Want a Job? Polish the Personality

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Got ambition? An MBA? A fistful of references?

It may not matter. The No. 1 quality employers want in workers is “personality,” according to an international survey by the Sweden-based global learning institute Hyper Island.

In fact, 78 percent of the survey’s respondents ranked “personality” as the most desirable quality in a worker, and only 39 percent said an applicant’s “skill set” was most important.

“What we found most compelling … is how clearly [the survey] highlights that personality, not competence, is the determining factor of who’s going to get the most attractive jobs among tomorrow’s recruits,” said Johanna Frelin, CEO of Hyper Island, which was founded in 1996 in a naval prison in Karlskrona, Sweden. The company, which calls itself a professional university that educates executives on societal changes and other topics, has graduated more than 2,500 students from 40 countries. 

The survey, titled Tomorrow’s Most Wanted, was conducted during a three-month period in 2013 and included professionals in communications, marketing, digital media, data analytics, sales, design and technology.

More than half of the 500 CEOs, managing directors and creative leaders questioned said “cultural alignment” is a top attribute they seek when hiring. When it came down to skills, employers valued drive (14 percent), creativity (12 percent) and an open mind (11 percent).

Conventional wisdom says the “likeable” employee tends to go farther than her personality-challenged colleague.

“Personality’s importance in the workplace is not new,” said Miranda Hanes, consultant for the corporate solutions team at Tulsa, Okla.-based Hogan Assessments, which administers the Hogan Personality Inventory. “Because personality can predict workplace success by defining the characteristics needed for the job, there are certain skills that employers are willing to develop if it means they have someone who will get along, get ahead and fit the culture of the organization.”

Moreover, Hanes said, personality should be just one consideration when hiring or promoting.

“Certainly, there are jobs that require a great deal of skill or expertise,” she said. “For example, I want my surgeon to have the education and experience to be able to perform the surgery, and I can obtain that information through his credentials. What I can’t tell by his education and experience is how he is likely to work with the other members of the operating team. This can be just as important, if not more so.” Will the surgeon listen to others on the team if they feel there is a problem, she asked, or will he just ignore them, assuming that he knows best?

It’s the person who’s adaptable, collaborative, flexible—and has an enjoyable personality—who’s best suited for the workplace of tomorrow, which will be more fast-paced, fluid and culturally diverse, said Alexandra Jerselius, global PR and communications manager for Hyper Island.

Digital evolution has brought constant change to many workplaces, she said. Whatever skills an employee has at the start of a job, or right out of school, might not be useful for long. “Workers need to be able to unlearn what's no longer working [and] curious enough to learn what is needed at the moment.”

As a result, recruitment strategies are starting to change at companies, Jerselius said.

“Companies are more aware of the changes in the business landscape and realize they are not equipped with the right talent,” she said. “We see auditions in front of [hiring managers] even though the job is in an office, or recruiters demanding videos instead of written CVs. These are ways of attracting certain personalities and excluding others, of targeting a different kind of audience to find the right team member or co-worker, and we will probably see much more of it.”  

Dana Wilkie is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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