Study: Employers Hire Best Friends, Not Best Workers

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A recent study finds that many employers hire people they want to be friends with, and not who can necessarily do the best job. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

A recent study finds that many employers hire people they want to be friends with, and not who can necessarily do the best job. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

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WASHINGTON (CBS DC) – Many employers tend to hire people they would hang out with – and not someone who can do the best job.

A study published in the December issue of the American Sociological Review shows that while employers do hire someone who can do a job on a baseline or par level, they really want to employ someone that they will feel good around.

“Employers really want people who they will bond with,” wrote study author Lauren A. Rivera of Northwestern University. “Someone who they will feel good around, who will be their friend and maybe even their romantic partner. As a result, employers don’t necessarily hire the most skilled candidates.”

More than half of the evaluators in the study ranked cultural fit — the perceived similarity to a firm’s existing employee base in leisure pursuits, background, and self-presentation — as the most important criterion at the job interview stage.

Evaluators at firms often valued their personal feelings of comfort, validation, and excitement over identifying candidates with superior cognitive or technical skills.

The study — “Hiring as Cultural Matching: The Case of Elite Professional Service Firms — is based on 120 interviews with professionals involved in undergraduate and graduate hiring in elite U.S. investment banks, law firms, and management consulting firms as well as participant observation of a recruiting department. Rivera conducted the interviews—40 per industry—from 2006 through 2008 and the fieldwork within the recruiting department of an elite professional service firm over nine months between 2006 and 2007.

“It is important to note that this does not mean employers are hiring unqualified people,” Rivera wrote in the study. “But, my findings demonstrate that—in many respects—employers hire in a manner more closely resembling the choice of friends or romantic partners than how one might expect employers to select new workers.”

Rivera showed that many of the employers’ questions had a striking resemblance to those asked in pursuit of a romantic partner: “Do you feel the spark? Do you have a similar level of education?”

Rivera also stressed the social class distinction present in the workplace.

“Cultivating leisure time is a hallmark of the upper-middle and upper classes, and it’s really important as a class marker and as a source of identity,” she said. “You may see different types of cultural similarities that matter in occupations that are less elite.”

The American Sociological Association was founded in 1905 and is a non-profit membership association that serves people in the sociology industry.

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