Friends in high places: When personality trumps qualifications
Apparently ‘Interests Include:’ is back. Remember that section at the bottom of your resume that said, ‘Interests’ or ‘Other Activities.’ You haven’t taken that part off, have you? It turns out that section is what might in fact get you the job.
A new study indicates employers take a closer look at candidates with similar interests to their own (surprise, surprise). Professionals engaged in hiring, pay closer attention to people they’d like to hanging out with, or even worse, with who they may want a relationship. So much for being the most qualified candidate.
The study conducted by Northwestern University sociologist Lauren Rivera, is “based on 120 interviews with professionals involved in undergraduate and graduate hiring.” The evidence collected from the interviews suggest that professionals interviewing and selecting candidates “often value their personal feelings of comfort, validation, and excitement over identifying candidates with superior cognitive or technical skills.”
Although Rivera reports that this is the first empirical study that investigates “whether shared culture between employers and job candidates matters in hiring,” the study confirms a common belief that employers can be biased in hiring practices. This shouldn’t come as disconcerting news though. When job searching there’s always a lot of discussion about finding the right fit. If a job you’re interviewing for expects long hours, after work drinks with colleagues, or rounds of golf with clients and you don’t drink or play golf, then the environment is probably not going to work for you either. Employers choosing candidates whom they perceive as being the right fit is necessary for maintaining company cohesion.
However, the study should act as a bit of a wake up call to employers who lean too far into the ‘hiring friends’ arena. Making a bad hire because a candidate wooed their way into a job based on common interests could cause tension down the road. A candidate should be qualified for the position or at least be able to quickly acquire the necessary skills to do the job. A new best friend is great, but a qualified person who is easy to work with, is better.
So how should the study’s findings impact job seekers? Even though employers may look for people that fit the company culture, I wouldn’t move your ‘Interests’ section to the top of your resume just yet. The findings confirm that fit matters for some fields it matter more than others. Rivera notes that the findings don’t “mean employers are hiring unqualified people…for example, [when] hiring a neurosurgeon, there would be more emphasis on performance than culture fit.” [I for one was very relieved to hear that.]
However, there can be distinct advantages to listing some of your other interests and activities on your resume. This can show that you are a well-rounded person, and may create an extra connection with a potential employer in the case where those interests are shared.
And remember, fit also matters for candidates. When looking for a job you don’t want to be stuck hanging out with a boss you don’t respect or can’t get along with. It’s important for you to also be able to assess the interests of your potential employer too.
Have you ever lost a position to someone you know was less qualified, but friends with the boss?