Do You Have What It Takes to Be a ‘Personality Hire’? - Kanebridge News
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Do You Have What It Takes to Be a ‘Personality Hire’?

Productivity comes second for charming employees who make workplaces more fun

By CALLUM BORCHERS
Fri, Jun 21, 2024 8:55amGrey Clock 4 min

If you get further on charm than skill and carry a workload light enough to float atop your bubbly demeanor, then you might be a “personality hire.”

Charismatic employees lay the foundations of positive corporate cultures—or leave teammates to pick up the slack. While some people proudly advertise themselves as personality hires on LinkedIn, others roll their eyes.

“It’s annoying,” says Lauren Gomes Atwood , a project manager in upstate New York. “They always have time to hang out in the hallway, but when do they sit down and work?”

Atwood, 39 years old, says she worked with a personality hire in a previous job. Though fun to be around, the person eventually generated resentment and, after winning a promotion , prompted several co-workers to quit, she says.

Atwood started a remote job last month and says her search took longer than expected, partly because interviewers seemed as interested in her vibe as they were in her experience. She describes herself as matter-of-fact and says she doesn’t give off the effervescence some employers appeared to be looking for.

Bosses want the warm-and-fuzzies as the mood at work is generally sour . One-third of U.S. employees say they’re engaged in their jobs—near an all-time low, according to Gallup’s annual report on the state of the workforce, released this month. Half of workers say they feel a lot of stress, and 49% are interested in new job opportunities or actively applying.

With so many lonely, unhappy charges, bosses are desperate for good workplace energy. They say camaraderie is hard to build on hybrid schedules, so they prize upbeat employees whose energy is (hopefully) infectious.

Michael Zachary , a security manager at Pratt & Whitney, says he learned the value of a winning disposition in the Navy. He noticed qualities like collegiality and willingness to learn often proved more critical to new recruits’ success than natural talent.

Certain roles at the defence contractor where he works now are highly specialized and must be filled by the most technically qualified candidates, he says. But others, like data-entry clerks, could be performed adequately by dozens of applicants.

“In that case, I’m going to hire the nicest person to be part of the group,” says Zachary, 38.

Meme to management strategy

The concept of a personality hire—like quiet quitting and lazy-girl jobs before—crystallised on social media. Few have captured the essence better than comedian Vienna Ayla , who plays a Miss Congeniality type in skits that have been viewed tens of millions of times on TikTok and Instagram.

The running joke is that her all-style-no-substance character contributes nothing, until she becomes a hero through schmoozing. In one bit, she gets her team a deadline extension by buttering up the chief executive . In another, she calls in a favour from the mayor , who happens to be her workout partner in an “ass and abs” exercise class.

Ayla, 27, tells me she hears from viewers who work with people like her character. Many feel frustrated, while others concede that personality hires can prove their worth in key moments, despite their lack of hustle.

“I kind of admire that type of person who doesn’t get so worked up but still manages to save the day,” says Ayla, who describes her real-life persona as type A.

Businesses don’t want caricatures, but many judge applicants differently than they did during hiring sprees a couple of years ago, says Brian Vesce , co-founder and CEO of RefAssured, a candidate-reference startup.

Skill was king during the talent war of 2021 and 2022, but recent layoffs suggest a lot of companies believe they have enough, or even too many, capable employees.

“We are seeing more employers looking for the right personality when a role opens up,” Vesce says.

Sensing the shift, he launched RefAssured last year in an attempt to measure characteristics in job candidates that are often called “intangibles.” Using the company’s software, references answer a series of questions about how an applicant communicates, handles stress, takes feedback and manages conflict. The responses yield a candidate’s soft-skill rating on a five-point scale.

Customers include 10 of the country’s 100 largest staffing agencies, Vesce says, and he expects to triple that total by year-end.

Red flag or badge of honour

Personality hires are a growing presence in tech, as efficiency-minded companies seek engineers who can also make time with customers, says Lorde Astor West , founder of RadHash, which makes back-end software for startups. But people who excel at gabbing about technology products usually aren’t the best coders, in her experience.

“The life of the party might be an individual who isn’t as capable, and now you have other team members who are having to make up the difference and fix mistakes,” she says.

Astor, 49, leads a team of about 100 employees and contractors and says she’s developed an appreciation for the snippy or introverted people who get things done. Give her a pricklebush over a personality hire any day.

Others wear the personality-hire label proudly. They say keeping their energy up takes effort and makes people around them better.

Danielle Norris calls herself a “personality hire meets hard work” on LinkedIn. She tells me emotional intelligence is among the top qualities she brings to her role as a marketing manager at the Jonus Group, a recruiting firm for insurance and finance companies. In meetings, she says she’s able to sense when a colleague is hesitant to share an idea and can help put that person at ease with a smile or encouraging word.

That leads to greater collaboration and results, according to Norris, 32.

“I bring the vibes,” she says. “I’m always looking to have a good time, but I’m still able to drive my team to success.”



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The S&P 500 index has been crushing private-equity returns in the past year, and Blackstone ’s second-quarter results illustrate that trend.

As part of its earnings release early Thursday Blackstone said its corporate private-equity returns in the year ending in June were 11.3%. That compares with a 24.5% total return for the S&P 500.

In the prior year ending in June 2023, the S&P 500 topped Blackstone with a 19.4% return against 9.7% for the firm’s corporate private-equity business, which has $145 billion of assets and remains one of its most important areas along with real estate.

Blackstone is the leading alternatives firm with over $1 trillion in assets under management and has the largest market value of any public investment firm at more than $160 billion.

Driven by Nvidia , Microsoft , Apple , Amazon and other big technology stocks, the S&P 500 has handily topped most asset classes in the past several years.

Another sign of more difficult times for private equity came earlier this week from Calpers, the $503 billion California pension fund, when it reported it s preliminary returns for its fiscal year ending in June . Calpers is one of the first major endowments or pension funds to report results for the June fiscal year. undefined The pension fund, a major player in private equity, said its private-equity investments gained 10.9% net of fees—although that figure is lagged one quarter. Calpers’ public-equity investments were up 17.5% in the year ended June—its strongest asset class. Private equity remains a favorite of many pension funds and leading university endowments like those of Harvard and Yale. Their view is that private equity can beat public-market returns over the long term.

But the private-equity business has gotten tougher in recent years due to keen competition for deals, higher interest rates and a less receptive IPO market, which has made exits tougher.

And private-equity portfolios of firms like Blackstone look nothing like the S&P 500, given their investments in small to midsize companies.

Blackstone, for instance, bought a majority stake in Emerson’s climate technologies business last year and more recently purchased Tropical Smoothie, a franchiser of fast-casual cafes. It also holds a stake in Bumble, the publicly traded online dating site, and it’s an investor in actress Reese Witherspoon’s media company, Hello Sunshine. Blackstone’s corporate private-equity business runs $145 billion and has 82 investments, according to the firm’s website.

Blackstone’s private-equity business has strong long-term returns including a gain of over 50% in the year ended in June 2021 when it handily topped the S&P 500 index.

But the S&P 500 index has become difficult to beat more recently and it’s dominated by some of the best companies in the world. It carries less risk than private equity, given the cash-rich balance sheets of its leading companies like Apple , Microsoft and Alphabet .

Private-equity firms, by contrast, often use considerable leverage to boost returns. Investors can get exposure to the S&P 500 through index funds that charge 0.1% or less in annual fees and with immediate liquidity.

A key risk with the S&P 500 is its vulnerability to a selloff in the leading tech firms that now make up over 40% of the index. The recent rotation into smaller companies illustrates that.

Blackstone shares gained 1.1% to $136.31 Thursday in the wake of its earnings news as investors focused on rising investment deployments and positive management comments on the firm’s outlook.

The firm’s nearly $40 billion of inflows and $34 billion of capital deployment during the second quarter marked “the highest level of investment activity in two years,” Chief Executive Officer Stephen Schwarzman said in a statement.

Citi analyst Christopher Allen wrote in a note to clients on Thursday that while Blackstone’s overall performance was mixed, the outlook appears to be improving given fund-raising and deployment trends.

Investors also were heartened by Blackstone President Jon Gray’s comments about a bottoming in commercial real estate and strong capital deployment in that area.

But ultimately, the game for Blackstone and its alternatives peers is about performance—particularly beating low-fee public investments like the S&P 500. That seems to be getting more difficult.