain and process information
• Ability to analyze quantitative data
• Technical knowledge related to the job
• Proficiency with computer software programs
• Ability to create and/or edit written reports
• Ability to sell and influence others

Note the top six “skills” (which are more talents than skills) are directly related to how the job candidate interacts with others. Despite that the survey made it clear that employers want talents related to “working with others” and secondarily “job skills.”

Clearly your resume needs to focus on the job hard skills you can bring to the table−that’s what gets you through the door to the face-to-face interview. However, what we’ve just learned is that whether you get the job or not is more dependent on how you present yourself during the interview. If you really want a particular job the trick during an interview is to somehow convince the interviewers that you have a personality that will fit into that organization. While the interviewer will be grilling you to assess your personality you need to also be evaluating his/her personality to try to emulate it as best you can. That’s because it’s also been proven that people tend to hire those most like themselves.

The problem however, is that the personality you exude in the interview and one you’ll exude once hired might necessarily be different. Your personality once hired will be greatly influenced by the culture in place in the organization. My point being that you’re being evaluated on whether you possess certain personality traits that are very hard to verify until you’ve actually been hired. This is where all those years of refining your bull-shitting skills will finally pay off. Oh and don’t forget to spill your coffee on the interviewer’s desk.

Comments

One Response to “Don’t Cry Over Spilled Coffee”
  1. IJWTS wow! Why can’t I think of things like that?

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