Should you hire for Skills or Personality?

29 June by Miriam Heale


Most of us have an opinion on whether you should hire for skills or personality, however, the answer might not be as clean cut as one would think.

UK business mogul, Richard Branson strongly believes in hiring for personality over skills on the basis that skills can be taught.

This is something of an over simplification as all of the pilots flying his planes, we’re fairly sure, are qualified to do so.

But the answer isn’t necessarily ‘skills’ either. An introverted IT technician who’s a poor communicator, can inevitably have a detrimental impact on the project.

Similarly, a doctor with a terrible bedside manner will spell misery for his patients and colleagues, not to mention the hospital when the complaints roll in.

The reality is both have to be weighted evenly. Job specifications have minimum requirements for a reason: there are minimum skills, qualifications and experience needed to do the job competently. 

If a candidate meets those requirements, arguably they should be considered for the role at which point their personality and willingness to learn should determine their fate.

Where two candidates are evenly matched, must their personality play a part in the decision making process?

The danger of hiring purely on skills and experience at the cost of considering personality is the inevitable impact that can have on morale and culture. It tells the existing employees that the boss values the task over the team.

Moreover the new employee may feel isolated and unappreciated and, assuming he or she passes their probation, will leave anyway for an organisation that’s a better fit.

However, there’s a real risk in judging someone’s personality on a single interview. Interviews are stressful and far removed from the usual social interactions.

A normally calm, collected and professional individual can be rendered a nervous wreck if they let their anxieties get the better of them. Introverts may come off as quiet or standoffish. Extroverts may seem arrogant or hyperactive. 

Equally the medium of the interview can have an impact on perception as well.

Telephone interviews remove all the visual cues that communicate whether or not someone is enthused, nervous, or happy. Even making a witty remark can be misinterpreted.

A break in the line at the wrong moment could also cause awkward silences, missed information or result in both parties talking over one another.

Candidates can also be rejected because employers are looking for personalities that are a perfect fit or conform to their idea of what the company culture is. This usually leads to stagnation within the team as there is no opposing view or alternative way of working. A team should be a balance of personalities as much as it is a balance of skills.

The answer then isn’t one or the other, or even both but a mixture of skills, personality and the dynamics within the business and team they’ll be joining. Understanding the role you are recruiting for is only part of the equation.

Understanding the people already in the business and even going so far as to ask their opinion regarding what the role, team or business need, will provide valuable insight into the qualities that won’t appear on the job specification or on a CV.

Skills and personality are both important, together they make for a great candidate. In the right company and part of the right team they make for the perfect employee.

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