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Hire smart: What three top executives seek

Virgin Group's Richard Branson says personality is key in hiring. (Paul Kane/Getty Images)

Virgin Group's Richard Branson says personality is key in hiring. (Paul Kane/Getty Images)

Hiring the right person for a job can make-or-break a team.

But hiring isn’t exactly scientific. The interview process can be difficult — a candidate who looks good on paper might not be as good in-person. Finding the right match takes both skill and a clear understanding of what, exactly, is needed for success in the position. In some professions, technical skill trumps personality. In others, the ability to command a room matters as much as the ability to keep a project on budget.

Yes, hiring is complicated. This week, more than 80 LinkedIn Influencers weighed in on the art and science of hiring. Here is what some of them had to say.

Richard Branson, Founder at Virgin Group

Branson, famous for using his intuition to make some key decisions, wrote in his post How I Hire: Focus on Personality, that while some managers get “hung up on qualifications” he looks at them last.

“The first thing to look for when searching for a great employee is somebody with a personality that fits with your company culture. Most skills can be learned, but it is difficult to train people on their personality. If you can find people who are fun, friendly, caring and love helping others, you are on to a winner,” Branson wrote.

Personality, he wrote, is key, but it isn’t always easy to ascertain. “It is not something that always comes out in interview — people can be shy. But you have to trust your judgement. If you have got a slightly introverted person with a great personality, use your experience to pull it out of them,” he wrote. “If you are satisfied with the personality, then look at experience and expertise.”

Charlene Li, Founder and Partner at Altimeter Group

As a founder of a business, Li knows “that each and every person that joins the company changes the dynamic and make-up of how we work,” she wrote in her post How I Hire: Figuring Out Fit — And The Exit Strategy. Li hires based on a fit of culture, skills and purpose, she wrote.

“First and foremost, we hire based on culture,” she wrote. “This is not about having a shared background in terms of work history or education so that we can get along. It's more about sharing the same values and norms that we can then use to bridge differences and build momentum.”

Once Li sees a cultural fit, she hones in on skills with a real-world exercise. Then she considers “how the candidate sees the position fitting into their sense of purpose... We do this by digging into their life story, what drove the major transitions in their lives, and what motivates them today. But more than anything, it's about knowing that we share this sense of purpose. We want a top candidate to feel [Altimeter] is a good fit for them as much as we feel they are a good fit for [Altimeter] — before an offer is extended.”

Even with all of this effort around hiring for the right fit, Li also talks about the day a candidate will leave the company. “The idea of lifetime employment is dead, so why not face up to the reality that this person we're hiring will one day leave? It's a core part of us living the value of Integrity — that openness and transparency develops trust,” Li wrote, adding that she would rather know that the company is no longer a fit for someone “months ahead of time so that we can not only plan a transition, but also so that we can support them with referrals and recommendations.”

Tony Fernandes, Group CEO at AirAsia

“I can usually tell within seconds of meeting someone if I want to hire them,” wrote Fernandes in his post How I Hire: You Got To Have Heart. “It's in their eyes, whether they have passion and dare to dream.”

Education is important and skills are useful — but can be taught — he wrote. “Passion, on the other hand, is much harder to instil. Often, you either have it or you don't. And that can make or break a business,” wrote Fernandes. “Without passion, AirAsia would never have made it this far. Day three of operations, 9/11 happened, sending the airline industry into a tailspin. There was SARS, bird flu, tsunamis, earthquakes, floods... We could've thrown in the towel at any one of those times.” 

But, he wrote, a passion for the business, for seeing Indonesia-based AirAsia succeed, helped the company pull through. Now, Fernandes wrote, “That’s what I look for when I hire.”