Hiring Managers Unconsciously Prefer Natural Talent to Experience

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Some people say there’s no substitute for experience and hard work—but in the eyes of hiring managers, Forbes reports, a candidate’s natural talent is considered more impressive than their career credentials.

In a series of studies published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, University College London professor Chia-Jung Tsay discovered that recruiters interviewing job candidates tend to be biased toward ones that demonstrate innate skill. The catch? They weren’t aware of this preference, and thought they preferred ambitious career-climbers to bright novices.

In one study, participants were provided with information on a fictional applicant named Charles. Half were informed that Charles was a natural leader, and the others were told that Charles had to work hard for his success, and became a boss by forming important work alliances. The participants then evaluated a recorded business pitch from Charles, using criteria including his likelihood for success and whether they would consider hiring him or investing in his business. Sure enough, the subjects who were told that Charles was inherently gifted gave him higher scores.

A second study provided Tsay with similar results. This time, Harvard Business Review reports, participants were presented with 18 pairs of applicants, all of whom possessed different levels of management skills, leadership performance, IQ, investor capital raised, and talent versus ambition. They were asked to choose one of the two entrepreneurs to invest in for a new business, and ranked how much of a part of each quality played in their choice.

In the end, natural abilities trumped qualifications, with nearly 60 percent of the participants choosing the candidate with natural aptitude. These hiring managers were even willing to overlook a candidate’s lack of leadership experience, management skills, IQ, and accrued capital if they believed they were talented enough.

This raises the question: How does a candidate showcase innate talent during the recruiting process? In her story for Forbes, Amy Morin, author of the book 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Dosuggests that you skip the speech about what a hard worker you are, and instead impress interviewers by playing up attributes that "come naturally" to you.

Other tips? Since hiring managers will likely Google you before calling you in for an interview, consider making an online portfolio of your best work. Confidence is often viewed as talent and competence, so when you go in for your interview, try to convey your self-assurance with a firm handshake, good eye contact, and a relaxed, positive demeanor. Also, prepare in advance for any surprise skills assessment tests they might spring on you so you can display your ability to think on your feet. Lastly, speak to your references in advance about instances in which you displayed a natural ability to lead or learned new skills quickly; this way, these attributes are top-of-mind when your potential employer gives them a ring.

[h/t Forbes]