beyond the personality profile: picking a truly great candidate

By mark cook
Teams

Hire great performers, get great performance. Simple, right? But what are the telltale signs of a great candidate? A recent Time magazine cover story (June 22, 2015) reported an epidemic in HR of using personality profiles to pick candidates. But is personality the best predictor of success?

If you statistically scrutinized 10,000 performances at work, would you find that hiring for personality was justified? Or would traits and skills predict results better? The O.C. Tanner Institute, in conjunction with Forbes and Ph.Ds from Harvard and Cambridge, conducted such a study. We set out to discover whether traits, personality attributes, or actions and skills best predict performance.

We began by defining performance through measurements of customers’ and supervisors’ ratings of work quality, financial value, duration of impact, emotional impact, numbers of people affected by the work, and compared outcomes with expectations. And then, we discovered how to hire candidates who would produce great work results.

Don’t focus on…

Traits and Attributes. Traditional hiring criteria are off the mark. Our research found that  age, gender, tenure, and company size did not predict results reliably. In fact, these factors together accounted for less than 1% of the difference made in a candidate’s workplace success.

Personality Profile. Personality profiles have some merits, when they distinguish candidates who find the work meaningful, are intrinsically motivated, proactive, have a sense of mission, and are prone to help others. These personality characteristics predict a modest improvement of 16% over others who lack such qualities. However, personality is not the best predictor of candidate performance, since we tend to overemphasize the influence of personality on workplace outcomes.

Instead, look for…

Innovative Actions. Actions are what truly set top performers ahead of the pack. Our research discovered that innovative actions, not certifications or occupational skills, were responsible for phenomenal performance. So, which actions should you look for? Find candidates who:

  • Ask the right question. Our research showed that people who pause to think and question before diving in to projects are 4x more likely to affect many people with their work (coworkers and customers alike).
  • Talk to their outer circle. Candidates who are comfortable and willing to ask for input and feedback are not just great team members. They are also 3.4x more likely to deliver a difference that directly improves the company bottom line.
  • See for yourself. We found that employees who get involved in the thick of the action are 17x more likely to be passionately engaged in their work. Disengagement is a huge problem in today’s workforce. Hire for this attribute to combat it.
  • Improve the mix. When candidates are willing to tweak, adjust, and perfect work projects, they are 3x more likely to create work of vital importance—the kind of work your organization thrives on.
  • Deliver a difference. Seeing a project through makes it 4x more likely to be deemed important. Hire for candidates who show they are steadfast and committed to delivering results.

It’s not difficult to adjust your hiring practices to reflect these findings. Consider the following interview questions to help find innovation in your candidates:

  • Would you dive in on a project and begin quickly or pause to ask yourself what difference customers would love? 
  • Would you exclusively work with your team or find a moment to talk to outsiders for ideas? 
  • Would you find a way to see customers using your work or are you already familiar enough with this work? 
  • Would you experiment with elements of the work or strive for exactness to  expectation? 
  • Would you work hard to finish the work or seek evidence that customers love the result?

Our research showed that workers who turbo charge results employ at least four of these actions as part of their work. And the results are incredible. These employees are 4.7x more likely to directly improve financials and 10.5x more likely to have their work deemed by managers and peers to be important or strategic. So stop looking at traits and personality profiles, and start hiring for innovative actions—you’ll find the candidates who will truly deliver a difference people love for your company and your clients.

Categories: Teams

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By mark cook

Mark Cook is the coauthor and research lead for Great Work,New York Times bestseller on performance and innovation. He’s also author of Sales Blazers, an Amazon best-selling leadership book for the revenue responsible. Mark is currently completing a 7-continent study of leadership in the top GDP’s in the world.

He has advised on innovation, strategy, and revenue creation for: Dow, Oracle, Home Depot, Bank of America, US Bank, Autoliv, Intermountain Health, William-Sonoma, Golden Nugget, and others. He is the father of five boys and a three-time iron-distance triathlete.