Jamie Herzlich Newsday columnist Jamie Herzlich

Herzlich writes the Small Business column in Newsday.

While finding employees with the right skill set is still important to employers, personality is playing a greater role in their hiring decisions.

A survey by Stockholm-based Universum found 88 percent of employers placed more weight on finding a good cultural fit for their organization than on specific skills. Among the top personality traits identified by employers polled were professionalism, high energy and confidence.

"When someone joins an organization they are joining a team," says Joao Araujo, global marketing director for Universum, an employer branding firm. "In today's collaborative world it is more important to ensure that teams are balanced when it comes to their personalities than to guarantee that they have the ultimate best skills."

Still, skills were a high priority for 82 percent of the 2,641 survey respondents.

Personality can't be taught: You can train people when it comes to skills, says Araujo. It's more difficult to change someone's personality. So how do you know the right personality fit for your organization?

"It depends on the job," says Dr. Herb Greenberg, founder and CEO of Caliper Corp., a Princeton, N.J., human resource development company.

If you're looking for a sales person, you want someone with "ego drive," he says, who "likes him or herself if someone says yes to them." That quality's not so important in an accounting position, Greenberg notes.

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Caliper offers personality assessments, in which job candidates answer about 150 questions to see if they're the right fit.

To decide which personality traits work best for your company, start by understanding the traits needed to succeed in the specific job you're trying to fill, Greenberg says.

When interviewing, don't just ask candidates what they did in their last job, he adds. Ask questions to delve deeper, such as what they loved most about it and what they couldn't stand.

If you need someone who displays confidence on the job, ask, "What are the top two accomplishments you had in your previous job?" and listen to what they say and how they say it, says Linda Berke, president of Farmingdale-based Taylor Performance Solutions, which provides career coaching for employees and helps managers conduct effective interviews.

If you're looking for someone who's empathetic and likes working with people, offer a scenario of a complaint from an angry customer and ask how the interviewee would respond, she says.

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To the personality traits identified in the Universum study, Berke would add listening, noting "it's required for every job."

For Angelo Garcia, principal industrial hygienist at Future Environment Designs in Syosset, being outgoing and personable are key traits for new hires. The company is an indoor air quality and industrial hygiene consulting and training firm, so it works with customers very closely.

Skills still matter: "It's important they have a friendly greeting and manner," says Garcia. With some applicants, he says, it's like "pulling teeth" to get them to talk -- an immediate sign it's not a good fit.

Finding a good communicator is also key for Richard Pfadenhauer, president of Paylogix LLC in Westbury, a financial services and technology provider for health and welfare programs. He can size up an applicant in an initial phone interview by seeing if the person plays an active role in the dialogue. Being self-motivated and detail-oriented are also key, but he doesn't discount the need for good skills: "Personality does play a role, but if you don't have the skills, personality is only going to get you so far."