Extraversion: A red herring for job interviewers

In North America, extraversion is the key that opens many doors. Most people associate extraversion with a myriad of desirable attributes: confidence, competence, and likability to name a few. It’s no wonder that employers often favour extraverted candidates when conducting job interviews. Nine times out of ten, they must be the best candidates for the job, right?

Unfortunately, this is an incorrect assumption. Extraversion isn’t a good predictor of job performance; in fact, in many cases it proves to be a distraction to employers more than anything else. I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard about employers hiring employees based on their extraverted behaviour during interviews, only to discover that those employees aren’t the most qualified candidates for the job. Here’s one example of how extraversion doesn’t necessarily equal competence:

Two teachers apply for a replacement teaching position at an elementary school, one an introvert, one an extravert. The introverted candidate behaves modestly during her interview, answering the principal’s questions honestly without bragging about her teaching abilities. The extraverted candidate speaks confidently, socializes with the principal (who is also an extravert), but doesn’t spend much time discussing how she would be most suited to the teaching position in question. The principal selects the extraverted candidate, assuming that her confidence and sociability will translate into superior job performance. The principal neglects to ask this candidate whether she meets the necessary qualifications for this particular teaching position. The extravert is hired to replace a French teacher on maternity leave; a few days into the job, the principal discovers that the extraverted candidate doesn’t speak French well enough to be understood.

Many employers are fooled into selecting employees based on their extraversion, especially when they are extraverts themselves. In truth, cognitive ability is a much better predictor of task performance than is personality. This finding makes intuitive sense; if an employee scores highly on cognitive skills related to a given job, then they should perform that job well. Personality traits do factor into job performance to a certain extent. Of the Big Five personality traits, for example, conscientiousness is the best predictor of job performance, while extraversion is generally unrelated to task performance. Extraversion is, however, related to increased absence from work when combined with low conscientiousness. It isn’t hard to imagine an extravert being tempted away from the office by distractions of a social nature.

There are some jobs which may require extraversion in order to be performed well. Sales jobs, for example, demand a high level of social interaction, something that extraverts are typically more comfortable with. It’s appropriate to take extraversion into consideration when interviewing employees for such jobs. On the other hand, many jobs call for qualifications that are unrelated to or even incompatible with extraversion.

A word of advice to employers biased towards extraversion: the next time you find yourself conducting job interviews, consider administering an IQ test instead.

Bianca Lallitto has a Master's degree in Psychology with a certificate in Industrial/Organizational Psychology. She has a penchant for behavioural analysis, and enjoys exploring the possible causes of people’s actions. Her analyses frequently extend to the world of fiction; her thoughts on the behaviour of fictional characters can be found on her blog, Fiction Digest.

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