How to Gauge a Candidate’s Personality Outside of the Interview

When interviewing a candidate, it’s expected that you’ll ask about their work history, experience, and skills. How expected is it, however, that you might ask about their personality? Although not easy, determining the personal characteristics of your candidate may be a worthy pursuit, as many now believe that the biggest predictor of a potential hire’s success can be found in their fit with the company’s culture and the personalities of other employees. Factors such as a candidate’s integrity, judgment, and ethics can play a big part in gaining a sense of the candidate’s performance, and their likelihood of fitting into your company culture.

So how does one start a search into someone’s background and personal traits? Since the goal is to gather enough personal context to build a solid candidate profile, the best way to gain insight is by using a variety of methods to paint a full picture. Here are some ways to evaluate your candidate’s personality…

Personality Assessments are tests that aim to hone in on candidate personalities in order to find a good match for the company. Personality assessment tests can be conducted online or in-person. Some aspects that the personality assessments look to address include a candidate’s work style, energy and drive, ability to work with others, problem solving skills, how one manages pressure and stress, and one’s aptitude for identifying and managing change. Certain positions uniquely lend themselves to personality testing, such as sale jobs or management roles, which draw on personality as well a specific skill set. As a result, a hiring manager seeking to fill a sales opening for example, might want to test for someone who is outgoing, friendly, and has a high tolerance for stress.

If you choose to forego implementing professional personality assessment tests in your hiring process, another option you can start with is deep reference checks, which goes beyond a standard reference check. Conducting reference checks gives you access to two key pieces of information: past work performance and character. Conducting deep reference checks, as opposed to just going through the basic facts, are likely to give you the most accurate portrait of a candidate, as the references typically given by a candidate are the contacts who will speak most favorably of them.

By speaking with contacts provided by references you’re likely to get more unbiased answers concerning the candidate’s job performance and personal characteristics. Speaking to a second or even third tier of references can be fruitful in providing more substance than what is provided by the most positive of the candidate’s contacts.  If you’re uncertain as to how to inquire about other references, simply ask, “Who also worked with ____ that I could talk to?”

Take the opportunity when talking with references to cross-check what the candidate said during interviews regarding their abilities and results. One corporate investigative agency found that nearly 30 percent of the applicants they interviewed had exaggerated or lied about their educational or employment history. Candidates who have been dishonest in an interview may indicate issues with trustworthiness.

While references can be tremendously helpful in painting an accurate picture of a candidate, employers should be cognizant of the fact that a negative reference can be hard for a candidate to overcome, and that most people have had a negative experience at some point in their careers. If a candidate has other redeeming qualities, it may be worth it to invest time in determining what’s behind the negative reference. If it was a matter of a personality clash, it makes sense to let the reference know that something has come to light that may affect the hiring decision (without giving away the confidentiality of the reference). In doing this, a candidate should then be allowed the opportunity to address the negative information, and if the comments are explained satisfactorily, it may make sense to still bring the candidate on board. In general, when weighing the opinions of a reference, attention should be paid to the reference’s personality, temperament, and possible motive.

Another method of assessing character through past performance is to evaluate the candidate’s resume. Critical questions you may want to keep in mind include:

  • Has the candidate steered their career in a path that demonstrates growth?
  • Have they been given increasing responsibility, either through one company or in moving on to other positions?
  •  Has the candidate demonstrated opportunism, moving on whenever a work situation was no longer optimal for them, perhaps embodying the “soldier of fortune”, or job hopper?

Look for any patterns in how the candidate has moved on to different roles, and how they may be choosing their companies. Job progression can be telling of a person’s character, work ethic, and loyalty.

Finally, reflect on the candidate yourself. Does your gut instinct lean a certain way? In assessing character fit, ask yourself whether you would be comfortable if your success depended on this person, and whether you would want to work with them. Depending on your preferences and company culture, you may opt to introduce the candidate to other members of the team and get a sense of their opinions of the candidate in question. Whether they would want to work with such a person is a vital concern you can get out of the way immediately, before hiring someone who may clash with the company.

In assessing a candidate, every piece of information helps. While the interview can certainly provide insight, checking with other people who have worked with a candidate is a telling indicator of how the potential hire interacts, and performs. Conduct smarter interviewing by carefully listening to the candidate and begin putting together how the candidate views their past experiences, potential future with your company, and their relationship with others. Pay close attention to the candidate’s answers and monitor whether there is a consistency in response, as different answers to similar questions will raise major red flags. All in all, the interview should be used as a starting point, and a basis off which to explore a candidate’s skill set, personality, integrity, characteristics, goals, loyalty, professionalism, and past results.

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