Go with your (beer) gut feeling?

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Elite hiring – throw out your expensive and complicated psychometric tests, your behavioural interviewing, and your assessment centres – do you see yourself getting smashed with this person?

Also known as the ‘stranded in an airport’ approach, a new academic study has confirmed what HR professionals have been doing since, well, forever.

In terms of hiring for the best ‘cultural fit’, Professor Lauren Rivera from Northwestern University found that investment banks and law firms are the most likely prioritise personality over on-paper skills and experience. “In many respects they hired in a manner more closely resembling the choice of friends or romantic partners,” Rivera wrote in her findings.

Rivera interviewed 120 hiring managers at elite banks and law firms over a period of two years, and overwhelmingly found that the end-decision often came down to identifying candidates with personalities and interests most closely resembling their own.

One example from Rivera’s paper was of a hiring manager at a so-called “scrappy” law firm which rejected an otherwise qualified applicant because “I’m looking at the interests (on his résumé) — lacrosse, squash, crew [laughs]. I’m sort of giving him a personality type here, and I don’t think he’s going to fit in well here.  . . we’re more rough and tumble. . . . I’m going to let him go.” Another investment bank hiring manager told Rivera, “One of my main criteria is what I call the ‘stranded in the airport test.’ Would I want to be stuck in an airport in Minneapolis in a snowstorm with them?”

Among law firms, investment banks and consulting firms, demand for cultural fit was most prized in law firms. More than 70% of hiring managers said cultural fit was an important part of the hiring decision. At investment banks, it was important in a bit more than 60% of cases and at consulting firms, in 40% of cases. Rivera quoted one consulting firm hiring manager, that “…even if someone’s a perfect fit, if they absolutely bombed the case, they’re out.”

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