Hiring for Personality and Culture Fit

by Meghan M. Biro on July 8, 2009

Guest Blogger – Meghan M. Biro, Founder, TalentCulture, LLC

StoneFacesIn my practice with career seekers, evaluation of a resume and coaching are table stakes. I prefer to focus on understanding a candidate’s personality (as well as resume and overall skill set) because it’s really the key to whether a person will fit with my recruiting clients’ corporate culture and stay long term (not to mention I happen to find the concept of personality endlessly fascinating). Let’s look at the attributes of personality that can affect fit to see what can be anticipated, what can be leveraged, and what, perhaps, can be changed or managed.

It’s important to be clear that there’s a difference between personality and behavior. True, the first influences the second, but remember that while you might not be able to change your personality, it is within your ability – and it’s often in your best interest – to manage your behavior to achieve ‘fit’ with a company’s culture.

Let’s take an example. Recently I’ve reconnected with an extroverted, chatty, funny VP of Sales in the high tech industry. This individual loves to talk and tell jokes (some actually manage to make me laugh), but never loses sight of the context of the conversation at hand. We’re talking about how to integrate these attributes into a personal brand.

But let’s say my VP of Sales is interviewing for a position in an old-line, traditional company. The culture of this company is pretty stern – yet very reassuring. It’s a paternalistic organization with top-down management, slow to move and careful with its decisions. Rather than being harsh and judgmental, however, it’s the kind of established company that invests in its employees, taking the long view with its workforce, product and service offerings and market objectives.

The company is very concerned with getting the right fit with every new hire. Wearing my recruiter hat, it’s my role to make sure I recommend candidates who have the right general qualities for success.

At first glance, my funny, engaging, relaxed candidate may not seem like a good fit. But wait – here’s where the personal branding expert hat comes out.

It turns out my VP of Sales is a bit burned out on start-ups. He’s had several servings of Kool-Aid and is at the point in his life where he has come to value consistent performance in a company over high-flying promise. On the other side is the CEO of the company who happens to be my client; I am partnering on retingency with him for a key search. The CEO understands that he needs a VP of Sales who is fast-moving, flexible and smart – and one who can step back a bit to take the long view. He also wants someone who will fit in his board room – someone with poise and polish, a quick intellect, and a sense of humor.

There’s a match to be made, once we align the resume and personal brand with the ‘fit’ requirements of the CEO. The resume is almost there – the VP of Sales candidate knows the industry and its players. But the CEO is wary of people with primarily start-up experience. He’s concerned they’re all looking for a fast exit and tells me he wants to pass on my VP of Sales’ candidacy after viewing his resume.

How do we align these seemingly diverse needs? We look at the brand and personality, or fit, attributes on both sides of the equation.

Here are the personality attributes the VP of Sales has in abundance:

  • Tenacity
  • Humor
  • Flexibility
  • Intelligence
  • Ready to be steady

And the fit attributes the CEO is seeking:

  • Intelligence
  • Quick study
  • Ability to form connections quickly with prospects
  • Integrity
  • The ability to think out-of-the-box, with the manner to keep it non-threatening

Looking at these lists, it’s clear there may be a good fit. The next step is an interview, where personality meets corporate culture. My role, of course, is to help both sides win. It’s also important to make sure the VP of Sales’ personal brand can pass further examination.

Here are the issues that must be anticipated:

  • The VP of Sales has a classic start-up resume. We need to reinforce his personal brand with longer-term assets. We need to stress his industry community involvement, his professional associations, and tap his long-term mentor for recommendations.
  • The CEO is wary of start-up resumes. We need to emphasize the candidate’s results and point to his industry accomplishments.

Here are the points that can be leveraged:

  • Both parties are looking for a long-term relationship
  • Both parties value intelligence and flexibility
  • Both parties put a premium on results

And the issues to be managed:

  • Tenure: We coach the seeker to present himself as a ‘keeper’; we point to the long-term dollar and market value of his accomplishments.
  • Resume: We advise the seeker to construct his resume to focus on long-range accomplishments, not short-term tasks.
  • Personal brand: We advise the seeker to study the target company to identify areas where his personal goals and qualifications match the hiring company’s market goals.

Will personality and fit align? In this example, yes, they did. The CEO recognized the candidate’s intelligence, appreciated his offbeat humor and understood the long-term value he had contributed to his previous employers. The candidate saw a world of promise and potential in the CEO and his company, backed by a solid track record. Basically, they had great collegial chemistry once they actually met in person and we all moved away from the world of ‘theory = just looking at the resume’.

Does it always work out this way? Not always, of course. That’s why it’s so critical, as a candidate, to build a brand that authentically showcases accomplishments, ideas and personality, in an industry or domain context where you’re comfortable and accomplished. And for hiring executives, it’s critical to look beyond the resume to see the whole person(!): values, brand, integrity and fit.

Guest Blogger: Meghan M. Biro, founder of TalentCulture, is a globally-recognized expert in talent acquisition, creative personal and corporate branding and new media strategies that accelerate talent acquisition.

Photo Credit, Tanakawho

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  • http://www.curranoncareers.com/ Sheila Curran

    Great article, Meghan. I really liked how you took us through the entire process. Best. Sheila

  • http://www.curranoncareers.com Sheila Curran

    Great article, Meghan. I really liked how you took us through the entire process. Best. Sheila

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  • http://www.talentculture.com/ Meghan M. Biro

    Glad you enjoyed Sheila. Stay tuned for more insights + career scenarios. See you soon in Providence/Cambridge.

    Thanks much.

  • http://www.talentculture.com Meghan M. Biro

    Glad you enjoyed Sheila. Stay tuned for more insights + career scenarios. See you soon in Providence/Cambridge.

    Thanks much.

  • Shine

    Great article, this is something I have been trying to talk about to recruiters/HR in my part of the world (Botswana). They tend to either see the resume only, personality only, not taking the culture and candidate’s long term plans into consideration or all of those things together. So maybe I will get more luck with your approach. Well written article.

  • Shine

    Great article, this is something I have been trying to talk about to recruiters/HR in my part of the world (Botswana). They tend to either see the resume only, personality only, not taking the culture and candidate’s long term plans into consideration or all of those things together. So maybe I will get more luck with your approach. Well written article.

  • Carl

    I agree with your statement that says, “I prefer to focus on understanding a candidate’s personality (as well as resume and overall skill set) because it’s really the key to whether a person will fit”. Ones personality is an accurate reflection of ones behavior you cannot have one without the other, if you accurately identify one you will by default define the other. When you are interviewing someone for a position, you have to be able to recognize when someone is managing his or her personality. Failure to perceive this and you will end up with the wrong person.
    As the cliché goes, you have to wait until they are flying their true colors. You cannot play the waiting game. The interview process has to be able to identify the true person. Once they are hired, it is to late the damage is done. If you allow someone to “to manage your/their behavior to achieve ‘fit’ with a company’s culture” Allowing some one to manage personality or behavior will not allow you to find a true fit; you are not seeing a true picture this is just smoke and mirrors.
    There is a new way to look at behavior a new understanding of behavior. Get a copy of this book is called The Power of Self Separation Acceptance or Rejection you will enjoying reading it.

  • Carl

    I agree with your statement that says, “I prefer to focus on understanding a candidate’s personality (as well as resume and overall skill set) because it’s really the key to whether a person will fit”. Ones personality is an accurate reflection of ones behavior you cannot have one without the other, if you accurately identify one you will by default define the other. When you are interviewing someone for a position, you have to be able to recognize when someone is managing his or her personality. Failure to perceive this and you will end up with the wrong person.
    As the cliché goes, you have to wait until they are flying their true colors. You cannot play the waiting game. The interview process has to be able to identify the true person. Once they are hired, it is to late the damage is done. If you allow someone to “to manage your/their behavior to achieve ‘fit’ with a company’s culture” Allowing some one to manage personality or behavior will not allow you to find a true fit; you are not seeing a true picture this is just smoke and mirrors.
    There is a new way to look at behavior a new understanding of behavior. Get a copy of this book is called The Power of Self Separation Acceptance or Rejection you will enjoying reading it.

  • http://www.freshercv.com/ Sharad Verma @PowerCV

    As someone with nearly two decades years of experience in HR at VP/Director level for American companies in Asia/India, this approach makes perfect sense to me. A whole lot of competency / personality assessments have been devised, but the tremendous insight, understanding and experience by someone like Meghan has no substitute as seen in the article. Brilliant stuff!

  • http://www.freshercv.com Sharad Verma @PowerCV

    As someone with nearly two decades years of experience in HR at VP/Director level for American companies in Asia/India, this approach makes perfect sense to me. A whole lot of competency / personality assessments have been devised, but the tremendous insight, understanding and experience by someone like Meghan has no substitute as seen in the article. Brilliant stuff!

  • http://www.talentculture.com/ Meghan M. Biro

    @Shine. Thanks very much. Personality/Corporate Culture Fit is often overlooked in the hiring process, esp in the context of needing to make a quick hire. It’s a topic that directly correlates with Retention > a longer view. BIG TOPIC and one I will continue to share and explore.

  • http://www.talentculture.com Meghan M. Biro

    @Shine. Thanks very much. Personality/Corporate Culture Fit is often overlooked in the hiring process, esp in the context of needing to make a quick hire. It’s a topic that directly correlates with Retention > a longer view. BIG TOPIC and one I will continue to share and explore.

  • http://www.talentculture.com/ Meghan M. Biro

    @Carl Interesting, thanks. Right > “managing” behavior can only go so far-a nuance. A seasoned interviewer will look for cues. Ideally, interviewees will strive to stay true to personality in the hiring process and not oversell-Agree wholeheartedly. Remember the old saying? “No matter where you go, there you are”

    I will check out the book. Appreciate your comments.

  • http://www.talentculture.com Meghan M. Biro

    @Carl Interesting, thanks. Right > “managing” behavior can only go so far-a nuance. A seasoned interviewer will look for cues. Ideally, interviewees will strive to stay true to personality in the hiring process and not oversell-Agree wholeheartedly. Remember the old saying? “No matter where you go, there you are”

    I will check out the book. Appreciate your comments.

  • http://www.talentculture.com/ Meghan M. Biro

    @Sharad Verma @PowerCV Appreciate your kind words. Each hiring scenario is unique so this naturally gives insight to draw upon. I enjoy the topic of Personality, it’s one that has degrees of depth = a favorite.

  • http://www.talentculture.com Meghan M. Biro

    @Sharad Verma @PowerCV Appreciate your kind words. Each hiring scenario is unique so this naturally gives insight to draw upon. I enjoy the topic of Personality, it’s one that has degrees of depth = a favorite.

  • Human Being

    I actually appreciate your skills Meghan to match the requirements to the required ! Not everyone has the heart, patience, clear visibility and understanding of what is required and what needs to be improved to match to the requirements. Hats off to your skills, now there are at least two happy and satisfied people who will thank you through out their life for your help. Great work! Best wishes.

  • Human Being

    I actually appreciate your skills Meghan to match the requirements to the required ! Not everyone has the heart, patience, clear visibility and understanding of what is required and what needs to be improved to match to the requirements. Hats off to your skills, now there are at least two happy and satisfied people who will thank you through out their life for your help. Great work! Best wishes.

  • Carl

    Hi Meghan
    Thank you for your quick and timely response. I would like to add another reflection to my statement. There is so much to say that I try to limit my position to one or two thoughts. So let us start. Once the interviewer gets past the initial “resume and overall skill set.” The focus has to shift to self-separation will there be acceptance or rejection, this position is always an issue on both sides of the hiring process, but is not specifically responded to.

    We only look at pay, hours of work; benefits and job title or job location just to name a few of the obvious considerations. The old words that we are using to consider someone for employment is referred to as “job fit”. What we should be talking about is self-separation, will there be a blending of behavior on all sides, the employer and the employee. Will there be an internal embrace of my philosophy with the employers profit demands. When we consider self-separation, we are looking at the core beliefs of the company and the employee. Will they blend; that is the decision that the interviewer is ultimately charged with.

    These thoughts are only the tip of the iceberg; we have to unfreeze our thinking move forward then refreeze a new understanding, a new understanding of behavior has to emerge as we move to an economy based on ideas as apposed to the old economy based on manufacturing.

  • Carl

    Hi Meghan
    Thank you for your quick and timely response. I would like to add another reflection to my statement. There is so much to say that I try to limit my position to one or two thoughts. So let us start. Once the interviewer gets past the initial “resume and overall skill set.” The focus has to shift to self-separation will there be acceptance or rejection, this position is always an issue on both sides of the hiring process, but is not specifically responded to.

    We only look at pay, hours of work; benefits and job title or job location just to name a few of the obvious considerations. The old words that we are using to consider someone for employment is referred to as “job fit”. What we should be talking about is self-separation, will there be a blending of behavior on all sides, the employer and the employee. Will there be an internal embrace of my philosophy with the employers profit demands. When we consider self-separation, we are looking at the core beliefs of the company and the employee. Will they blend; that is the decision that the interviewer is ultimately charged with.

    These thoughts are only the tip of the iceberg; we have to unfreeze our thinking move forward then refreeze a new understanding, a new understanding of behavior has to emerge as we move to an economy based on ideas as apposed to the old economy based on manufacturing.

  • http://www.talentculture.com/ Meghan M. Biro

    @Human Being Finding contentment where life meets career is very important and not always a simple equation. I appreciate your great thoughts. Thanks for sharing.

  • http://www.talentculture.com Meghan M. Biro

    @Human Being Finding contentment where life meets career is very important and not always a simple equation. I appreciate your great thoughts. Thanks for sharing.

  • http://www.talentculture.com/ Meghan M. Biro

    @Carl Thanks for the reflection. Each hiring scenario is a collective partnership. Yes, this is perhaps only the beginning-it’s a start to shifting thought and perception.

  • http://www.talentculture.com Meghan M. Biro

    @Carl Thanks for the reflection. Each hiring scenario is a collective partnership. Yes, this is perhaps only the beginning-it’s a start to shifting thought and perception.

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  • http://djysrv.blogspot.com Dan

    What baffles me is why your approach is the exception rather than the rule. I’ve had so many clueless recruiters hit me up that now I have a checklist in which I qualify them. For example, I’ve had too many experiences where recruiters are just throwing bodies against the employer’s wall hoping one of them will stick. I hope lots of recruiters read about how you work. It will make life for the rest of us a lot less stressful.

  • http://djysrv.blogspot.com Ohadi

    What baffles me is why your approach is the exception rather than the rule. I’ve had so many clueless recruiters hit me up that now I have a checklist in which I qualify them. For example, I’ve had too many experiences where recruiters are just throwing bodies against the employer’s wall hoping one of them will stick. I hope lots of recruiters read about how you work. It will make life for the rest of us a lot less stressful.

  • http://theredrecruiter.com/ The Red Recruiter

    Sounds like “The Spaghetti Assault” that I refer to in the Philosophy section… throwing pasta (resumes) up against the wall (employers) to see if something will stick.

  • http://theredrecruiter.com The Red Recruiter

    Sounds like “The Spaghetti Assault” that I refer to in the Philosophy section… throwing pasta (resumes) up against the wall (employers) to see if something will stick.

  • Meghan M. Biro

    Thanks for your comments. Hear you. True + informed partnerships with candidates (career seekers) and clients (corporations) will help change thought on this unfortunate recruitment scenario. As Michael points out well > “The Spaghetti Assault” does not really serve a more thoughtful + strategic recruitment philosophy. Let’s raise the bar…all parties deserve more in the hiring process.

  • Meghan M. Biro

    Thanks for your comments. Hear you. True + informed partnerships with candidates (career seekers) and clients (corporations) will help change thought on this unfortunate recruitment scenario. As Michael points out well > “The Spaghetti Assault” does not really serve a more thoughtful + strategic recruitment philosophy. Let’s raise the bar…all parties deserve more in the hiring process.

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  • saleemqureshi

    Meghan your points are solid and eye opening about the overlooked topic in recruitment industry. Today's recruiters need to gain a clear understanding of talent acquisition strategy and aligning it with the corporates goals to hire a talent that coincides with the company's culture and with the job description. Assessing a person is much more challenging now, so leveraging on technology for acquiring a great talent, recruiters should go for the rigorous pre-online assessments like Psychometric Testing that is an essential foundation for effective talent acquisition.

  • saleemqureshi

    Meghan your points are solid and eye opening about the overlooked topic in recruitment industry. Today's recruiters need to gain a clear understanding of talent acquisition strategy and aligning it with the corporates goals to hire a talent that coincides with the company's culture and with the job description. Assessing a person is much more challenging now, so leveraging on technology for acquiring a great talent, recruiters should go for the rigorous pre-online assessments like Psychometric Testing that is an essential foundation for effective talent acquisition.

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