We all want to like the people we work with. As hiring professionals, however, we should all also want to do our jobs as well as we can, and it’s possible that getting wooed by overly likable candidates is leading us to bad hires, high turnover rates, and a loss of efficiency.
A 2015 study by Leadership IQ conducted over three years and including more than 5,200 hiring managers found that only 11% of new hires fail due to technical incompetence. The other 89% fail due to things like lack of emotional intelligence, lack of motivation, and an inability to accept feedback – all issues that can be summed up in two words: cultural fit. So how did these poor hires fall through the cracks and wind up in the company in the first place?
One major explanation could be that hiring leaders are mistaking cultural fit for likability.
Just because someone can carry a stimulating conversation doesn’t mean they’ll be any good for your company. A 2014 Wall Street Journal article reported that likable people are, “more apt to be hired, get help at work, get useful information from others, and have mistakes forgiven.” Not to mention, a 2016 report by the McQuaig Institute reported that 62% of employers agree that it’s hard to find a cultural fit.
All of this means it’s pretty easy to fall into the likability trap, but here are three tips to help you avoid it:
Know Your Culture, Find the Fit
For starters, it’s good to know that cultural fit is defined as “A congruence between the norms and values of the organization and those of the person.” Note that whether or not someone’s values are congruent with that of your organization has nothing to do with whether or not you find them likable in an interview.
Larger firms are equipped with things like mission statements, core values, and a CEO with a consistent vision. All these things are good barometers of your company’s culture and should be used as benchmarks when evaluating a candidate’s fit. Small businesses might not have as much establishing literature surrounding their culture, and recruiters and hiring leaders in this space should spend some time with key stakeholders mapping out the values and culture before trying to assess for them. As we’ve seen, not doing so can hurt you in the long run.
Every jobseeker knows how important the interview phase of the application process is, but the reality is that it’s also a critical part of the hiring process for the people on the other side of the equation. Just as jobseekers need to go to great lengths to prepare, so do recruiters and hiring leaders. Without a strategic approach, you risk poorly evaluating both candidates’ skills and whether or not they are a cultural fit.
One way to make sure you get the most out of a face-to-face and combat the likeability trap is to conduct structured interviews. This means asking every candidate the same questions in the same order. An interview with no guideposts is a perfect scenario for the likability trap because more likable people will naturally perform better. By asking the same specific questions to every candidate, recruiters can even the playing field and not fall victim to their own bias.
Focus on What’s More Important
We now know that close to 90% of new hires are failing due to cultural fit. It’s accurate to say, then, that while hiring teams are recognizing the importance of cultural fit, we are collectively doing a rather poor job of finding it.
That said, just because we have some progress to make in better evaluating cultural fit, it doesn’t mean that we should deprioritize things like things like competence, technical ability, integrity and leadership skills. These elements are still paramount – so in our quest to find those unicorns that fit like puzzle pieces into our organizations, we should not downgrade aptitude to less of a position of importance than attitude.