The Importance of Personality Traits for Recruiters and Hiring Managers

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It goes without saying that no two people are alike. Beyond that, with post-millennial emphasis on uniqueness and individualism, the notion of singularity seems to be engrained within our collective consciousness. However, the amalgamation of individuals starts as early as school age; social
surroundings like sports clubs or yes, workplaces, are where different personalities blend together, and more often than not, the merging of characters is done arbitrarily or based on other factors such as professional or demographic backgrounds.

With regard to the wide spectrum of human nature, essentialist attempts at distinguishing and classifying personality types have been made by numerous specialists, the most influential being undoubtedly the Conceptual Theory by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung. In an effort to evaluate and record Jung`s Classification of Psychological Types, Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers created the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) in the early 20th century. Although most modern psychologists reject the MBTI due to its failure to provide validity and reliability, it is still popular among organisational units, workshops and life coaches. You can take a derivative of the test here. [Disclaimer: It needs to be pointed out once more that the 16 personalities test is recognised and used by very few clinical psychologists. In2People First does not use the 16 personalities test for its recruitment purposes. Nevertheless, taking the test and comparing the results can be a fun activity.]

With that premise as well as people being people, interpersonal conflicts usually stem from a clash of characters. While it is by all means possible that Steve from accounting is furious at the IT department for eating his doughnuts, workplace feuds are generally reflective of underlying frictions that can be traced back to temperament, character and personality. At this point, I suggest borrowing definitions from the francophone area.

The French consider le tempérament [i.e. temperament] a primary set of patterns, which is innate to a person and only changeable to some extent. Steve from accounting for example likes doughnuts while Peter from IT might prefer Eclairs. Charlotte from HR works better under pressure and Grant from legal is not a morning person. All these quirks are random and solely based on preference. The term is further used to describe someone’s behavioural patterns, e.g. a vivacious or lively temperament.

Le caractère [i.e. character] on the other hand develops over the years and is often applied in a value-based assessment. We tend to say that someone has or is a good, a bad, an ugly or a difficult character. The expression can be equated with nature (in the sense of having a good nature), but in contrast to the temperament, the character is forged with time and can be changed when circumstances allow.

Finally, la personnalité [i.e. personality] implies use in a more general sense that incorporates a number of factors like temperament, character, intellect, and moral tendencies in particular. Thus, if we say that somebody has a difficult character, it does not mean that we dislike their personality overall. Similarly, it is possible to agree with someone’s moral code while simultaneously lacking any substantial connection to that person. Paradoxes like these highlight the complexity of relationships. It is therefore all the more important for hiring managers and recruiters to get a grip on psychological assessment. Let`s go through the three fictitious, yet realistic cases depicted below.

Situation 1: You have a team of five people working under you. The members have established their own routine and group dynamics and are able to coordinate each other’s strengths and weaknesses. From what you can tell, they do engage in activities outside of works and share a handful of private interests. Due to the steady increase in workload, you have decided to get an additional employee on board and your hiring manager or recruiter has already a promising candidate lined up. The candidate has an impressive CV and all the qualifications required for the fulfilment of the tasks, but upon interviewing him, you worry that he might not be able to integrate himself into the already existing subculture. You wonder whether he will be able to bridge the social disparities.

Solution: The short answer to this is ‘no’. The long answer is ‘it depends`. If you already have a feeling that the candidate`s personality will deviate from the team`s general vibe, the likelihood of him fitting in is even smaller. As a general rule, the quality of work is the first to be affected by social discrepancies. Once employed, the candidate himself will very likely feel those discrepancies as well and look for another job, which in return will increase your training and recruiting costs.

Now, there are cases in which waiting for further applicants is simply not an option. You might be running late on deadlines or operating in a niche market where personnel is hard to come across. In situations like these, you have no other option but to give it a go. This is where team building activities come into play. Try to take your team out for a fun bonding day. If budget and capacity do not allow it, a simple pub night with drinks, nachos and trivia are sometimes enough to start the ball rolling. You can check for alternatives here as well.

Further, try to involve your team in the decision process – they will appreciate it, and it is known that allowing inspection and agency helps to accept change. At this point, your team is probably overworked and tired of working evenings and weekends, so maybe you can use that as an argumentative approach as well. At any rate, use the three Ts – Transparency, Tact, Timing.

Situation 2: You have sourced a competent, yet hot headed executive. He is brilliant in terms of professional qualities but shows a lack of introspection and social awareness. Several complaints have been made about his handlings of supervisors, clients and the ones reporting to him.

Solution: This is where the distinction of temperament, character and personality becomes paramount. While you cannot necessarily change his temperament or his moral code, there are characteristic traits that can be worked on. Either way, do not be too hasty with letting him go – you could lose yourself a valuable employee here. Even though the general consensus tends to shame such condescending behaviour all too quickly, a lack of social etiquette is something that can be changed to a certain degree.

For a start, always act by the one imperative of leadership: Praise in public, reprimand in private. Based on this code of conduct, initiate meetings and reviews and go from there. Is the executive aware of his faux pas? Does he show remorse? Is he willing to change his tone and his attitude? Are there apologies to be made to those subjected to his outbursts?

Establishing this outline will help you set mutual goals, draft an agreement and make a case should there really be no other way but to terminate said employee. Again, make use of the three Ts. Be empathetic but make it clear that such behaviour will not be tolerated.

Situation 3: You are a hiring manager and are interviewing with a candidate who has been reported for harassment, the details of which he has deliberately informed you about. He has an otherwise flawless résumé, but you are worried about his history.

Solution: Like with most dilemmas, the issue depicted here is somewhere in the twilight zone. For one, you have a responsibility to protect your staff and the reputation of your company. It is possible that it was just a one-off or that the interviewee has genuinely worked on it, but it does not diminish the risk he poses on his co-workers. Further, if there is an incidident and it is revealed that you had a full picture of the candidate`s background, your intergrity might be severely at stake. On the other hand, you run the risk of missing out out on a competent and honest (after all, he has fully disclosed his history to you) employee.

I am abstaining here from expressing an opinion on what the right decision procedure might or might not contain. Personally, I would adhere to this guideline issued by Mintz Global Screening. In any case and independent of your final decision, it is advised to consult with a lawyer specialising in labour and employment law.

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