Hiring & the cult of personality

Hiring & the cult of personality

Image by Ryan McGuire from Pixabay

When do terms like “cultural fit” and “hire for personality” become code for “ONE OF US… ONE OF US…” ?  Probably a lot more often than HR teams would care to admit.

“When it comes to hiring new team members, there are a lot of things that you can do to help find the best candidate for the position. Having a solidly written job description, looking in the right places or enlisting the help of a recruiter, and having well-thought-out interview questions that help capture the skills and weaknesses of the candidates will all make a huge difference in who you ultimately end up hiring for the position. But there is one often overlooked, but powerful secret weapon that can really make the difference when finding the right candidate for an open position in your company. And it all comes down to personality.” –https://www.inc.com/david-finkel/the-secret-weapon-to-hiring-right-person-every-single-time.html

I’m not sure this is much of a secret considering how many times over the years I’ve heard the phrase “cultural fit” bandied about. But using the term “weapon” is probably more apropos than the author realizes. Corpo America most assuredly uses cult-like tactics to achieve its goals.

“I want to be clear here that when we talk about personality I don’t mean a ‘personality hire.’ Not everyone on your team needs to be a people person, who can have everyone laughing over the water cooler. In fact, that is likely a horrible idea for productivity.  If you are hiring for a computer programer [sic] or a bookkeeper, for instance, they don’t need to have a bubbling, outgoing personality because they will likely never talk to any of your clients or customers. Everyone on your team doesn’t need to be charismatic. What I mean here is that the personality of the new hire needs to mesh well with your team as a whole. Because finding the right fit for your group can make a big difference in the productivity and overall satisfaction of your team in the long run.” -Inc.com, Ibid.

This feels like playing semantics. What’s the difference between a “personality hire” and “the personality of the new hire needs to mesh well with your team as a whole” ?  He tells us that not everyone needs to have a bubbly personality and gab around the water cooler all day yet as someone who has been an introvert in highly extroverted office environments, what’s the difference? If you are the lone introvert in a company full of loud, boisterous maniacs, you’ll stick out like a sore thumb. And believe me – they’ll make sure you FEEL like a sore thumb, too. To me, the idea of “meshing well with the team as a whole” is getting pretty close to, “Look. If you wanna succeed here, you better toe the party line. Fit in. Conform. Laugh at the jokes. Go when you’re invited.” 🤮

“But how do you go about knowing if they are a good fit? My secret weapon is to have someone sit in on the interview that knows the team dynamics well. For my company, that’s our COO. She has been with the company for over fifteen years and has seen the good and the bad when it comes to our team. She knows what type of personality fits in well and who would struggle to find their way. So, I have her sit in on interviews to get a feel for each candidate. She can usually tell within minutes if they would be a good personality fit or not. And by using this method, we usually do a really good job of hiring people that mesh well with the rest of the team.” -Inc.com, Ibid.

He has a lot of secret weapons LOL. Anyway, this paragraph suggests the thing he’s telling you not to do – make a personality hire. I have this COO sit in because she’s been here for a long time and she’ll intuit in mere moments if this person is gonna be likeable to us or nah.

Also – look at the language here: “personality fits in well” and “mesh well.” Let’s strip off the linguistic gymnastics: ONE OF US. Are you gonna go along to get along or are you gonna be a problem, pal?

“It’s an open secret that in many workplaces, qualifications and skills alone are not enough to get someone a job, let alone to keep them in it.

But on TikTok, people are being open about the charisma it takes to get a jump on their careers. Young users are calling themselves ‘personality hires’ who shine more for their good vibes and creative energy than for traditional skills in their fields.

But there is not one shared definition of what a ‘personality hire’ means. On the one hand, it seems to be a way for someone to poke fun at their own insecurities around feeling unqualified for a role they were hired for. And many TikTok commenters agree with this assessment. Top comments include ‘Me talking my way through all my job interviews’ and ‘[Shout out] to the girlies hanging on by their personality.’

But as some other TikTokers explained, it can also be a way to discuss the team-building and collaborative skills that make people want to work with them.

Justin Barish, a 23-year old producer for an ad agency who made a TikTok about being a personality hire, said that to him, it means a professional who keeps work fun and fresh.

‘I think the ‘personality hire’ brings something different to the work environment, someone who brings the fun, someone who people want to collaborate with, someone who is easy to work with,’ he said.” –https://www.huffpost.com/entry/tiktok-personality-hire_l_62bb3559e4b0187add18eec4  emphasis mine

We could also add in words like compliant and obedient. As I said: are you gonna go along to get along or are you gonna be a problem? Are you gonna go to Bob’s BBQ on your Saturday off or donate to Julie’s campaign to save albino manatees in the arctic waters or are you gonna be a stick-in-the-mud?

“Barish said personality hires can be misunderstood to be people who are not as focused and as driven as other co-workers, and that sometimes he feels insecure about this perception at his job. But in fact, he believes personality hires ‘are the people who are actually the best to work with in a group scenario,’ and who ‘are the most capable of being really successful leaders because of how we connect and speak to other co-workers.’ . . .

In her TikTok anecdote about feeling like a personality hire, Popkin shared that when her agency asked the icebreaker question, ‘What’s your favorite fish?’ at an all-hands meeting, she responded, ‘What type of fish is the hot one from ‘Nemo?’’ and kicked off a companywide debate about hot cartoon characters.” -HuffPost, Ibid. emphasis mine


Are you gonna rah-rah the group and ask questions about “hot fish” or are you gonna be a problem, pal? Are you gonna geek everybody up about how much fun we’re having in the workplace or are you gonna be opposed to forced fun? I’m not gonna say paid corporate shill, but I’m kinda not gonna not say it either.

“Hiring experts are skeptical that people are hired purely based on personality, but research shows it’s a big factor — and it can be exclusionary.” -HuffPost, Ibid.

What hiring experts are those? I’m a SME and I can tell you for a fact, point blank, some people get hired because of their personalities and some get hired in spite of their personalities. And hell yeah it can be exclusionary! If you are an introvert, neurodiverse, have social anxiety, etc., some companies will stamp you as “not one of us” and kick you to the curb. Let’s be real about this.

“‘If all you are bringing to the team is good energy, then realize you may be causing your team to struggle.’ – DANIEL SPACE, SENIOR HR BUSINESS PARTNER FOR LARGE TECH COMPANIES” -HuffPost, Ibid.


Well yeah. No duh. No, I don’t know how to use Excel and I’ve never done accounting before but I can crack jokes for days! 

But that’s one of the pitfalls of hiring like you’re running a cult. You wind up with an echo chamber of minions who may very well do your bidding but may also:

  • Waste a lot of time
  • Not turn a profit
  • Not be qualified for the job
  • Mess things up
  • Alienate your customers


We need to stop measuring companies based on extroverted hoo-ha. At some point the actual work has to be done.

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