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Should You Hire for Personality or Skill?

Katharine Paljug

There's a lot of factors to consider when making hiring decisions for your business. One of the most elusive is whether an employee fits the culture and mission of the company. So much of it comes down to personality. But is that more important than the practical skills an employee brings to the table?

"When you've got somebody who has both the skills and the personality, you've got a real winner there," said Vic Holifield, the owner-operator of a $10 million Poolwerx franchise where he manages 46 full-time employees, most of whom he hired himself. "But that doesn't happen all the time."

Instead, Holifield says, business owners usually have to choose: pick the candidate with the best background or the best fit? Business News Daily talked to Holifield to learn the unexpected reasons your business will benefit from hiring for fit and worrying about training later. [Interested in finding the right recruiting software for your small business? Check out our best picks.]

1. Skills can, and should, be taught.

When faced with a job candidate whose personality is an ideal fit for his business but who lacks the technical background the work requires, Holifield doesn't write that person off. Being successful in a job, he says, isn't about having every skill in place before you start.

"It's not about electronic or internet skills, it's not about mechanics. It's all about interpersonal relationships," Holifield said. "You have to have likable people … good eye contact, firm handshake, [willingness] to help people … You can't teach someone to put a smile on."

Technical skills, on the other hand, can be taught. For some jobs, employees need an industry background. But, especially in entry-level jobs or growing companies, it's a mistake to only look for employees who know the job before they begin. And no matter what skill level your new employee has, everyone needs some level of training at a new company.

"A lot of times in business, people are sort of thrown to the wolves, brought into a business and left to learn on the job. I think that's the wrong approach," Holifield said. "[As an employer], it's important to teach and coach all the time."

2. With time come bad habits.

Employees who need to be trained from the ground up have no bad habits to unlearn. If they have been doing a similar job for years, by contrast, they may assume they don't have anything left to learn or be unwilling to try new strategies for achieving more efficient results.

"Once someone has been in a position for a significant period of time, they run the risk of complacency," said Holifield. "They go through the motions, they don't really have that energy and the drive … they get into a routine, and I try to prevent that."

Employees who come to the work fresh bring new ideas and willingness to experiment as they learn new skills.

"I like to have lots of fresh energy," said Holifield, adding that employees are often the ones who bring that level of energy and enthusiasm to their work. "You can really bring them in and train them to be successful."

3. A personality fit leads to customer satisfaction.

Personality is an important factor in one of the key areas of business success: customer satisfaction. Holifield has found that his clients are happier with service when it is delivered in an upbeat, friendly and professional manner. These soft skills are much harder to learn than technical knowledge, but they can be the difference between an unhappy customer and a loyal one, especially when faced with a miscommunication or other difficulty.

"In our business, there's so much interpersonal contact with clients, you have to provide them excellent customer service," said Holifield. "Each and every time that you talk to them … you really have to impress them, and they have to want to come back to you."

To help find customer-friendly personalities, Holifield's company administers two or three personality profiles in the hiring process, such as the DISC personality test. "We want to know how they look at themselves. That gives you clues to how they'll react in a difficult situation, and that's important to know."

4. Fit makes a strong team.

Even for jobs that aren't heavily customer-facing, personality can be the difference between a successful working environment and one where employees are unhappy or hostile toward each other.

"In businesses that are not so client-relation based, the relationships that are formed within the office are important," said Holifield. "How they will interact with each other, how they will perform as a team, depends on fit ... You definitely have to have an idea of someone's personality even in a situation where they aren't interacting directly with a client."

Employees with the right personality will have an easier time integrating into the office and working with their colleagues. This makes a stronger team, which leads to better communication, more collaboration and a more productive working environment overall.

However, Holifield says most hiring managers make a critical mistake during the hiring process that prevents them from identifying these ideal personalities: They do too much of the talking.

"In a lot of cases, hiring managers do a lot of talking and a lot of telling but don't really listen to what the person is saying back to them," he explained. "I think it's really important to get the person talking so you can get an insight into their personality."

Once you have that insight, you can identify candidates who are the right fit for your company. At that point, it's just a matter of finding the right place for them to go.

"I think it really boils down to identifying the person's personality, then finding the role they're suited for, then teaching and coaching and setting them up for success," Holifield said. "Someone may not fit the exact position that I'm hiring for, but if they're the right personality, I'll find a position where they can be an asset to our company and provide them the proper training to do that role."

Image Credit: fizkes/Shutterstock
Katharine Paljug
Business News Daily Contributing Writer
Katharine Paljug is a freelance content creator and editor who writes for and about small businesses. In addition to Business News Daily, her articles can be found on Your Care Everywhere, She Knows, and YFS Magazine. Visit her website to access her free library of resources for small business owners.