Hiring anyone - from an intern assessment to executive hiring - is a personal experience. Even for a recruiter reviewing resumes, you are reviewing the history of someone's life and it can be easy to get sucked into those personal details that stand out. In an interview situation it becomes even easier to look at personality, and specifically likability, as a trump card. Because doesn't every office want to be full of people who are personable, nice, funny, and likable?
But as any hiring manager with experience knows, hiring based on likeability alone can lead to major problems down the road.
The Likability Trap
Someone who is likeable interviews well. They are easy to talk to, easy to relate to, and may even make you laugh. In a sales position, the likeable person will especially stand out as a top candidate. But when a recruit is likeable it can make it much easier to gloss over what would be red flags for a candidate who was not quite as charming. When you want to keep talking to someone, it is easy to think they will be a good fit into your office environment, regardless of more concrete professional factors that would otherwise disqualify them.
What Happens When You Let Likability Win
When you hire someone based solely on their likeability, you do not necessarily know what you are getting in terms of commitment to the position. It could work out in your favor, but it is also quite likely that it will not. When someone is extremely likeable, their colleagues and managers will spend extra time trying to mold them into the perfect employee. One recent article from the Wall Street Journal indicates that likeable people are more likely to get help from others at work, and to have their mistakes forgiven. This can not only waste valuable department time, but can certainly foster a toxic culture with those employees who are working harder but for whatever reason are less likeable.
More Important Hiring Factors
Cultural fit is a common buzzword in executive hiring, but culture fit does not stop at likeability and should not overshadow other important hiring factors like experience and skills.
None of this is to say that likability should disqualify someone from being hired. The important thing to remember is that likability is not enough. A great fit -- someone who understands your company's values and who has professional goals that are aligned with the open position. Likability can be an important factor, especially when hiring for client facing roles, but it should never be a trump card.