Can ‘extroverts’ give a misleading impression at interview? By Sarah Fitzgerald, Managing Director

It is a fact that we all make up our mind about somebody within the first 5 to 8 minutes of meeting them.  Whether this is face to face, by Skype or on the telephone, in an interview in particular, human nature causes us to make up our mind about a potential future hire really quickly, generally based on their personality and their ability to form a good first impression with you.  If that person is a natural introvert or extrovert, this personality trait could give you a first impression which misleads you about their suitability for the role in question.

Unsurprisingly, we are all different, and most people are familiar with some sort of professional personality profiling exercise, and the different elements of our personalities that these can highlight.  Although if we are honest, not many of us really know how that applies to work situations, and I would bet that very few interviewers even consider ‘Personality Type’ and how meeting an introvert or an extrovert can cloud initial judgement when assessing a candidate.

More so, do you properly consider the behavioural demands of the job role that you’re trying to fill?  The more senior the position, the less ‘success in the role’ will be down to the job holder being the technical expert in an area, and the more it will be dependent on their ability to be strategic enough, to be able to drive and manage change, risk and ambiguity, and also their ability to influence and persuade others around them effectively enough.

At Executives in Africa, we use, and can offer to our clients, a behavioural profiling tool that profiles the behavioural demands of jobs as well as the behavioural traits and fit of any candidates.  Our quick and user-friendly tools have been specifically designed to be used by Line Management and not just HR Professionals or Business Psychologists.  This is great news for those of us in the business world who want a simple, usable and practical tool for assessing candidates and for understanding how to manage and motivate individuals within our teams to get the best out of them and set them up for success.

The profiling tools measure multiple aspects of each candidate’s behavioural traits and motivational needs and the behavioural demands of the specific job requirements, thus allowing for an objective fit/gap analysis which can be explored further during subsequent Assessment Interviews.  By accurately understanding the natural personality traits of a candidate, their key motivation needs and an individual’s current level of work-related motivation, we can understand who the person is and what type of environment is likely to set them up for success.

In simple talk, the profile identifies four key areas:

  • How strategic the role is and whether you need someone who is highly confident and assertive or more collaborative in their approach;
  • How much social or technical focus there is to the role and whether someone is naturally analytical or socially orientated;
  • How much variety, pace or routine there is in the role and whether someone works at a quick/urgent pace with a need for variety or is an individual who works best in a stable, consistent environment and finally;
  • How much structure and compliance there is in a role and whether someone is tolerant of risk or if they are driven by the need to be precise and do things by the book.

Critically there is no right or wrong answer for each element of personality.  It depends on what the required traits are for a particular role.  For example, you would not want to necessarily hire a Finance Director who demonstrates a high risk element to their personality; most business leaders would want someone who is more driven by the need to be precise.  That might sound obvious, but it is not always apparent when you interview someone with certain personality traits, and here is the danger;

An extrovert personality can often mask other natural traits which might be critical to success in a role.

Extroverts are naturally very comfortable meeting new people, they are comfortable networking, they come across as confident, are socially poised, enthusiastic and are real talkers.  Clearly an extreme extrovert might put some people off through coming across as ‘over the top’, however let’s consider a mildly natural extrovert Finance Director candidate.  First impressions are likely to be good, mainly because they are an extrovert and so you will be in a positive mind-set throughout the rest of the interview.  But they might be a real risk taker as well, which you overlook because they are so likeable, and you could end up hiring a Finance Director who leaves your business exposed through lack of attention to detail!

Conversely, a quiet, private and introspective person might take a bit more time to feel relaxed and ‘warm up’, but, if made to feel at ease in the early stages of an interview, could then open up to reveal an individual who is commercial, thinks through decisions fully without rushing into things, and is diligent.  Potentially this person might be the better ‘fit’ overall to the needs of the job.  Interestingly, just because a candidate is naturally quiet and private it does not mean they are unable to be a commercial business partner, to work closely with the business, liaise with business managers and provide them with relevant information.  In fact, they are often better listeners, and will build strong trust relationships which can be very beneficial to a business.

So how can you avoid making the wrong hiring decision based on first impressions when taking responsibility for critical hires of individuals who will be responsible for delivering significant results for your business?

The simplest answer is:  ‘Actively work during the rest of the interview to disavow your first impression.’

As a Search Professional, interviewing is a significant part of what I do for a living – day in, day out hundreds of candidates every year, and I have done so for over twenty years.  That’s a lot of interviewing experience!  I am trained to see behind first impressions and uncover the true capabilities of each candidate.  Conversely, a Business Leader in your organisation will interview and recruit, on average, only 2 to 3 senior managers every year.  Some may be naturally good at interviewing, but most are not.

Professional Recruiters are trained not to be blindly influenced by first impressions, but to question candidates in such a way as to seek specific evidence for the required skills and to understand how people actually respond and perform in work situations.  Business Leaders are rarely trained in advanced interviewing techniques such as behavioural, evidential or competency based assessments, yet they are often given the decision-making capability on key hires, without necessarily having the competence to do so.  Because they are Business Leaders, not Professional Recruiters.  Their expertise is to deliver business results, not to accurately assess a candidate.

Many companies have extremely capable Professional Recruiters in their HR Departments.  So my second piece of advice is to ‘Make sure you are using and respecting this HR expertise’.  Take Talent Acquisition strategies seriously and respect their area of expertise as they respect yours.

Alternatively, just as you would outsource taking important legal advice or certain accounting activities to relevant Professional Services firms, my final piece of advice is to ‘Consider outsourcing important Candidate Assessment Projects to an expert in that area’.

At Executives in Africa, we not only run Retained Executive Searches, taking full responsibility for mapping, identifying, proactively head hunting and assessing candidates for a senior management position, but we now also offer wider recruitment Professional Services to our clients to support them in the following areas:

Independent Assessments – Used for roles which are advertised internally or for external applicants sourced directly by your firm to ensure independent, fact-based decision making for critical hires.  The need for an independent Professional Firm to own and manage the recruitment process is often precipitated by the need for a clear, transparent, and effective assessment process that together contributes to the overall selection of the right candidate, with the right leadership, strategic, behavioral, and technical competencies.  We design a bespoke Assessment, incorporating behavioural/personality profiling with our Skills and Competencies Matrix to ensure a full fit/gap analysis against the specific requirements of the job and full reporting on suitability as a result.

Middle Management Roles – Where it is not cost effective to run a full Executive Search for roles in the $50-$85k salary range, we offer a Professional Services Fee Model to enable our clients to benefit from our In-House Research Team who can proactively identify and head hunt candidates who might otherwise not be accessible.  We then assess candidates against the Skills and Competencies Matrix for that role and present formatted CVs for recommended candidates.  This more flexible fee model allows clients to pay for Professional Services as you would to a lawyer or accountant with a small contingent success-based Fee for the Project on successful appointment of a candidate.

For more information on how we can look at innovative solutions to support middle, senior and executive level hires in your business, please contact Sarah Fitzgerald at sf@executivesinafrica.com to arrange a suitable time.

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