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How to Discover Job Candidates' Communication Styles

Joshua Spears

COO for Traitify | Film, Books & Animals, aspiring Kool-Aid man | Inventor/Visionary in Work

The most sacred cow in human resources is dead or dying, according to some experts

"Job Interviews Are Useless," claims scholar Cass Sunstein in a Bloomberg article. Author Richard Nisbett told readers of The Guardian why "Why Job Interviews Are Pointless." The same point has been made by experts writing for The New York Times and others.

But before we bury the old job interview, let's take a closer look.

First, let's concede the obvious. The unstructured, getting-to-know-you interview that many companies employ is indeed deeply flawed. Humans have a tendency to form faulty impressions based on such interactions, so it's certainly true that when we rely on them as the primary basis for our hiring decisions, we make a lot of mistakes.

The experts advise that employers back off - or even abandon - unstructured interviews and lean more heavily on objective information like assessments and on more structured interviews. 

"My recommendation is not to interview at all unless you're going to develop an interview protocol with the help of a professional," Nisbett writes. According to him, that protocol must be "based on careful analysis of what you are looking for in a job candidate," adding that each candidate must then be asked the exact same questions. 

I agree. High-quality assessments - such as scientifically valid personality tests - can richly and objectively inform hiring decisions. The same goes for structured interviews based on employers' full understanding of what they are truly seeking. 

And one thing every employer should seek is to understand their candidates' communication styles. This matters more than employers seem to realize. 

Categorizing Communication Styles

Virtually every employee, no matter the company, industry, position, or job title, will be counted on to communicate effectively and collaborate productively. That's all but universal.

What's not universal is communication style. There are fundamental differences among us, and experts have formulated multiple categorical systems to help us better understand each other. A simple one that I like comes from author and lecturer Mark Murphy. His decades of research found four primary types of communicators: 

  1. Analytical Communicators prefer data, logic, and specificity.
  2. Intuitive Communicators take a big-picture approach, rather than delving deep into details.
  3. Functional Communicators focus on process, details, and timelines.
  4. Personal Communicators value emotional language and assessing how people think and feel.

The implication for companies is obvious. While no communication style is necessarily better or worse than another, there will be better fits - and downright bad fits - depending on the circumstances and requirements of the job. That goes for communicating internally with colleagues and externally with customers, vendors, or others.

So, how can interviewers consistently and reliably determine an interviewee's communication style? The answer: By asking the right questions in a structured interview.

Strategic Questions

To establish what those questions should be, recruiters must first determine what exactly they're looking for. Consider a couple of hypotheticals. 

Imagine you're looking for a customer service rep whose job will include dealing with clients who are disappointed, even angry. You might a prefer Personal Communicator to an Intuitive Communicator, since the former's talent for assessing peoples' feelings would more likely assuage a disgruntled customer. The latter's focus on the "big picture" would likely frustrate a person seeking to resolve a specific problem. 

Now, suppose you need someone to coordinate with your tech team. Surely, they would prefer the Analytical Communicator's tendency toward logic, facts, and specificity over a Personal Communicator's proclivity for the language of feelings.

With this understanding, recruiters can tailor questions to help identify highly suitable (and wholly unsuitable) communication styles. For candidates who would be engaging with the occasional irate customer, for example, you might ask them to explain how they handled a similar issue in the past. For example: "Tell me about the last time you dealt with an angry person. What did you say? And what was your thinking behind that response?"

And for your would-be tech liaison, you could ask the following targeted question: "How do respond when you're given information you don't wholly understand? What's your process for zeroing in on what you need to know?"

The idea is to customize questions for the role you seek to fill and pose those questions to each and every candidate. But first, you need to understand what it is you are and are not looking for.

There are also questions you can ask all your candidates that will help suss out their communication style, regardless of the job for which they're applying. Here's one example: "Think about someone with whom you struggled to communicate in an educational or professional setting. What caused the difficulty? What did you do and why?" Or you can take the opposite tack by inquiring about a relationship that flourished and wherein communication was fluid.

What do these questions have in common? They are all tailored to the company's specific needs; and they all deal with interaction - not just the individual's actions. Communication always takes at least two, right?

Of course, personality is inextricably linked with communication style. That's why a scientifically sound personality assessment can provide vital depth and context to your efforts to truly understand your candidates. To see how ours works, just request a demo.

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