Skills or personality: which is more important in recruitment?

8 minutes

Skills or personality: which is more important in recruitment?

One of the biggest challenges facing businesses is finding candidates who strike a balance between the right skills and the right personality

When it comes to talent acquisition, one of the biggest challenges facing businesses is finding candidates who strike a balance between the right skills and the right personality.

For HR professionals and managers the world over, the dream situation is to stumble across a candidate who combines all the necessary hard skills with a personality that perfectly aligns with the company culture.

In reality, however, candidates who display both factors in abundance are rare especially for businesses operating in candidate-short talent markets. Managers are often forced to choose between those who have the necessary technical skills and those who fit the culture and the vision of the company.

This challenging reality has a number of implications for a business. For example, if a candidate is recruited for their skill-set without sufficient consideration of their cultural fit, the candidate could thrive in the short-term but become disillusioned in the long-term.

The right balance between cultural fit and skill-set is vital. A successful hire can help boost a company’s bottom line, enhance company culture, and ultimately attract better quality candidates in the future. On the other hand, the consequences of making the wrong hire can cause lost productivity, lower morale, and the substantial financial costs of finding a replacement.

Recruiting for skills

Candidates with all the right skills on their CVs are noticed immediately by recruiters and managers. A savvy candidate will incorporate the most up-to-date keywords and tailor their past experience to the role to which they’re applying.

However, with values-driven millennials making up the largest generation in the workforce and more businesses placing a greater emphasis on workplace harmony, recruiting by skill-set alone seems like an increasingly short-sighted approach.

As we enter the Fourth Industrial Revolution, technology is evolving so rapidly that hard-earned technical skills can quickly become redundant without ongoing learning and development. Even the most experienced people need to update their skills.

Managers, therefore, should aim to keep abreast of technological and societal changes and factor this into their recruitment strategy.

Recruiting for personality

The OED defines ‘personality’ as “the combination of characteristics or qualities that form an individual's distinctive character.”

Broken down, this can be interpreted as the beliefs, principles or standards of behaviour that define a person’s conduct — in other words, it’s their judgement of what is important in life.

Beliefs define how people behave, what they stand for, and what is intrinsically important to them. Beliefs also develop early in life but can change depending on the vagaries of a person’s experience.

Soft skills are inextricably tied up with personality. When recruiting for personality, businesses seek out candidates who are open-minded, work well as part of a team, have a positive attitude, and are good communicators.

According to the World Economic Forum, the top ten work skills most valued in 2020 will be:

1. Complex problem solving

2. Critical thinking

3. Creativity

4. People management

5. Coordinating with others

6. Emotional intelligence

7. Judgement and decision making

8. Service orientation

9. Negotiation

10. Cognitive flexibility

With a focus on open-mindedness, collaboration and adaptability, these in-demand soft skills demonstrate the importance of an agile, iterative approach to work. As start-ups disrupt the business landscape and technology hurtles us towards an automated future, the human aspect has never been more important.

However, there are some potential drawbacks to recruiting a person based on personality. For example, many managers may unwittingly conflate their ideal personality type with the candidate they get along with best. While some candidates will sail through interviews with flying colours, they may present a less favourable side to themselves when faced with the day-to-day challenges of the job. As such, it’s critical that businesses measure personality in an intentional, objective, and evidence-based way.

Increasingly, forward-thinking businesses are emphasising personality over skill-set. After all, it’s easier to upskill and provide training for personality-based hires than it is to change the minds of people hired for their technical expertise.

The takeaway

There is no universal answer to the question of whether skills or personality are more important. The answer to such a question entirely depends on the needs of the company doing the recruiting. Managers thus have to ask themselves the following:

  • which factor — skill set or personality — is more important for the company?
  • which factor better suits the team?
  • which factor does the role most require?

After considering these questions, managers may find themselves giving different answers to different questions. For example, the company may require a technical whizz to step into a role with a pre-existing skill set, but the team may prioritise a certain type of personality to help consolidate and grow their internal culture.

In such a situation, it’s best to place emphasis on personality. While a great cultural fit can be trained up in the necessary skills, a poor fit is unlikely to change their mind about an organisation.

If possible, a blend between the two is the ideal scenario. When strong candidates are in short supply, any staffing decision should be reached via an objective recruitment process that aligns the long-term professional growth of the candidate with the long-term strategic goals of the business.


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