Best Candidate or Best Bud? Choosing the Right Person for the Job

When looking to hire someone to fit your organization’s culture, hire for behavior rather than personality, advised one ASAE Finance, HR & Business Operations Conference presenter.

How important is a job candidate’s personality during the hiring process?

A recent study published by the American Sociological Association [PDF] found that hiring managers put a lot of emphasis on personality: they are typically more focused on hiring a job candidate they’d want to have a drink with as opposed to the person who can do the best job. But that emphasis can lead to poor hires.

We don’t want someone who can ‘fit’ based on personality. We want to find out if they can fit into the culture of our organization.

“Of course, employers are looking for people who have the baseline of skills to effectively do the job,” study author Lauren A. Rivera, an assistant professor of management and organizations and sociology at Northwestern University, said in a statement. “But, beyond that, employers really want people who they will bond with, who they will feel good around, who will be their friend and maybe even their romantic partner. As a result, employers don’t necessarily hire the most skilled candidates.”

At the recent ASAE Finance, HR & Business Operations Conference, recruitment consultant Sheila Birnbach, president and CEO of Birnbach Success Solutions, offered guidance for avoiding the personality trap in hiring in her session “Recruiting for Good ‘Fit.’”

“We don’t want someone who can ‘fit’ based on personality,” she said of the hiring process. “We want to find out if they can fit into the culture of our organization. In other words, are they going to do what we want them to do in the way we want them to do it, how we want them to do that?”

When you hire someone, you are “renting their behavior,” not their personality, Birnbach added. Behavior is simply performance; work ethic, personal morals, commitment, and maturity are all personality.

This idea is a challenge to the way many hiring managers conduct interviews, Birnbach acknowledged, and it forms the basis of her “Iceberg Theory.”

Much like an iceberg, which lies mostly below the water’s surface, “Most of who we are is below the skin, below the surface, not visible to other people,” she said. Our personalities, for example, lie below the waterline, while behavior lies above the surface, according to Birnbach.

So how do you hire above the waterline? Ask behavioral interview questions, which help identify a candidate’s past performance, said Birnbach, who also advised determining your organization’s culture before brainstorming these questions.

If you determine your organization is one in which employees are encouraged to work together in teams, for example, you might ask the question: “Can you give me an example of a time when you had to reach out to someone who was part of another department to solve a problem?”

Or, if you work at a virtual organization, and a new hire is going to have to work largely on his or her own, you might ask: “Tell me about a time when you had to work independently without close supervision, without contact with coworkers. How did you manage yourself?”

Birnbach also advised to ask for the contrary: “When I find out someone has all the qualities I’m looking for and they sound too good to be true, I always ask for the opposite.”

For example: “Tell me about a time when you were a member of a team and you weren’t able to contribute to its success?”

“A behavioral interview question first identifies what is it you are looking for the person to be able to do, and then you’re testing to see whether or not they can do that,” Birnbach said. “You are testing for past performance, and then you’re testing for the contrary evidence.”


Katie Bascuas

By Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. MORE

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