Introverts need not apply to work at French beauty giant, L’Oreal. If they do, recruiters probably won’t select them, and should they somehow manage to get hired, they aren’t likely to thrive at the company.

That’s just one of many personal characteristics the company considers when it seeks employees who will fit the company culture. L’Oreal prefers confident, outgoing employees because “we believe ideas come out of confrontation — we will always challenge you and we want you to defend your views,” said Frederique Scavennec, vice president for global talent acquisition. “You also need to have passion, be entrepreneurial and be able to connect with others. Without those, you will die at L’Oreal.”

To try to keep casualties to a minimum, L’Oreal uses various techniques to size-up job candidates’ personalities. For example, it might put applicants through a product or advertising exercise, evaluating their creativity and storytelling skills. To find students who are both creative and collaborative, the company also runs its annual Brandstorm competition, challenging university teams to work together to devise a marketing plan for one of its products.

More businesses are following L’Oreal’s lead to try to ensure that their hires fit well with the corporate culture.

They hope to detect attributes like patience, persistence, curiosity, agility and appetite for risk-taking by subjecting candidates to personality tests and multiple behavioural interviews. Some employers also observe potential hires in situations where they must interact with other workers. And there are even online games that assess everything from creativity to empathy.

Work experience still trumps all other qualifications in the recruiting process, but personality and fit with the culture ranked ahead of such factors as leadership experience in a 2014 survey of more than 2,300 chief executive officers, human-resource managers and other executives in 18 countries. The study, by Universum, a consulting firm for employer branding, found nearly half of respondents rate personality profile as one of the most important hiring considerations and about 40% cite culture fit. Only 16% consider the university an applicant attended to be important.

In the study, 44% of the people surveyed said they currently use what Universum calls persona-based recruiting, and 69% said they will do so in the future.

Disastrous pick

Picking the wrong personality is expensive for both employee and employer. The individual will be unemployed, while the employer will have wasted thousands of dollars on recruiting and training.

I tell them that if they lie to me and we get married, we may get divorced.

“I don’t want people to leave after six months, so I start all my interviews by telling them to be transparent and not play games,” Scavennec said. “I want to know what makes them happy and unhappy and how they react to events. I tell them that if they lie to me and we get married, we may get divorced.”

Some employers are using data analysis to identify the personality characteristics that their top performers have in common. L’Oreal itself is considering a project to try to create models of the personality types that succeed most at the company. “But it’s a complicated thing, and we don’t want to get into cloning employees,” Scavennec said.

Grant Thornton in the UK ran a different kind of analysis and found that academic grades didn’t correlate strongly with performance. The results encouraged the accounting firm to take a more holistic view of applicants, including their personality traits, values and potential.

“It was a bold move in our industry, which traditionally has had strict academic entry standards,” said Helen Baldwyn, national student recruitment manager at Grant Thornton. “But we decided grades aren’t the be all and end all and reframed our selection process around values and behaviours to really learn what makes students tick.”

Now, recruiters observe students in group exercises and ask more behavioural questions in interviews. “We might ask students about how they spotted an opportunity and how they acted on it,” Baldwyn said. “We want to know how well they engage with others, how they build relationships and how curious they are.”

Grant Thornton is not only making better hires, but it also is increasing the socioeconomic diversity of its workforce. About 20% of new trainees in 2015 wouldn’t have been able to apply in previous years because they didn’t meet the firm’s academic standards, Baldwyn said.

Matching and weeding

Of course, it isn’t easy to accurately assess personality and cultural fit during the short recruitment period. That’s why Etihad Airways in Abu Dhabi devised a longer, more thorough programme to try to match the right people with the right jobs and weed out those who aren’t suited to any position at the company.

When the fast-growing airline tried to hire more Emirati nationals, it found that many people were being rejected because it focused primarily on technical skills and experience. Now, it tries to identify candidates’ personality traits and their suitability for specific jobs through a four-month process called Discovery Centre.

The airline first explains what the available jobs entail, then puts candidates through a self-discovery process. For example, it asks people to draw pictures of themselves, highlighting their personal qualities. One woman depicted herself as a treasure box to show how much family and friends value her and seek her advice.

“People start to speak freely about themselves in front of everybody, whereas before, they were reserved when we asked them questions in an interview,” said Wissam Hachem, vice president for learning and development. “People in this culture don’t like to brag and sell themselves.”

After receiving a provisional offer, the candidates participate in a three-month learning program to better understand the company and airline industry and to build their skills. They also undergo skill and personality assessments and complete a one-month group project before receiving final confirmation of their continued employment with Etihad and before being placed in the job they’re most qualified for.

Thus far, about 40 people have gone through the Discovery Centre, with some changing career tracks after the four-month process, but all remaining with the airline.

“We are growing fast and have developed a can-do attitude culture, so we’re looking for people who are agile and work well under pressure given our constant change,” Hachem said. “We also want people who are positive and sociable and interact well with people both internally and externally. We need to be as sure as possible they will fit into our dynamic environment where everything is based on winning behaviour.”

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