Talent Archive

Believing in what personality tests do for us is more important than what they actually do.

Personality tests produce better hires largely because we believe they do. They increase our belief in our employees. That belief produces better performances.

When we set realistic goals for employees, we improve their performance. When we believe in them, it improves too. Personality tests convince us to believe in our employees. Our belief more than the test itself accounts for the better performance of hires passing it.

In medicine, researchers must account for the placebo effect. This occurs when patients feel or improve from a fake treatment. Placebos can take many forms.

For example, the article, “Think Yourself Better” (The Economist, May 21, 2011 edition), cites research in which patients improve even from fake surgeries. Thus, to see the true effect of a treatment, the researcher must conduct a blind trial. Still, patients can feel and see results even if they know a placebo has been used on them.

If placebos can make us feel better about our bodies, they can make us feel better about many things. This includes how we feel about our employees. Personality tests do not go through a blind trial. Their primary evidence is that employers say that hires who pass the test perform better than those who do not. Patients who take placebos say their bodies are better than when they do not take them.

OkCupid, the dating site, ran a test to see how much weight their word carried in making two people believe they were a good match. Their word inspired bad matches to exchange nearly as many messages as good matches did (“Make Me a Match,” ([The New Yorker, August 25, 2014 issue]).

As a founder of OkCupid, Christian Rudder, wrote in his book, Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking), “When we tell people they are a good match, they act as if they are. Even when they should be wrong for each other.” If belief in personality tests can make us feel good about whom we date, it can make us feel good about whom we hire. Good feelings yield good results.

It is authority that makes these placebos work. It is highly persuasive. This is true even if we know authority is selling something. Fairy dust will deliver better performance as long as we believe it does. Authority is critical to that belief.

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In leadership, how to motivate employees with words is critical.

How to motivate employees with words requires training, practice and planning.

In advertising we learn how to motivate consumers with words. In leadership we need to know how to motivate employees with words. We can learn much from advertising. Principles are the same. I use them in my series, Leveraging Relationships in Communications. We just apply more rigor to advertising than we do leadership when it comes to relationships.

“Advertising’s New Medium: Human Experience” (Harvard Business Review, March 2013 edition) by Jeffrey Rayport shows the contrast. In using words, he says advertising operates in four ways to establish:

  1. Keywords in the mind
  2. New habits
  3. Ways of thinking
  4. Emotional connections

Contrast this with how to motivate employees. Do we plan this with them? We don’t to the extent we do with advertising plans. Our keywords are critical to change. According to Rayport, we establish a “cognitive beachhead.” They become the anchors by which we produce change. A change management plan for an employee will begin with keywords.

Using keywords, we repeat and follow up to change habits. Many times we need to change thinking first. This includes how an employee sees himself. We often skip this. Resistance to change is often fear though. It’s fear of embarrassment. It’s fear of failure. Changing the habits of employees with low confidence is hard. We work on confidence first. We work on new habits second.

Once we introduce a new habit, we need to introduce a way of thinking about it. This can be as simple as explaining why the new habit is good. On a higher level, it will provide context. For instance, rather than saying, “The industry is changing,” saying why gives context.

Finally, we make emotional connections with our words. We look for the emotions that really motivate an employee and connect our words to them. Saying “good job” connects a good emotion to a habit. A compliment strategy will help us do even a better job of this.

Advertising shows us how to motivate employees with words. Its principles are relationship building ideas used on a mass scale. We just don’t plan our relationships as well as we do our advertising.


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Meanness as competent and smart

Our crude instincts often cause us to misinterpret hypercriticism as competence and smartness.

For thousands of years, humans have struggled against their crudest instincts. They influence us daily. They require work to overcome. Whether it’s courage over fear, coexistence over destruction, love over reproduction, or faith over hopelessness; the first in each pair requires work to overcome the second. These same crude instincts cause us to misinterpret meanness as competent and smart. They encourage the misevaluation of talent.

The desire for security is a powerful emotional trigger in all humans. Long ago, we craved leaders whose meanness and insensitivity didn’t permit squeamishness to interfere in eradicating our enemies. That was our crudest definition of competency.

Despite our advancement, civilization and legalism, this crudeness has not left us. “A Sad Fact of Life: It’s Actually Smart to Be Mean Online” (Wired, November 2014 edition) by Clive Thompson and the research, Downplaying Positive Impressions: Compensation Between Warmth and Competence in Impression Management, by Deborah Holoien (The Ohio State University) and Susan Fiske (Princeton University) find that we tend to see meanness as competent and smart. They technically define meanness as hypercriticism.

Moreover, as noted by the research Thompson cites, Wanting to Appear Smart: Hypercriticism as an Indirect Impression Management Strategy (Bryan Gibson, Central Michigan University), applicants and employees can trigger these in us as an active part of an indirect impression management strategy (more). Indirect means subconscious here.

Holoien and Fiske also found that a tradeoff exists. Not only do we see meanness as competent and smart, but we also see warmth as less competent and smart. In other words, we find it very difficult to see someone as both warm and compassionate, and competent and smart. Emotionally, a tradeoff exists for us. Thus, the mean get hired and promoted over the warm.

Returning to our roots, business seems to tap our crudest instincts. The survivability of our enterprises is on par with our prehistoric struggles for life. No doubt, we have experienced tremendous civil, legal and technological advancements. Emotionally though, we have not advanced to where we are comfortable putting the fate of the enterprise in the hands of the warm and compassionate . . . no matter how competent and smart they are.


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Assessing personalities is essential to business. It’s essential to leadership. Leading people without assessing culture and personalities is like going into battle without assessing terrain. It’s like buying clothes for people without knowing them. Understanding extroversion and introversion is a stepping stone.

We primarily look at extroversion-introversion within a social context though. Extroverts like to be around people. Introverts like to be alone. If correct, introverts should thrive in solitary confinement. They don’t. Relationships with others are key indicators of happiness. Good relationships make us all happy.

Extroverts and introverts enjoy people differently though. For example, when it comes to networking, extroverts tend to have more conversations than introverts. Introverts tend to have longer and deeper ones. Still, this social context is limiting. How would extroverts and introverts differ when cooking or mowing the lawn? When completing various business tasks?

Extroverts and Introverts

Extroverts derive energy from outside. Introverts from inside.

There are many views. My view isn’t original. It has helped me much though. People’s energy sources are its focus. Extroverts derive energy from outside. Introverts from inside.

A simple, non-social assessment typically performed on toddlers illustrates this. Roll a ball away from a child. If he chases it, he’s likely extroverted. If he just stares at it, he’s likely introverted.

As adults, the first might conquer a mountain. The second might master its essence. The first might do this by climbing it or building on it. The second might do this by learning its geology or its cultural impact. Both make the mountain part of their worlds. For the extrovert it’s outside. For the introvert inside.

In negative extremes, extroverts are shallow, introverts impractical. Extroverts might be too busy acquiring things to appreciate their value. Introverts might be too busy appreciating those things to act. Results are more important than process to extroverts, introverts the reverse.

This still falls into the trap most personality assessments do. They look at extroverts and introverts as a zero-sum game. The more we are one, the less we are the other. In reality, these attributes vary with circumstances and moods.

Extroverts and introverts live in us all. They show themselves depending on what we do and how we feel.


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This entry is part 10 of 12 in the series Leadership - The Secret

Leadership's secret physical characteristics that influence people's assessment of leadership.

Physical characteristics strongly influence people’s assessment of leadership.

This Secret to Leadership Series began by stating leadership is an affect, an emotional influence that moves group members to action. It’s no secret that our physical characteristics influence people. The secret is the degree to which they do when they assess our leadership competency.

“The Look of a Leader” (The Economist, September 27, 2014) details these characteristics. This influence cuts across demographics and education. As with any subliminal influence, those who believe they are not influenced are the ones most influenced. They don’t take adequate thinking and emotional precautions.

For instance, simply knowing information is wrong doesn’t protect us from its influence. Even childish influences such as people’s names sway scientists when awarding grants. Dice rolls and lunch influence judges’ sentencing decisions. Unsurprisingly, the article concludes, “The evidence is strong that candidates for top jobs can still be undermined by superficial things like posture and tone of voice.”

Among others, the article cites these prominent physical characteristics in leaders:

  • Height: Whereas only 3.9% of the American population (and about  7% of males [pdf]) are 6’ 2” or over, 30% of its Fortune 500 CEO’s are.
  • Voice Sound: Voice quality accounts for 21% of listeners’ evaluations and content only 11%.
  • Deep Voices: Of 792 male CEO’s, those with deepest voices earned $182,000 a year more.
  • Physical Fitness: CEO’s in the S&P 500 who had finished a marathon earned 5% more.

To a degree, we can manage some physical characteristics. Fitness is one. Speaking style is another. Upticks in speaking tone at statements’ ends detract significantly from our leadership competency. They’re correctable. Erect posture, square stance and firmly planted feet slightly apart are others.

Military leaders and sports officials are taught to appear decisive even when doubtful. Yet, most leadership and MBA programs ignore leadership’s subliminal aspects. In many ways, learning to act well is critical to leadership.

Yes, being the leader you are feels grand. It does nothing though to combat the primitive, superficial emotions driving leadership selection. It also does nothing to tackle selectors largely believing they are immune to such influences.

In short, if we want to be a leader, we better start acting like one.


This video contains explanations and examples of speaking upticks at end of statements:


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This entry is part 8 of 8 in the series Placebo Management

Placebo ManagementThree attorneys specializing in medical malpractice attested to me that better bedside manner lowers malpractice risk. One even claimed that he could predict doctors’ malpractice premiums based on how they entered his office and seated themselves. According to “Better Bedside Manners” (Time, September 5, 2007) by Laura Blue, “plenty of past studies have shown a link between lousy doctor communication and poor medical outcomes, such as inadequate care and malpractice suits.” For instance, one study claimed these results:

Positive physician communication behaviors increased patients’ perceptions of physician competence and decreased malpractice claim intentions toward both the physician and the hospital. A more severe outcome increased only patients’ intentions to sue the hospital.

Doctors’ people skills also improve medical outcomes. Thus, the effect minimizes negatives and maximizes positives. It has many business lessons extending beyond the medical field. These lessons have two overarching themes. People skills influence:

  1. Interpretations and assessments of objective skills and performances
  2. Outcomes dependent on those skills

In other words, we will perceive doctors’ with good people skills as having good technical skills too. Similarly, we will perceive such employees as possessing better technical skills. We will tend to see the friendly computer technician as being good technically, the friendly CFO as being so too and so on. This relates to phenomena where style trumps content and eloquence trumps honesty.

Reversing the effect though, people skills allow us to improve outcomes without tangibly improving others’ skills. By impacting beliefs and emotions, we can help people feel better about themselves just as patients can feel better about their medical treatment. Both yield better outcomes.

Collectively, these are placebo approaches and techniques. Placebos have an impact in medicine. No longer can we say they don’t. We can say the same in management and leadership.


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This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Strategic Complimenting

Change the World - Compliment SomeoneWhen I advocated using compliments strategically, Diana asked:

Why do you have to use compliments “strategically” and not be spontaneously?

The short answer is the same as with any kind of introspection, thought or planning for an endeavor: it can be more effective, enjoyable and enlightening. Aren’t we often appreciative when someone put thought and effort into determining a gift especially pleasing to us? A compliment is a gift. Does thought or spontaneity really detract from gifts? Does amount of time and effort spent?

Compliments though serve many purposes. Not only do they serve as niceties making our worlds pleasant, but they serve as appreciators, morale boosters, relationship builders, influencers, performance enhancers, talent developers and confidence reinforcers. We give thought to the right compensation plans and the right developmental plans, so it follows that thought about the right compliments in follow up and management activities can help too.

We often hear, “catch someone doing something right.” Shouldn’t we invest time identifying that right behavior is and a good compliment to encourage it? A compliment isn’t just a spontaneous nicety. It can be a deeply felt, deeply considered and deeply personalized tool demonstrating that we’ve actually thought about what makes persons unique, special and effective in our enterprises. It expresses we are attending to and contemplating their existence. They are real and important.

One time, someone was going through some hard times, so I wrote something for her. She thanked me, liked it and found it helpful. Then, she said something that stuck with me. “Mike, what I appreciate most is that you spent time thinking about me and my situation.”

Some gifts require thought, planning and strategizing. Some compliments do too. Many can’t even give compliments let alone think about them. Don’t underestimate the power of thoughtfulness.


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Danger of Humbleness

By Mike Lehr
Wisdom Sun

The Sun doesn’t know how bright it is.

Michelle Held (Twitter), an entrepreneur who helps businesses develop corporate pro-social presences and mentors nonprofit start-ups, prompted this post. She requested elaboration on how people misinterpret others not telling the truth as lying after reading, “Why Employees Lie Even When the Truth is Better.”

The truth is not necessarily clear. It often varies depending upon perspective and talent, thus making it vague and unbelievable many times. Yet, when it’s clear to us and not others, it’s easy for us to view them negatively.

Much of this stems from what I call the downside or danger of humbleness. It’s when we discount our talents so much that we believe it’s easy for others to do, think, understand, see, remember and feel what we do. For instance, Michelle noted that she “once read that people with exceptional memories tend to think others lie” because they don’t understand how others could forget.

Culturally, we’re taught humbleness is a virtue, bragging and showing off frowned upon. As a result, it’s easy to believe our talents commonplace. It just boils down to hard work, nothing special. It becomes easy to say when people can’t:

  • Do what we do, they’re lazy
  • Think what we think, they’re not concentrating
  • Understand what we understand, they’re being obstinate
  • See what we see, they’re dismissing us
  • Remember what we remember, they’re lying
  • Feel what we feel, they’re being mean

I often use the analogy, “the sun doesn’t know how bright it is.” Darkness doesn’t exist for it. All it sees is its own brightness. Thinking our talents commonplace prejudices our assessments of others by forcing them to live in our light, producing exactly what humbleness should avoid: gross exaggeration of our self-view.

They’re not lying. They’re just unable to see truth as we see it.


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Perfectionism, Austin, Texas

Perfection is implementing, completing. It’s reaching for the sky and getting there.

Done! Finished!

Perfectionism can be problematical, often preventing completion of projects as Farah Mash attests to in a tweet regarding Creators vs. Pruners: Personality Typing. As Katty Kay and Claire Shipman write in “The Confidence Gap” (The Atlantic, May 2014 edition), perfectionism also infects confidence, and “study after study confirms that it is largely a female issue, one that extends through women’s entire lives.”

In overcoming perfectionism, the first step is realizing it’s a strength not a problem. The Five Factor Model of personality typing would say perfectionists have heavy doses of conscientiousness, well serving jobs requiring meticulousness, self-discipline and dependability.

The second step is realizing any strength can be a weakness, perfectionism is not alone. Aggressiveness becomes impatience, determination becomes stubbornness, and rationality becomes insensitivity. This leads to the third step: use strength to overcome weakness by using it wisely. A gift mindlessly given to all is no longer a gift.

The fourth step defines perfectionism for the task at hand, thus forcing conscientiousness to focus on the task’s important elements. For instance, perfectionism isn’t any mistakes. Perfectionism is completion, it’s implementing knowledge. It’s having the perfect understanding that:

  • Some cannot justify their existence unless they criticize our work
  • Most cannot even see our mistakes
  • Responses are extremely difficult to predict

Fifth, employ the most perfect, enduring and effective learning process in human history: trial and err. Trial means test. In other words, no doing, no mistakes, no learning, how perfect is that?

Finally, realize school does not reflect life. “Do overs” exist, and contain huge money especially if labeled “new.” Software companies are notorious for getting us to “upgrade” to do-over software because they left out vital features in prior versions.

So, as for today, make a dozen mistakes, learn from them and have a perfect day.


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Attack Weaknesses

Figure #1

One morning I joined a sales person on her sales calls. At lunch, she asked what I thought. I told her. She paused and then said, “Okay, you’ve told me all the good stuff. Now tell me the bad.” We’ve all undergone brainwashing: in order to improve we focus on correcting weaknesses while neglecting strengths to overcome them.

Long ago, I pruned the lead branch on a small tree reaching for the sky. Over the years, a branch sprouted below my cut and sharply turned upward, again heading for the sky. Rather than cut it again, I watched to see what would happen to the stub I had left. As that new branch grew thicker and reached ever closer to the sky, it engulfed the stub. Eventually, it faded completely as the new branch swallowed it. Wanting to grow upward, it didn’t do so from the cut where it was weak but rather from where it was strong.

The Germans’ blitzkrieg strategy in World War II, focused on attacking from where they were strong, not weak. While concentrating their forces to overwhelm at the point of attack, they left other areas exposed. They could not succeed by eliminating every weakness. They bypassed enemy strengths, engulfed them and choked supply lines causing resistance to fade.

Focusing on Strengths: Bypass, Engulf & Fade

Figure #2: Focusing on Strengths
Bypass Weaknesses, Engulf & Fade

Traditional developmental methods of focusing to correct weaknesses is unnatural and is not what nature intended (Figure #1). Any idiot can identify our weaknesses; it takes wisdom to see how our strengths can engulf them so they fade as problems (Figure #2). If we’re not a dynamic speaker but know our subject, focus on delivering exceptional content and examples rather than entertainment and humor.

Thus, the question is not, “How do I correct the weakness?” but rather, “How do I use my strengths to overcome them?”


A resource that might help identify strengths: StrengthsFinders 2.0 by Tom Rath.

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This entry is part 7 of 8 in the series Placebo Management

Placebo ManagementIn discussing his performance review me, a friend indicated his employer thought he needed confidence. So, I asked, “What are they going to do to help develop that?” Dumbfounded, he shrugged his shoulders.

Isn’t it ironic that we talk about building confidences of soldiers, athletes, musicians and actors but not employees?  As mentioned in a previous post, the movie Top Gun is a classic discussion of confidence’s importance. Yet, while we give much time to planning and developing skills and education, we don’t with confidence. Every post in this series helps to change that. I call it placebo management because it focuses on intangibles that can alter our perspectives, performances and results.

In doing this, here is the critical question: If I had a very short opportunity with an employee, what would I:

Ideally, this should occur when the employee approaches us as spontaneity and informality makes the opportunity more impactive. It’s very impactive to work these points in answers to employees’ questions. We can usually work in with various conversational techniques without having employees feeling we are taking control of the interaction they initiated. We can also encourage such interactions by making ourselves available through “management by walking around” activities and periodic “how are you doing” phone calls.

In this way, just as we turn a house into a home, we will turn a place of work into a source of confidence.


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This entry is part 10 of 10 in the series Psychopaths in Workplace

Psychopath & Sociopath The DifferencesPreviously, I recommended revisiting Emotional Intelligence (EI) as proposed by advocates of Daniel Goleman. That centered on empathy. This is on self-regulation, another of the five components of EI Goleman created. Again, looking at psychopaths relative to self-regulation illustrates legitimacy for revisiting the EI concept.

Imagine a sensitive person born with very intense emotions and another born psychopathic, with far fewer, if any, emotions. The psychopath has little to maintain, little to regulate. It’s much easier for the psychopath to self-regulate than the sensitive person. The psychopath won’t be moody or impulsive. Moreover, if the sensitive person is emotionally empathic, he will not only have to deal with his emotions but those of others (more). In other words, a psychopath could score very high in self-regulation, while the sensitive person very low.

High-EI people aren’t necessarily compassionate, sensitive or emotionally empathetic. They are social adept and persuasive. These require being intelligent about – not sensitive to – emotions (timestamp 0:33). Finally, EI is learnable, meaning bright psychopaths who weren’t born with the troublesome emotions of sensitive people could pick it up more easily. Throw in inconsistent definitions of psychopathy and empathy, and new discoveries about our brain, subconscious and intuition, and calls for upgrading EI are legitimate.

The impact to businesses is approaching EI from an accurate perspective. For instance, EI advocates are fond of saying, “High IQ will get you hired. But EI will get you promoted.” Since EI deals much with managing our relationships, this slogan could just be the intellectualization of “It’s not what you know, but who you know.”

Therefore, while EI might be great for careers, is it great for businesses? Will it foster the diversity and conflict necessary for innovative cultures or foster homogenous and compliant ones dominated by the persuasive?


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People prefer One over ManyFrequently, we warn ourselves against falling for the silver bullet. Problem is that it arrives in many forms, including in the form of star players or employees. They are the silver bullet incarnated.

We like to believe sports teams are bastions of optimal talent and team development, frequently citing them as models of excellence and team play. Nevertheless, humans run them and face all the psychological traps that the rest of us do. For example, Derek Thompson cites this finding in “The Savior Fallacy: Over-Betting on Star Players in Sports and Business” (The Atlantic, April 2014 edition) from the National Basketball Association (NBA):

The teams with the top three picks in any given draft are almost twice as likely to never make the playoffs within four years . . .

Translating to business and quoting Rakesh Khurana (“The Curse of the Superstar CEO”), Thompson continues:

Large companies’ fortunes are “varied, highly nuanced, almost frighteningly complex, and certainly beyond the power of even the most charismatic leader.”

To the NBA, Thompson says this means:

Almost every championship team going back three decades had not one but three above-average starters.

In other words, when it comes to developing a team, it’s not about one Great One but many above average ones. We can extend this though; it’s rarely, if ever, about finding the one key idea, person, solution or product. It’s about doing many little things right. That’s why we can anticipate problems if our companies are looking for the One rather than Many in solutions.

Still, we spend a fortune on silver bullets in all its forms, often because it’s simpler. That’s why KISS is for the stupid, so they can justify falling for every new silver bullet that arrives. Free lunches might not exist, but expensive ones abound.


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This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Three Key Emotional Triggers

Manifestation of NeedsEmotional recognition is the third key emotional trigger, and uniqueness is the nickname I ascribe to it. From the aspects of behavior, thought and emotion, mastery, expertise and talent respectively describe how people display them. Quality is another good overarching descriptor of this trigger. Very often bragging indicates emotional recognition could be a strong emotional trigger.

With uniqueness our behavior orients around mastering animals, people, machines, techniques, processes and other aspects of our physical world. Athletics involve mastering a sport.  Influencing or controlling the behaviors of others, aspects of leadership fall here too. Physical skills such as craftsmanship and art distinguish us especially if they net certifications or awards.

In thoughts, uniqueness takes on the form of expertise. People seek our advice, approval and respect in our field. We are an authority, specialist or technician playing the role of advisor or consultant. We are preferred above others. Many times this is the result of knowledge, education and experience. The focus in on the mental aspect of our being.

Emotionally, uniqueness expresses itself as talent, something more innate than our developed mental aspects. When combined with mastery and expertise, it pushes us to the top of the best. When it comes alone, it’s usually distinctive aspects of personality which are not easily taught such as friendliness, empathy, courage, style, attitude, work ethic, beauty and more.  It’s about feeling special, unique or triumphant.

We can view uniqueness as the outcome of growth, being recognized for the outcome, the achievement. While all have need for this, some will interpret and emphasize their experiences more from this perspective than others by highlighting their skills, expertise and talents. Observations over the long run will form our conclusions.

What recognition, certifications and awards did someone recently share with you?

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You Fit, You're HiredAs algorithms, technology and sensors advance, we are discovering that hiring for fit rather than for talent runs further, deeper and more definable than we ever suspected. In fact, some people such as Don Peck in his article, “They’re Watching You at Work” (The Atlantic, December 2013 edition) are beginning to call current hiring practices as “dysfunctional.”

Among the researchers Peck cites is Lauren Rivera from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management in which she states in her abstract from Hiring as Cultural Matching: The Case of Elite Professional Service Firms:

Employers sought candidates who were not only competent but also culturally similar to themselves in terms of leisure pursuits, experiences, and self-presentation styles. Concerns about shared culture were highly salient to employers and often outweighed concerns about productivity alone.

Granted, the idea of hiring for fit isn’t a secret, but its pervasiveness and dominance is. For example, Rivera found a correlation between the leisure pursuits, experiences and styles of hiring managers and candidates. In other words, given the leisure pursuits of both hiring manager and candidates, we can reasonably predict who will get the job. Common experiences also correlate. In other words, ex-athletes are more likely to hire ex-athletes, finance majors more likely to hire finance majors, managers with small company experience more likely to hire candidates with that experience.

In 2009, a colleague showed me the interviewing guide from a Fortune 500 company. It began with, “It’s important that we look for people able to work in our culture.”* After researching this, I began coaching candidates and networking groups that the interview’s objective is to demonstrate fit more than to showcase talent (speaking notes). That means assessing interviewers quickly and positioning themselves within the context of interviewers’ personalities and experiences.

How dominant is cultural fit in your world?


*Note: I have altered the specific wording for confidentiality reasons, but its spirit and location in the document remain true.


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