by Sharon Florentine

How to Judge a Job Candidate’s Personality (and Why You Should)

Jul 21, 20145 mins
CareersIT GovernanceIT Jobs

An emphasis on evaluating personality traits is helping firms find, attract and retain talent by using targeted interview questions that gauge more than technical aptitude.

Executive writing on clipboard
Credit: Thinkstock

As an increasing number of companies are focusing on personality traits and potential cultural fit when hiring. These new interviewing tactics are designed to help recruiters and hiring managers uncover who candidates are — rather than just what they can do.

“A major driver of this shift towards focusing on candidates’ personality is the newer generations entering the workforce or younger folks being promoted into management positions,” says Glenn Bernstein, COO of Execu-Search, a recruiting, staffing and executive search firm.

Focusing on finding a personality fit is beneficial to both employer and potential employee. “This generation is very concerned with work-life balance issues and the culture at their place of employment. They need to find out ahead of time if a potential job is somewhere they can ‘fit in,’ and be able to decide if a potential employer is someplace they even want to fit in,” Bernstein says.

“They want to work somewhere that treats their employees well, that successfully attracts other top candidates and is selective about who they hire and for what reasons. Especially the younger generation wants their job to be very collegial and team-oriented and to achieve success as a result of that — not at the expense of their coworkers,” Bernstein says.

For employers, this emphasis on personality and cultural fit is also helping attract and retain top talent, Bernstein says. Companies that place greater importance on employee satisfaction and happiness tend to have lower turnover rates and greater employee engagement, he says.

How to Determine If There’s ‘a Fit’

While some organizations administer a formal personality test, Bernstein says he’s simply adjusted his interviewing technique and his questions to better identify certain personality traits in candidates.

He says he looks for answers that might indicate a candidate is less than team-oriented and only interested in further their own career goals, regardless of their colleagues’ success.

“I’m looking for signs that they’ll be stepping on others’ toes, are extremely competitive in group-oriented situations and that they would succeed at any cost. To some extent, competition and a drive to succeed are good traits, but when it’s over the top, I want to know about it,” he says.

To that end, Bernstein says he’s adapted his interviewing technique, especially for the younger workforce, by asking questions about current technology and about candidates’ lifestyles, hobbies and social media presence, among others.

“We’re asking more ‘current’ questions; adapting to the differences in technology and approach in the last 20 years,” Bernstein says.

“Now, I’m not going to ask many direct, resume-related questions. Instead, I’ll ask, ‘What is the last Tweet you sent out?’ Or ‘Describe yourself by using hashtags. If I looked at your Internet search history, what would I find? Describe the best boss you ever had, and why.’ And ‘If your best friend were here, what would they tell me about you?’ The answers to these questions can offer some great insight into a candidate’s personality, interests and priorities,” Bernstein says. And that, he says, can be more telling than asking someone to elaborate on a bullet point from their resume.

A Family Dynamic

For Sunil Sani, co-founder at education and skills consulting firm Career Glider, making sure potential employees would be a fit within the family-owned company is of the utmost importance when interviewing candidates.

“We are a family business, so the dynamic is a bit different from other places,” Sani says. “Finding someone who can fit into the company and, therefore, into our family, is really important. I focus on communication skills, values and attitude. I present a problem and ask candidates how they would solve it to see if they’ll rise to the challenge,” he says.

Hearing a candidate’s answer and watching them work through a problem gives Sani insight not only into their enthusiasm and skills, but also gives him insight into their thought processes and allows him to gauge how they’ll fit in, he says.

“When I see a candidate in an interview, I’m much more apt to ask them about the portion of their resume that talks about hobbies, skills and other interests,” Sani says. “I can always teach them technical skills. I can’t teach them culture or force a cultural fit where there isn’t one,” he says.

What’s the Right Answer?

If you’re a job seeker and find yourself on the receiving end of one of these interview questions, there’s no “right” or “wrong” answer, says ExecuSearch’s Bernstein, but there are some points to remember. First and foremost, be honest, even if your answer might mean you’re not a good fit for the company.

“Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not,” Bernstein says. “Even if you were to land the job, you’re not going to be happy there and chances are the company won’t be happy, either,” he says.

Second, always do research up front to get a general sense of the company culture to make sure you even want to interview with the firm.

“You still should do research ahead of time to find out the culture and the working atmosphere and decide if you want to work there; then you can anticipate ‘personality’ questions and craft your responses based both on your true self and the needs of the company,” Sani says.

Then, if you find a great fit, everyone wins.