Why Hiring for Personality Can Get You in Trouble

by Jennifer Miller on September 29, 2013

in Human Resources, Leadership, Workplace Issues

Just because a famous CEO says it's a good idea, hiring for personality is tricky.

Just because a famous CEO says it’s a good idea, hiring for personality is tricky. Proceed with care.

When Virgin Group’s Richard Branson speaks out, people respond. LinkedIn published Branson’s article How I Hire: Focus on Personality last week; it lit up the web with over 60,000 social shares.  Whenever I read a CEO using “personality” and “hiring” in the same sentence, my HR Spidey senses tingle. Just like the words “attitude” and “work ethic”, the word personality is laden with multiple meanings. For managers, failure to understand exactly what is meant by “hiring for personality” can get them in a whole heap of managerial trouble.

Now, I think Branson knows exactly what he means. He describes the type of people he wants to hire at Virgin as, “people who are fun, friendly, caring and love helping others”. He’s using the word personality as a shortcut descriptor, a container into which he loads several attributes. Which is fine, as long as everyone at his company consistently uses the same definition and does so in a way that doesn’t discriminate against job candidates.

Here’s the potential for trouble: what happens when a manager in Branson’s company decides that “personality” means “someone who acts (looks/thinks/sounds) just like me”? Then a whole set of potential hiring problems show up. Most importantly, there’s the potential for discrimination. Beyond that, managers who use a personality filter run the risk of falling prey to the “similarity attraction paradigm”, meaning they hire people they perceive as having similar interests, values and beliefs as themselves. This leads to a lack of diversity in the organization.

Richard Branson’s conglomerate of companies have been hugely successful. Clearly, he knows a thing or two about hiring. I’m glad he’s sharing his wisdom with the masses. My concern is that in less capable hands, his “hire for personality” concept is a recipe for disaster. That’s why I wrote an article on how to hire for personality on my Answers.com Human Resources page. Go on over and check it out. Let me know what you think – is hiring for personality a sound business practice?

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