Interviews represent a hallmark encompassing the very essence of management.  Supervisors must get the right talent in the door and weed out incompetent or incompatible workers upfront in order to avoid months and years of organizational pain and conflict in the future.

When asking employers which attribute they most desire in an employee, a myriad of traits gush out like punctual, fun, smart, timely, patient, outgoing, kind, nurturing, aggressive, motivated, and on and on and on.  The daunting list represents a cacophony of qualities that blur a more specific picture of a perfect candidate.

In addition to skills needed in a profession, human resources experts recommend hiring managers to look at outward expressions of one’s personality.  Many professionals know the famous Myers Briggs personality test developed by the mother-daughter psychologists in 1943.  It avoids negative versus positive constructs and focuses instead on personal preferences.  The Myers Briggs approach proves useful in team functioning.  But a different type of personality approach yields better hiring decisions.  Do not force applicants to take personality tests.  Such forced tests prove unethical and also could be gamed by the recruits.  Instead notice attributes of the big five personality traits.

Dr. Gregg Henriques delineates the broad big five personality dimensions.  First, extraversion encompasses the degree of sociability, willingness to approach others, and overall positivity.  Introverts represent the opposite with quiet, reflective, and listening behaviour.  Second, agreeableness includes one’s propensity toward interpersonal warmth, sympathy, understanding, and getting along with others.  Those without agreeableness demonstrate paranoid hostility. 

Third, openness covers the degree to which one desires new feelings, new locations, learning new things, and interacting with novel objects.  The opposite of an open person is a closed-minded individual.  Fourth, neuroticism denotes emotionally reactive, avoidance, negative people.  Calm and relaxed individuals represent stark opposites to neurotic staff.  Fifth, conscientiousness refers to achievement motivation, organization, planning, and responsibility.  Disorganized workers score low on conscientiousness.  

Which of all personality traits most leads to better employees?  Notice the clear contrast between positive versus negative traits as opposed to the Myers Briggs concepts.  Thankfully, dozens of social scientists in eleven high-end studies over the past twenty years narrowed down the biggest single personality determinant towards employee success in a workplace.  In early 2017, researchers Shani Pindek, Stacey Kessler, and Paul Spectora highlighted all the data across the studies.  While in a marriage agreeableness levels can lead to happier romances, workplaces on the other hand require workers with high levels of conscientiousness, which correlates the most to job performance.  

How might hiring managers search for conscientious employees?  During interviews, ask questions such as “Please describe how you go about completing regular tasks”, “Please explain your ideal work environment”, and “Do you like standard expectations”?  Also, in reference letters or background checks, watch out for certain buzz words.   A candidate who acts on impulses or behaves erratically should serve as a warning flag.  Responses or references featuring “act depending on the day”, “sometimes “, “can surprise you with his/her high productivity” all point to low conscientiousness. 

In contrast, a prospective employee who follows established rules, demands high quality from themselves, and keeps a neat work environment encompasses the desired conscientious trait.  An interviewee who asks about which rules exist, seeks to know quality standards, or values predictability likely scores high in conscientious.  Search for such workers in order to boost performance.

Curious about your own big five personality score?  Take a free assessment test at:  https://www.outofservice.com/bigfive/ .

 *This article originally appeared in the Business Daily edition of Thursday, April 6, 2017

Mr. Bellows is Assistant Professor of Management, and Director of the New Economy Venture Accelerator (NEVA). He is also Chair of the Faculty Council.