Recruiters tend to overvalue personality when hiring corporate leaders.

A 2012 study led by Texas A&M’s Murray R. Barrick focuses on interviewers’ first impressions of job candidates for nonexecutive positions. Extroverted candidates with strong verbal skills build an early rapport with interviewers that influences how interviewers evaluate candidates’ other qualifications. An outgoing candidate may get higher marks in all areas than a more reserved person who is equally qualified. If interviewers are aware of this tendency, they may give more attention to strong candidates who might otherwise be overlooked.

Similarly, Steve Kaplan and Morten Sørensen find that in the hiring process, being nice may be overrated. For each job category in their study, hired candidates score higher on interpersonal skills than do all assessed candidates. High scores on the four factors they identify—general ability, execution, charisma, and creativity/strategy—get a person the interview, but being personable actually lands the job.

A one-standard-deviation increase is associated with a 17.9 percent increase in hiring the candidate for a CEO position, Kaplan and Sørensen find. “This suggests that interpersonal skills are valued differently in the hiring decision from their value in identifying candidates,” they write. “This is particularly interesting for CEOs, because CEO candidates are distinguished by their execution skills.” In a 2012 study, Kaplan and Sørensen, with Mark M. Klebanov of Lord, Abbett & Co., find that execution skills are strongly correlated with success for CEOs of buyout-funded companies.

“What we don’t know is, are people making mistakes?” Kaplan says. “It may be that boards say, ‘We don’t want this jerk.’ But it could be that you’re making a mistake by just hiring the person you like more.”

Kaplan recommends that boards focus on execution skills first. After that, if one remaining candidate is a jerk and the other is not, he says, “go with the one who’s not.”

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