Few of us are immune to the charms of charisma. Research even suggests that our biology may cause us to prefer individuals who project a confident social presence, strong vision, and high risk tolerance.1
Therefore, it is unsurprising that charismatic candidates often seem like irresistible additions to the office. While other candidates might begin to blur together amid a monotonous talent acquisition process, charismatic candidates tend to make memorable impressions and seem unusually engaging.
But before becoming too smitten with these charming individuals, employers should do their due diligence. By administering personality assessments before interviews, employers can learn to spot the signs of a charismatic job candidate before they even enter the interview room. Reviewing a candidate’s personality assessment results beforehand will help employers replace their rose-colored glasses with a more realistic view of charisma in job candidates. And here are four reasons why that matters.
Charisma is quantifiable.
Far from the eye of the beholder, charisma is a tangible characteristic that the Hogan Development Survey (HDS), a personality inventory designed specifically for the workplace, can measure. Participants are considered charismatic if they receive elevated scores on the Bold, Colorful, Mischievous, and Imaginative scales. They often demonstrate their charisma to others through their self-confidence, dramatic flair, readiness to test the limits, and visionary thinking. Using assessments can help employers know in advance if they are dealing with a charismatic candidate so that they can be mindful of bias in interviews.
Outside of an assessment setting, it is possible to make educated guesses about who is charismatic and who is not (although guesswork is no replacement for using personality assessments with interviews). For example, most modern U.S. presidents would probably score high on the charisma cluster because star power is a necessary skill for camera-heavy elections.2 Some of the earlier presidents — most notably James Madison, who was by most accounts a frail and painfully shy scholar — were less likely to be charismatic.
Imagine if Madison, the sheepish father of the Constitution, had run against a powerhouse opponent such as John F. Kennedy, the coiffed and flirtatious king of Camelot. During a debate, Madison might have stumbled over his words and undersold his achievements while Kennedy might have boasted with eloquence and strived for a connection with the audience. Who do you think would have gotten the job? Organizations that opt to use assessment in interviews can avoid giving an unfair advantage to candidates with charismatic edge to ensure that they are not overlooking equally (or more) effective individuals.
Want to learn more about hiring the right way? Check out our guide to crafting next-level talent identification, interviewing, and selection processes
Charisma is hard work.
People who lack charisma often wonder how others pull it off. The answer? Being well liked can be a full-time job. Emergent, or charismatic, individuals spend a lot of time displaying their likability to others. This dedication to being noticeable often pays off well because organizations tend to promote people who look like they are doing a good job. Effective individuals occupy the other end of the spectrum. These folks are operational. That means they spend most of their time and energy focusing on their day-to-day tasks, rather than their popularity. Although this diligence is good for the overall organization, it often comes at the cost of career advancement. Employers should think about whether the role in question will require strategic, big-picture thinking or more operational behavior.
Of course, the emergent-effective paradigm occurs on a spectrum. At one end are those who are excellent self-promoters, and on the other are those who are extremely humble. Consider Elon Musk, the CEO for Tesla and social media mainstay (for better or for worse), who is so charismatic that he is now crossing over into the entertainment industry. Now compare camera-ready Musk with Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO for Facebook, who has a reputation for being awkward and emotionless (anyone remember his reptilian performance at the congressional hearing?).3 The difference between the two executives probably comes down to the fact that Musk spends a lot of time on image-management, whereas Zuckerberg tends to prefer a more behind-the-scenes role.
Contrary to emergence, effectiveness is harder to see in an interview. Not to mention, charisma or lack thereof is never the only factor predictive of success in any given job role. Using assessments in interviews can help hiring managers pinpoint where exactly a candidate is on the effective-emergent spectrum to ensure they hire the person who is best suited to do the job.
Too much charisma isn’t a good thing.
Although social media and the antics of headline-making billionaires may tell us differently, being exceptionally charismatic is not always a path to success. In their analysis of charisma, Vergauwe, Wille, Hofmans, Kaiser, and De Fruyt found that charisma is associated with overconfidence.4 HDS charisma scores significantly predicted self-rated effectiveness (r = .29), but were uncorrelated with coworker-rated effectiveness. Most strikingly, leaders who scored in the 70th percentile on the charisma cluster tended to rate themselves as highly effective, yet coworkers consistently described them as arrogant, reckless, melodramatic, and grandiose.
A fantastic example of extreme charisma in the business world can be found in Adam Neumann.5 At first, his audacious, self-assured promotion of WeWork, a “physical social media network,” attracted top talent, drew billions in investments, and led to rapid international expansion. Despite Neumann’s personal magnetism, his approach eventually began to drag down the company. It is well documented that he fostered a toxic work culture of narcissism, harassment, and substance abuse.5 In the end, the extreme charisma that fueled his success eventually led to him being ousted by the board, with one of the executives comparing working with him to “babysitting a pyromaniac.”6 Using assessments in interviews can help hiring managers ensure they don’t become spellbound by someone with extreme charisma.
Charisma is not all bad.
As in most other areas of life, moderation is key. Individuals with above-average scores on the charisma cluster often excel in their roles and organizations. According to coworkers, a slight elevation on the charisma cluster — neither too little nor too much—predicts the highest levels of rated effectiveness. In fact, Vergauwe, Wille, Hofmans, Kaiser, and De Fruyt found a significant curvilinear relationship between HDS charisma scores and coworker-rated effectiveness.4 Moderately charismatic leaders inspire their teams to rally around a vision and work hard; moderately charismatic employees draw in clients and boost visibility for specific projects. Using assessments in interviews can help employers gauge whether a candidate’s charisma cluster scores fall into a sweet spot.
With interviews and personality assessment results at their disposal, employers can easily put a candidate’s charisma into the context of the role and organization in question. Employers should also keep in mind that charisma is one of many personality variables, and context really does matter. Some jobs and organizational cultures require more emergent employees, while others require more effective ones. Most roles require people to strike a balance between these two extremes.
1. Gordon, I. (2020, September 22). Is There a Biological Basis for Charismatic Leadership? Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-biology-bonding/202009/is-there-biological-basis-charismatic-leadership
2. Spiegal, A. (2012, October 23). Charming, Cold: Does Presidential Personality Matter? [Radio broadcast]. NPR. https://www.npr.org/2012/10/23/163487916/charming-cold-does-presidential-personality-matter
3. Washington Post. (2018, April 10). 5 Awkward Moments at the Facebook Hearing [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IuPABtlr-rM
4. Vergauwe, J., Wille, B., Hofmans, J., Kaiser, R. B., & De Fruyt, F. (2018). The Double-edged Sword of Leader Charisma: Understanding the Curvilinear Relationship Between Charismatic Personality and Leader Effectiveness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 114(1), 110-130. https://doi.org/10.1037/pspp0000147
5. Brown, E. (2019, September 18). How Adam Neumann’s Over-the-Top Style Built WeWork. ‘This Is Not the Way Everybody Behaves.’ The Wall Street Journal. https://www.wsj.com/articles/this-is-not-the-way-everybody-behaves-how-adam-neumanns-over-the-top-style-built-wework-11568823827
6. Duhigg, C. (2020, November 23). How Venture Capitalists Are Deforming Capitalism. The New Yorker. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/11/30/how-venture-capitalists-are-deforming-capitalism