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Competence (human resources)

Remote work increases recruiters’ focus on competence over warmth-related skills when making hiring decisions, new study shows

The more the work-setting favours remote work over working from the office, the more recruiters perceive competent (as opposed to warm) candidates as appropriate for a job, which is, in turn, related to stronger recruitment intention.

work from home

What do you think is more important during a job interview? To be likable or to be competent? The obvious answer is ideally both. Person Perception Theory suggests that the two traits, warmth and competence, govern social judgments of individuals and that warmth has a primacy effect over competence because of its capability to predict people’s intentions. The question is, how has remote work changed the effect of warmth in recruiters’ hiring decisions?

The closure of many offices and workplaces these past years has introduced a new era of remote work for millions of people across the globe. People who had rarely or never worked remotely in the past now claim that their job can be done from home equally well. Not surprisingly, a large number of workers prefer to keep working from home even now that the COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted in most countries. Global Workplace Analytics estimates that approximately 30% of the workforce worldwide will continue working remotely.

This means that companies can now expand the pool of workers that they can choose from and at the same time gives them the opportunity to hire skilled workers from different locations improving person-job fit.

This shift to remote work is drastically transforming work itself. Although workers report more meetings than ever, they also report less social interaction with other people at work. Over time, workers’ social skills and social capabilities might become less important with remote work, while other skills, such as their efficiency and intelligence, which are more easily “visible” and possibly “useful” in online settings, might become more vital.

In a new study published in the Journal of Personality and Individual Differences, researchers at the University of Groningen suggest that worker social skills, known as “warmth”, will lose significance in conditions of remote work, and therefore it will play a less influential role in recruiters’ hiring decisions. In contrast, worker competence-related skills will become more important and become a more prominent role in hiring decisions.

To prove their assumptions, the authors propose two main hypotheses:

  1. A candidate’s competence will be a stronger predictor of recruitment intention as opposed to a candidate’s warmth.
  2. The positive effect of candidate competence (vs. warmth) on recruitment intention will be stronger when the work setting is remote compared to the office.

To prove their hypotheses they carry out two studies. In Study I, 304 participants (of which 182 were female) living in the Netherlands took part in an online study. Participants read the description of a job vacancy seeking for a person to coordinate a team of 10 to 20 people. Then, they were asked to take the perspective of an HR manager, who was supposed to hire one of the candidates that had applied. The job description included both alternatives of the work setting (remote work vs. office). Subsequently, participants were presented with a short description of the candidates, which included the researchers’ manipulation of the candidate’s warmth and competence.

In Study II, 298 participants (of which 138 were female) took part in an online survey. Participants then read a job vacancy description and were asked to imagine that this job vacancy was announced in their company or department. They were informed that some people had applied for the job and that they were the ones to make a final decision about whom to hire. Opposite to Study I, the job vacancy did not include a specific job title. Similarly to Study I, participants read short descriptions of two candidates. Researchers only manipulated the warmth and competence of one of the two candidates, while the second candidate was described as moderate in both dimensions.

The results from the first study show that the competence/warmth effect on recruitment intention is most likely driven by the remote working condition. In other words, results point out remote work as a condition that undermines the importance of workers’ warmth-related traits in hiring decisions. As the authors mention, one important limitation of the first study is the fact that participants had no hiring experience.

The results from the second study show that the more the work-setting favors remote work over working from the office, the more recruiters perceive competent (as opposed to warm) candidates as appropriate for a job, which is, in turn, related to stronger recruitment intention.

As the authors conclude, these findings are in line with the assumption that teleworking turns recruiters’ attention to candidate characteristics that have stronger transactional value, such as competence, while candidate warmth, which has a stronger relational value and is expressed through candidate social interactions becomes less significant in the hiring decision.

See the paper here or download the PDF →