Because of the importance of relationships within a company as well as the relationships companies have with their suppliers and their customers, personality is important in making a hiring decision. Any interviewing training program instructs applicants to stand tall, show enthusiasm and interest, and give a pleasant smile and a firm handshake. I have even heard hiring managers say that they have made up their mind in the first five minutes of an interview and spend the rest of the time assessing their instant impression.
I have heard the advice that applicants should be themselves but bring their Friday personality, the energized version that takes over the workforce as the hours to the weekend approach.
Through preparation for the interview, applicants can bring on the energy, enhance their communications skills, and show a higher level of focus, perhaps even appear far more intelligent.
Hiring companies project personalities also. When I left the Navy as a junior military officer, I was fortunate to be looking for opportunities during a good time in the economy, and I interviewed with many companies and accepted a position with Procter & Gamble. The Procter & Gamble regional recruiter and the Procter & Gamble district manager who interviewed me were charisma personified.
During the process of interviewing with Procter & Gamble, I went interviewed with a bank, an insurance company, a raw materials company, a large technology company, and some other companies through a staffing firm.
The tech company I remember more vividly than most interviews. The human resources manager was also a former junior military officer. The company had military people throughout its organization and there was a good match between my background and the background of the people who had been successful at this company.
I am not certain whether the technology company would have ever made me an offer. In all the meetings I have ever had in business, including job interviews and sales calls, this meeting is the only one I have ever interrupted and left in the middle.
The human resources person may have been through military training, but he had never been through the training that the military gives its recruiters. Military recruiters are the only people I have ever known who can sell young adults on the idea that going to work for low wages to work incredible hours, live in miserable and dangerous places, and trust that they are turning their lives over to people they can trust and whose company they can enjoy.
In the case of the technology company recruiter, either he had a critical edge to him that eventually made me believe that he was testing my resolve to get the job or was just a member of a team I did not care to join. Either way, I knew that I was in the wrong room and speaking with the wrong person. That realization was so strong that I stood up, thank the man for his time and left. I remember that his office had glass walls. I looked back at him as I left the building and his eyes followed me out the door.
People with great personalities can make for some of the worst hires. Two decades ago, I made possibly the worst placement I have ever made. I did not spot the problems with the applicant and the hiring company did not spot the mistakes until the person showed up for work. Nor did the feedback from four reference checks reveal the problems with this applicant.
He came to the first interview in a terrific Navy blue suit, white shirt, tie, shined shoes. He was pleasant, persuasive, appeared intelligent, and looked and behaved like the perfect hire. If personality is the way a person makes people feel when they associate that person, this person made people like him, who had a great personality.
In doing reference checks, the hiring company and I spoke with the applicant’s clients, and these clients loved him. The reason for the focus on the clients was that the hiring company was a start-up company and wanted to hire people who could bring business with them.
This company is a place where I have put perhaps two dozen people to work, and nearly every one of those people made terrific hires. To my recollection, four or more of them stayed for over ten years and became key executives. One of those people is still at that same company after twenty-five years.
Three months after this hiring company brought the applicant on board, the hiring manager called me with the most unusual feedback I have ever received on a candidate. The person looked bad, even smelled bad, and though his attendance was excellent, his presence was useless. Similar to the movie “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” this person was the good on the interviews, and became the bad and perhaps the smelly when reporting for work.
The beautiful Navy blue suit that he wore to the interviews was the only suit he owned and he wore it every day. The clients who had given him such strong references had never actually bought anything from the person. They just thought he was a terrific person, and as far as personality goes, he was a terrific person.
Even though the new hire was very persuasive in his interviews, he apparently could not write a sales presentation. The feedback that I got from the hiring company is that he had put sales presentations together, but that these presentations were so terrible the company would not allow him to present them
To an extent, the hiring company may have been making a case to get my support in replacing the new hire. However, in the interview and reference checking process, the hiring company and I took care to do things differently on future hires.
For all companies, hiring the person with the right personality for the job is important, both from the standpoint of how the person will fit into the company and from the standpoint about how the person will represent them company. To use the experience from this one disastrous hire, the hiring company and employed the following techniques.
First, we had future applicants illustrate how they actually work. They brought in samples of work completed, performed tasks as demonstration, spent time in the office to respond to activities around the office.
Second, we did reference checks of three types: peers, supervisors, clients.
Third, we looked more closely at where the applicant had worked before. This particular person had sales experience, but he had never worked at a company that provided sales training.
Over the course of this series of articles, I plan to cover seven decisions in making a great hire: talent, skills, knowledge, personality, experience, the potential for the long-term success, and the personal goals to fit the job.
This article on personality was fun for me. I did a lot of reflection and opened up with some examples of mistakes I have made. I look forward to continuing the series and hope you will follow along.
Image: By damianosullivan (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons