What are the predictive traits of successful hires? This question from our good twitter pal @Kashifz jumpstarted quite the conversation. We listed a few obvious ones – adaptability, positive attitude, problem solvers… no argument there, right? Of course some of you might want to debate how you measure that…. But we’re not talking to you right now so shush. That led to a follow up question – what are traits that people think are important but actually don’t predict good hires?

Amy only had one answer.


She Said

That’s right, I said it. Being likeable is overblown. Too often recruiters and hiring managers fall into the buddy trap. Just because someone is “cool”, or “fun” or would be great to have beers with, does not in any way predict they will do the job well. I’m not against nice people, exactly. I just think that too many times we are shocked when someone blows it on the job because they were just so nice. Or am I the only person this has ever happened to?

Think about it – likability can cover a multitude of sins. Have you ever heard “well, they don’t have as much experience as Candidate A, but they seem really motivated and I bet they could ramp up quickly!” Nonsense. You LIKE the person. That’s it. And if that’s the number one reason to hire someone, you’re asking for trouble.

I’m not saying we should be hiring jerks… nobody wants to have to deal with the class jerkface. My pal @HR_Nasty reminded me that HR is the one left to deal with the problem hire. So I get it. Likability can be important. It can even be critical in some roles, like sales, customer service, and yeah, probably recruiting as well. But a predictor of a successful hires? It’s way at the bottom of the list, if it makes the list at all. I’ll admit that if I’m looking at two candidates, all other things being equal, I’ll probably recommend hiring the “likeable” guy. There just has to be more to the story. We owe it to our employers and our profession to hold hiring managers and our recruiters accountable for their hires. We have to look at more than “he’s a nice guy”.

He Said

Okay Amy.  I hear you.  Just because someone has a killer smile and a great laugh does not necessarily mean that individual will succeed.  Let me put another spin on it though.  It seems that every trending article these days has something to do with culture.  Companies are very concerned if he/she is going to be a good FIT with THEIR Company.  They all want the candidates to CONFORM to their ideas, their thought processes, and their ways of doing things.  How can you take a guy that is not a likeable guy and have him/her succeed when there is such an emphasis on culture?

They have the education.  Check!  They have the skills.  Check!  They have the years of experience.  Check!  They have great references.  Check!  Then why aren’t they getting hired?!  I’ll tell you why.  Something doesn’t click.  I recruit product managers, executives, and high profile sales individuals on a daily basis and they are some of the toughest roles to fill.  They are hard to fill because more times than often they have all of the SKILLS necessary to do the job.   They simply don’t have the “IT” factor. 

What is the “IT” factor?  You either have the “IT” factor or you don’t.  You have to want to sell (and be good at it).  You have to be able to communicate with others.  You have to be a natural born leader.  If you are a complete pain in the ass, people won’t want to follow you.  They lead by example, not by choice.  Their likability usually gets them to the top without them ever seeking it. 

So, I disagree with you.  You don’t have to be my buddy.  You don’t have to drink a beer with me.  You do have to be a leader though.  Leaders are likeable.  They may make unpopular decisions, but people trust them.  They wouldn’t trust them if they weren’t likable.   How did JFK get to be president when he was in his 40’s?  How did President Clinton not get impeached after having an affair?  They were likable. 

It is important. 

Views: 669

Comment by Recruiting Animal on July 23, 2013 at 3:03pm

Hey dude since you are using presidents as proof what about Richard Nixon. Elected twice, once with a huge landslide. No one ever said that he was likeable.

Kennedy was charming but the 1960 election was neck and neck. So how important was his likeability. And some people claim that he only won by buying votes in West Virginia.

Bill Clinton, I hear he's very likeable but I would say that a lot - and I mean a lot of people hated him too. And why didn't he get kicked out of office? I'm not sure it was because he was likeable.

Is Obama likeable? Not in the chummy sense. He inspired people in his first campaign and maybe that ability is included in what you mean by likeable.

Comment by Will Thomson on July 23, 2013 at 3:17pm

As a Canadian, you know your US history well.  With Presidents, I did open a can of worms.  Some Presidents were more likable than others.  I'll give you that.  I will say though, and back to my original point, with culture being so important, likability is a key factor in finding out if they have "IT".  The unexplainable.

Comment by Derdiver on July 23, 2013 at 3:28pm

I am not going to be political, I am not going to be political....Good thoughts....:)


Comment by Amy Ala Miller on July 23, 2013 at 5:21pm

Politicians support my argument as well - some bonehead gets elected due to his/her charisma, completely fails and gets reelected. Does that happen? Ever? ;)

If we could move away from cult of personality hiring / electing we'd probably all be better off at the corporate level as well as government.

Comment by Jeanna Zivalich on July 23, 2013 at 9:32pm

@Derdiver, loved how you graciously declined to further comment ;). Will and Amy, love the dialogue in the post. Well, you know the old Proverb; He who thinketh he leadeth and hath no one following him is only taking a walk”. Why does one follow a leader? Because they personally "Like" them (i.e. respect, believe in, admire, are inspired by, share some of the same beliefs). Many employees leave jobs simply because they don't like their manager/boss and/or leadership. If they're not likeable no one is going to willingly follow and if you're not willingly following, your following out of fear of losing your job. Who wants to work in that type of fearful environment? Not me! Sure they should be qualified but they should also be likeable.

As far as being a natural born leader; I do believe some leaders are just born with this innate ability but I also believe some leaders are made.

Comment by Kelly Blokdijk on July 23, 2013 at 10:46pm

I think likeability or likability is highly subjective. I've admittedly not moved people forward because I didn't "like" them. Not for anything silly of course, but it could have been cocky attitude, obvious lack of self-awareness some similar behavioral trait that not only turned me off, but would have been a problem for anyone else involved in the interview process. 

That said, I've also seen cases where someone's "likes" were completely unrelated to anything to do with a person's ability to perform the job. That's where the "I'd like to hang out and have beer with this person" type causes trouble. You aren't hiring a happy hour buddy, you're hiring a person to get stuff done at work. 

Likewise, some people have very superficial preferences when it comes to interview performance. I'd say for many HMs the more gregarious and extroverted types tend to convey a higher likability potential than a more conservative introverted person. Unfortunately, how a person behaves in an interview may not have any correlation at all to how they get their work done.

Some people believe they have to show tons of enthusiasm and energy (fun person) and others feel that they need to remain calm and professional (dull person) during interviews. Neither is right or wrong, but it certainly could affect the outcome if the interviewer has a bias one way or the other. Not every person that interviews others has the ability to read between the lines and adapt their own style (if needed) to assess candidates on key criteria versus coolness factor. 

Good stuff, you two!!! 

~KB @TalentTalks 

Comment by Will Thomson on July 24, 2013 at 4:57pm

Jeanna & Kelly- thank you for the response.  Likability is a tough topic.  I think really the truth lies somewhere in the middle of what Amy and I wrote.  Is likability a indicator of success?  Probably not.  Do likable people succeed?  More likely than non-likable people.  Will non-likable people succeed?  To Animal's point, sometimes.  Are people more likely to follow likable people- probably.  I think this could be an argument for the ages.  Derek- you can plead the 5th, but I think you have an opinion.  Amy- rattle on my friend.  Will

Comment by Sandra McCartt on July 24, 2013 at 10:57pm

Perhaps this is easily settled in this manner.  If you have two equally quaified candidates one is charming and personable and the other is an introverted bore which one will you hire?

If you have two employees who have both done well , you can only promote one.  One is the guy who always has a smile and is the guy whom everybody enjoys working with, the other is really smart, works hard but if he were an hour late to work nobody might notice, which one will you promote.

The well liked candidate or well liked employee will have the door opened for the opportunity to succeed before the less likable.  What he does after he walks through it depends on what he does with his likability.  If he is all smoke and mirrors it's a fast flame out.

Comment by Will Thomson on July 25, 2013 at 9:40am

I don't think it could be said better Sandra.  Thanks for responding.  

Comment by Amy Ala Miller on July 25, 2013 at 12:53pm

What Will said :) Thanks Miss Sandra you're absolutely right!


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