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I remember a friend who went to a top-10 University, was academically exceptional all his life, and did thorough research on the companies he was applying to, yet he would always miss out on jobs to people who were seemingly weaker on paper.

Why does charm seem to have such a great influence on one's ability to get a job compared to other factors such as qualifications and academic achievements?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Oct 26 '18 at 23:10

17 Answers 17

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An employee is more than their resume. Even if someone has high academic marks and top qualifications, if they're bad at communicating, personally unpleasant, or a poor fit for the company culture, they may be passed over for someone with a less impressive resume. The fact that someone aced all their exams at a top school does not necessarily mean they will be a good employee at any company they apply to.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Oct 27 '18 at 23:25
  • Definitely an up vote for this answer. Score well during academics shows that you put a lot of effort during your uni/college life but this does not prove that you have a good working attitude, great teamwork sense or even able to communicate well because grades won't tell that much. I have seen quite examples of people who are having only average results in uni/college life (I myself too) but perform well during work and able to cope with the working environment in terms of pace and culture compare to those top university graduates that are picky on many things – gitguddoge Oct 29 '18 at 9:41
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    However its too sad to accept the fact that there are some companies in our country who will filter the resume based on the university/college before they further look into the details. Guess this is one of the perks of being the top university graduates? – gitguddoge Oct 29 '18 at 9:45
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I remember a friend, who went to a top-10 University, got A* all his life

I have that friend(s) too. Here are some things I've noticed that have really hindered him in his professional life:

No/little ability to self-evaluate - This friend continually makes the same set of mistakes. Speaking in terse sentences and forcing teammates to play 20 questions to determine what he means; doing group projects in odd languages like Scala that no one else in the group knew (someone else would rewrite); and going off on odd tangents every conversation.

Not getting summer internships to build his professional skills - He took college courses instead of working during the summer. There are other students with the same GPA that have professional experience. They'll get chosen over him.

Can't handle critical feedback - When I brought up several of these issues with him. He argued with me about how it was a waste of time to not be as terse. That Scala is the wave of the future, etc. I didn't bother trying again.

Calling/implying other's are idiots - He said "That's just stupid" on multiple occasions. He also didn't offer a better idea. Linus Torvalds has realized he can't do this with impunity, but this guy didn't.

Poor Communication Skills - Even though teammates had to ask several clarifying questions, it never crossed his mind he needed to change his communication style (little ability to self-evaluate), and when a teammates offered critical feedback to help, he ignored it (can't handle critical feedback). He's chosen to remain a poor communicator until both of these change.

As a side note, while getting all A's in college is impressive, it's much more impressive to the university than to hiring managers. Your degree only gets you in the door at interviews. If you can't demonstrate you'll be a good employee it doesn't matter how high your GPA is.

EDIT:

From the comments, it appears mentioning Scala has touched a nerve. The issue wasn't that he used Scala. The issue was he used Scala after the group decided to use Python (he was included in the discussion).

I've edited the first point to reflect it was "no one in the group" knew Scala, not, no one knows Scala.

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    "Your degree only gets you in the door at interviews." -- Not even that. Your degree only gets you past the keyword filters used by HR employees. – Fund Monica's Lawsuit Oct 24 '18 at 22:20
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    I have run into these kinds of people in the professional space too, they are really tough to work with professionally too. There is a concept of working styles, and one of those is the analyst, they need a lot of information to make decisions, do not have good interpersonal skills etc. If as a manager/co-worker you can identify this and work around these limitations, their strengths are quite powerful too, usually very high quality work output and very competent skill sets. This individual in your story could also be high functioning autistic, the pattern fits. – Bill Leeper Oct 25 '18 at 15:11
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    @deinocheirus - That is the definition of being a bad communicator. Your audience doesn't understand you. – sevensevens Oct 25 '18 at 16:52
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    Communication is indeed a two-way street, but you can't ignore the part of it that's your own responsibility, and if you're consistently failing despite having been literally told how to fix the problem, the fault is pretty much squarely on your own shoulders. – Lightness Races with Monica Oct 26 '18 at 10:01
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    @xLeilix - "it sounds like the Scala incident was in the context of a classroom exercise" - it was. The group decided we all wanted to use Python (including the guy). He already knew Scala, and just felt like it was "better" than Python. Scala isn't the issue (I know Scala) - the issue was we agreed as a group to use Python, and he decides to do his own thing. – sevensevens Oct 28 '18 at 17:24
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Most recruitment processes... aren't very good (to use a euphemism).

There's plenty of research on recruitment practices that shows which practices are effective and which aren't. Still, most companies choose to use horrible techniques.

There are several reasons for that but the most important one is probably that most people tend to "believe their guts" more than objective factors. The problem is "guts" are irrational. E.g. research shows we like - and tend to employ - people that are similar to us. This is a natural thing, but it can be and frequently is counterproductive on the level of the whole organisation, where the people like us don't need to be the people our organisation needs.

Another thing is, research shows that people tend to assess extroverts as more attractive and desirable ("charming").

This article summarises some problems with job interviews. There are many more.

As a result, the process frequently fails to deliver the objectively best candidate.

However, the fact that hiring managers and HR aren't normally accountable for their recruiting failures (because it's virtually impossible to prove the decision was wrong) doesn't really motivate them to learn and improve.

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    true, but selecting someone based on impressive university/grades/etc is the easy part. this seems more likely to explain the opposite problem, hiring someone for these reasons and perhaps missing some other issue – aw04 Oct 24 '18 at 21:21
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    “the objectively best candidate” — if you think you can actually identify the objectively best candidate for a job, you should become a recruitment consultant immediately. – Paul D. Waite Oct 26 '18 at 8:27
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    Objectively you need to also consider subjective features of the applicant. – MonkeyZeus Oct 26 '18 at 13:48
  • @PaulD.Waite The point is that it's difficult to do within the scope of a typical recruitment process. Research on this topic either compares the result of a more thorough evaluation with more superficial approaches (like unstructured interviews) or tries to relate initial evaluation and performance measures collected later. There are many methodological difficulties (like selection bias) but these results are not predicated on anyone's ability to identify the objectively best candidate easily. – Relaxed Oct 27 '18 at 15:38
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    +1 for not assuming that the emphasis on "charm" is always a good thing. A couple of the worst hires I've ever had to work with were incredibly charismatic in their interviews. All that slick got them the job, but didn't made them good at it. Unfortunately, sometimes, snake oil sells. – 1006a Oct 29 '18 at 1:54
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Resumes can be misleading

Between flat-out lies and exaggerations, one can't fully trust anything written in a resume. If a candidate is unable to have a comfortable conversation about what they did in any given role (which might happen if you're particularly uncharming), that's usually a pretty big red flag.

Resume don't tell much of a story

They typically don't explain in much detail how you did any given thing written on them, nor what challenges you faced and how you dealt with those.

You need to tell them those things. How well you're able to do that will depend, to a large extent, on how charming you are - you need to present them with the information they're looking for (even when they don't directly ask for it), but you also shouldn't bore your interviewer. If they're bored, they will pay less attention to what you have to say, they will tend towards negative assumptions and decisions rather than positive ones and they may feel that they don't want a boring coworker for a variety of reasons.

Qualifications are meaningless

Okay, that's an exaggeration, but qualifications often don't say that much about one's ability to actually do a job in the real-world (even just the technical part).

Some people with degrees are unable to solve even the simplest of problems concerning the thing the degree was supposed to make them skilled at. I have no idea how common this is, but some people in hiring seem to believe it's quite common, which means those people probably won't give much weight to qualifications, or even experience (which is the point I'm trying to make).

In many or most jobs, your resume might get you an interview, but everyone interviewing for the same job (at the same seniority) will get evaluated on their technical ability in the same way, regardless of qualification or experience (they may tailor it a bit to give you questions you should know the answer to, but they're still testing your knowledge rather than assuming you have it). This means that what your qualifications or experience are meant to prove, i.e. that you can do the job, is largely made redundant by this process.

This applies largely to the programming domain - any given other industry may or may not be similar.

Communication is important

In most jobs you need to work with coworkers. In many jobs you'll deal with clients or business partners.

Being able to communicate "well" certainly falls within the skills required to do most jobs well.

People want to spend time with people who are fun to be around

Your interviewer is generally a potential coworker and often someone who will work closely with you. This generally involves spending a lot of time with you (even if it's just in a professional setting).

If you're charming, they'll likely want to spend time with you, which means they'll be more likely to want you to get the job.

Charm plays on emotion

If you're charming, people will be more likely to want to buy some of what you're selling (so to speak).

Yes, interviews are really just sales pitches, and you're the salesperson and the product. If you're not a good salesperson, you're going to have a hard time selling even the best of products.

  • Some people with degrees are unable to solve even the simplest of problems concerning the thing the degree was supposed to make them skilled at. Any reference for this? Any examples? – Koray Tugay Oct 24 '18 at 18:09
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    @KorayTugay Edited. – Dukeling Oct 24 '18 at 18:11
  • @KorayTugay Your "reference" is a ten year old article, griping about entry level programmers. I would expect entry level programmers to be unskilled, but then it poses a lot university programmers can't program (whatever a lot means). Computer information systems, Software Engineering, Computer Science; one of these degrees doesn't always include programming. Was the degree English? There are too many different ways to program for a Programming degree. Senior guys taking 10 minutes gathering requirements is good, if they answer the wrong question in 5, they don't get hired. – Edwin Buck Oct 26 '18 at 14:56
  • @KorayTugay I would hope that a current article uses data instead of anecdote. – Edwin Buck Oct 26 '18 at 14:56
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    "Some people with degrees are unable to solve even the simplest of problems concerning the thing the degree was supposed to make them skilled at." <- As someone who conducted his fair share of technical interviews over the years, I confirm that such people exist. A surprinsingly big percentage actually. It blows my mind every time. @KorayTugay I hope this clears your skepticism about this statement :) . – Radu Murzea Oct 28 '18 at 19:02
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Hiring managers are people too. When you pick a computer, you want to get the best one you can afford. When you pick someone to work with you, you want someone qualified but you also want someone you like being around for 8 hours a day.

Fortunately, “charmingness” isn’t something hard-coded into one’s DNA. It’s something that can be developed through study and practice. Check out Daniel Goleman’s bestselling book Emotional Intelligence. It totally changed my life, both professionally and personally.

  • Would you say that Emotional Intelligence made you... affable? – Fund Monica's Lawsuit Oct 26 '18 at 20:29
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For the simple reason that a candidate lacking in skill can be educated, but nobody wants to deal with an ass.

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    Oh, you would be surprised how many people not only don't mind dealing with assholes but prefer to work with them. – BigMadAndy Oct 24 '18 at 21:20
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    @385703 I would be very surprised. Why would that be the case? What situation could there be where someone would prefer to work with an asshole instead of with a non-asshole? – Aaron F Oct 26 '18 at 10:24
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    @385703 what do you base this on? – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Oct 26 '18 at 11:09
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    @385703 I think you're defining "asshole" wrong, then. Did you maybe mean "curt, brutally honest" or "socially inept"? Because in those cases, yeah, I can see people preferring or at least not minding. But an asshole is someone who is intentionally hurtful for no better reason than they enjoy being hurtful. They are not someone bluntly telling you your code is trash, explaining how it could be better, and not wasting time with unnecessary coddling; nor are they someone who struggles to get what other people feel and says mean things by accident as a result. – Fund Monica's Lawsuit Oct 26 '18 at 20:24
  • @NicHartley exactly. Nobody wants a disruption in their organization. – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Oct 26 '18 at 20:26
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Because they are charming!!

Even stupid dogs are liked better than smart cats, because dogs are loyal and fun, and cats are A-holes. Who would you rather spend you day with, a loyal and fun dog or an A-hole cat?!

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    I know many people who like cats more than dogs. – Paŭlo Ebermann Oct 24 '18 at 21:50
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    -1, I don't think this is a useful answer. "Why does X qualify them more for a position?" "Because they are Xful" isn't a helpful answer. Maybe you could elaborate on why being charming is helpful to a team, and how much the impact of being around someone who isn't fun has a negative impact – TankorSmash Oct 24 '18 at 22:10
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    @PaŭloEbermann those people are Wrong – Morons Oct 24 '18 at 22:54
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    So the choice is the ahole who can be assigned a task and then you can leave them alone knowing that they are more than capable of handling things without your constant involvement. Or, hire the charmer that needs hand-holding and your active involvement in everything they do. I'll take the one who best removes additional work, chores and stress from my bucket. That certainly is not the dog. – Dunk Oct 24 '18 at 23:15
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    @Morons In fact, stupid dog are probably more endearing than normal dogs, I mean, take a look at youtube. – josh Oct 26 '18 at 10:44
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It's not just about how good somebody is on the theory side of things; it's also about how well they can integrate into a team, how well they can communicate with the team, what kind of personality they have, etc.

Not to mention that just because somebody knows the theory doesn't mean they can use it practically or effectively.

َ

  • (sorry for duplicating the comment) The reverse is also true. Universities refused to recognise my 6 years of work experience as the equivalent of a singe 6 credit Informatics course (as in 1 lecture per week, exam in the end of the single semester). Later I understood why this is reasonable. – Vorac Oct 26 '18 at 11:51
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This is a common issue among newly grads. I sort of - kind of blame schools for not properly preparing students for the "real world." After all we go to school to eventually get a job in the same field.

Anyway, a lot of students simply go to the school, do the work, then when they graduate realize their perfect grade meant nothing because they did nothing. They simply did their work and that was it. Only thing they have on their resume is a good grade. Is that good enough? It only shows you're able to do work that has a known solution.

So your friend would need to practice interviewing. Being able to show understanding and how to articulate that to the interviewer.

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Think about it like this: In a couple of months I can learn a new framework/language and become reasonably competent. But learning social skills? that can take years, maybe an entire lifetime. Some people naturally have charisma, others will struggle with it their entire lives.

he would always miss out on jobs, to people who were seemingly weaker

This says it all. He perceived other candidates as weaker (maybe they were) but this shows his arrogance. Companies aren't just looking for qualified employees, they're looking for people who will get on well with the rest of the team. This is often called 'team fit'.

A weaker candidate who has strong people skills and shows potential to improve is far more appealing than a stronger candidate with weak social skills.

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    Re:"Think about it like this...." The same thing can be said about programming in general and probably more so...Not only does it take years to become reasonably competent at a professional level but for many people they never get it throughout their entire career. There are many very senior level developers who could never and will never be able to design and implement a sizable system of even moderate complexity to a production level quality. Conversely, many, many new grads are very socially awkward but do in fact learn how to be 'business level social' as part of their work experience. – Dunk Oct 25 '18 at 18:40
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    You can teach and learn 'social skills' to some acceptable level. You can't teach or learn to become smart. – Dunk Oct 25 '18 at 18:40
  • @Dunk I agree to some degree, yes there are people who are naturally logical and pickup programming very easily. They may be able to learn to be 'business level social' but they'll always be a bit socially awkward. My point is that charisma is a different kind of intelligence, it's being smart on an emotional level and you can't teach it. – Pixelomo Oct 25 '18 at 23:33
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    Social skills are more than following the rules of what you should/should not say/do. The hard part to LEARN is how to communicate your expertise in a way that you will be understood. If you are an excellent programmer, but don't know how to explain what what you need from the Clients, Designers, A/V guys, etc you need to work with then you can hamper the project. And most such people will believe it's everyone else's fault for not being smart enough to understand them; so, they never try to improve. If you hire the one who can speak in layman's terms, you can avoid some costly issues. – Nosajimiki Oct 26 '18 at 14:08
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    This answer nails it. Who do the hiring managers see as 'Seemingly weaker'? Accept that and the person is on path to getting the roles they want. – Keith Oct 29 '18 at 4:37
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It's possible these things could be seen as inflating the value of a potential hire.

Someone who has graduated from a top university with top grades is likely to command a higher salary, yet they may or may not have any practical advantage over another candidate.

It's not unreasonable then to see this as poor value, especially when hiring someone fresh out of school who is unproven and will require training anyway.

It's also worth noting that qualifications and academic achievements are something to list on a resume, which hiring companies use as an initial filter for candidates. So if your friend is getting to the interview phase, then the qualifications/academic achievements aren't the problem. There's something else holding him back, and I don't see any reason to assume "lack of charm" is the issue. Asking for feedback from these interviews may provide some insight.

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In white-collar jobs, especially high-level ones (as an A* student would shoot for), the technical expertise, intelligence etc. surely is important, but other skills (human, organizational, verbal, etc.) are very much on the same level of importance, or even higher.

Yes, if he is exceptionally great in the area of knowledge/solving of problems, that is of course a great starting point. But that guy will not for very long be simply working on his technical problems, but he will likely have some kind of lead function. That does not necessarily need to be a proper disciplinary lead, or a teamlead or project lead or something like that. But it will be part of his job to make guidelines for weaker colleagues; to help others; to review stuff... and possibly talk with customers. There are few high-level jobs I'm aware of (at least in IT) which allow you to simply do your own thing, or sit in an enclosed space with a few colleagues of the same calliber.

So that is where other people of weaker technical capabilities can easily surpass an A* person. Me, personally, I'm obviously looking for a mixture of both, but I simply cannot use a highflyer who seems to be obnoxious, has no obvious people skills, or is just completely absorbed in his work. The fact that a first impression (in the form of a 1-2 hour interview) settles this opinion is well-researched, and just part of human nature.

To put it bluntly, if I have an highly-educated, ultra-intelligent person (presumably expensive, as well), I need to know that I can throw him into any situation (sales, delivery, customer...) and he needs to be flexible and communicative enough to survive the first few hours (even if he is just here to quickly help out with something as a one-off). If I don't have that... meh.

A different aspect is that there simply are just so many jobs in a typical company which require A* people, and which offer enough "meat" to keep them interested for long. I have lost employees that were simply bored after a while; and this is also an aspect I have to keep in mind. The cost of building someone up, having him maybe implement some stuff that he knows best (as he is the A* guy, and others may have a hard time following), just then to leave for greener pastures is really significant.

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A lot of good answers here, but another possible issue is that many grads assume a great education means you don't need to start at the bottom. A lot of well educated people try to apply to junior level positions thinking that their education is enough to make up for lack of experience, but then get a world of no from employers specifically looking for people with 1-5 years of experience actually doing the job because these employers know that there is a lot more to their industry than is taught in school.

For example, a college educated person may know how to do the core job very well, but have no clue about normal office stuff like how to work as part of a group, operate within a budget, or use a multi-line phone system.

I've also seen employers that would pick a Highschool Grad over a College Grad, even for highly technical jobs. This is because College Grads (especially those with a high GPA) have a propensity to overestimate their abilities. This can lead to costly mistakes where as the less edjucated person is more likely to ask how to solve a problem than try to fix it and mess up.

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I've been on a few interview panels recruiting for my agency's grad program, and I can think of several times where we ended up rating a candidate with strong academic qualifications below somebody who might have appeared "weaker" on paper.

Some areas where the academic high-flyers may have difficulty:

Inability to put academic knowledge into practice

Somebody I knew once asked me for help figuring out the height and width of a display screen that had a 16:9 aspect ratio and a 22-inch diagonal from corner to corner. (Or something of that sort, I don't recall the exact numbers.)

I'm sure that if I'd asked this guy "what is Pythagoras' theorem?" he could have given me a perfect definition. But he hadn't recognised this as a case where he could apply that knowledge. I see this now and again with strong academic performers who haven't spent too much time outside academia.

Inability to tailor communication to the audience

Having knowledge is great, but in the workplace often you need to share that knowledge with others. There's a considerable amount of skill required to do so effectively, and many people with strong academic credentials are terrible at this.

At university you can usually get away with this. Your lecturer already knows the content, so you just have to demonstrate that you also know the content. But in the workplace, it's often necessary to tailor communication to the audience - what does this person need to understand, and how can I bring them to that understanding?

Inability to sustain productive working relationships

A few years back I worked with "Bob". Bob was phenomenally smart, I learned a great deal from him, and he was absolutely driven to get the job done. He built a sophisticated IT system single-handedly. I didn't see his academic grades but I expect they were superlative.

He also had zero tolerance for time "wasted" in meetings, and zero interest in persuading people why he wanted to do things the way he did them... or listening to why they might want him to do them a different way.

So he never talked to our IT team about what their processes or requirements were, and he never got their buy-in for what he was doing. So we ended up with a complex and crucial system that our IT crew hadn't agreed to support, and badly soured relationships between my section and the IT division. After Bob left it took years to mend relationships and some of the old hands still get twitchy when I mention certain software products.

So, yeah, "charm" matters. The wrong kind of charm can be a negative in interviews - I've seen candidates who were obviously trying to hustle me and bluff their way through stuff they didn't know - but people skills are important in even the most technical of jobs.

Inability to deal with uncertainty

University study is something of a controlled environment. When you are given an assignment, the parameters for that assignment will be clearly defined, and once defined you can usually rely on them. If a lecturer were to say "I'm changing the due date from November to October, and Question 3 will now be replaced with something entirely different" after students had been working on that assignment for a month, that would be considered extremely inept; out in the workplace this is just the sort of thing that happens, and we want candidates who can roll with that.

Lack of examples to demonstrate key capabilities

Not every academic high-achiever is weak in these areas! But it's not enough to have these skills; you have to be able to convince the panel that you have them. Academia may not be the best place to collect examples that you can use when the interviewer asks "Tell me about a time when you..."

When I interview, I'm generally rating a candidate in five or six different areas, and they need to convince me that they're at least "suitable" in ALL of them. "Technical skills" is one of those criteria; scoring well in that area is helpful, but on its own it's not nearly enough.

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To be frank, all that other stuff generally doesn't matter for a job. It's nice to know that a potential employee has qualifications, but for most jobs most people who make it to the interview stage will be good enough 2-3 months from now, with a majority of those people being good enough in a few weeks from a technical standpoint. With that, most employees being good enough, taken into consideration, interviews are generally used to test someone on a personal level. More often than not that means that they're used to see who is liked more.

All the A's in the world won't make your friend better than a B and C student to such a degree that it will make up for that other person's "fit" with the company.

One place this might not hold true for is any organization that uses a rubric without interpersonal skills for interviews, but even here the candidate who is just liked better and qualifies will win.

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Being charming usually means you're interesting and or agreeable. If you think about how much time we spend at work(8-12hrs/day). Would you rather be working alongside someone charming or someone unpleasant? It is definitely the sugar on the cookie if the prospective hire is actually good at what they do.

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Perhaps it ("charm") is related to self-confidence.

Someone who is shy, hesitant, silent, surly may be someone who lacks self-confidence (and who can't be a leader who inspires confidence in others).

Conversely someone who is overly full of themselves, uninterested in others, unwilling to share, may be too self-absorbed and a difficult team-member.

Interviewers are, to some extent, unable to assess your abilities in an interview. I think that they therefore, partly, go with what you say about yourself: if your evident self-confidence says, "yes I can do the job", as well as, "yes I can make other people feel better for working with me", then that's an asset.

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