How much people like you will have a direct impact on your career and almost everything you do, but being liked is a relative thing.

A 2006 study discovered that “a candidate's skills mattered slightly less than likability.”

Easy job interview

True story

At a former company of mine, there was an engineer who was overwhelmed with work. We'll call him Tom. This 8-year veteran of the IT department – his first job, still a young guy – clearly had too much on his plate and it resulted in delayed projects and even undelivered projects.

Finally, Tom's boss convinced company management to grant them a headcount so that a 2nd engineer could be hired to help the first one.

To their good luck, they quickly found a very smart, talented engineer who was immediately available for a full-time role and Steve was quickly brought on board.

During his first year on the job, the new engineer blazed a trail. Steve…

  • completed many projects, including new ones that he'd suggested, and which created new potential streams of revenue
  • documented internal procedures for the first time, which led to careful analysis and efficiency improvements
  • wrote software that made other team members' jobs easier
  • gave an internal class on new, business-critical technology and
  • even participated in the recruiting of engineers in other parts of the company.

And all this while Tom continued to struggle with his workload, resulting in delayed projects and even undelivered projects.

Unfortunately, times were tough for the company and as part of their cutbacks, they decided to lay off one of these engineers.

Which one do you think was laid off – Tom the straggler or Steve the star?

You guessed it right- Steve's first year on the job was his only year on that job.

Why the layoff choice

Like the stereotypical nerd, Steve had some social skills issues. He was very sharp at understanding the root of a problem quickly and at a proposing a good solution just as quickly. However, his matter-of-fact manner irritated team members who felt that he made them look bad as a result of not having seen the solution themselves.

Also, Steve's analyses led to much constructive criticism. Even though Steve was a target as much as anyone else for his own criticism,  the pre-existing team culture had none of that and the team – including the manager! – didn't want it.

Contrast this with Tom, who'd been in his job for years with the same people, who were by now all comfortable with each other and who'd built their team culture together.


Tom was liked, so he kept a job that he struggled at.

Steve wasn't liked, so he lost a job that he excelled at. However, he then moved on to another company that had a more success-oriented culture. He excelled there too, and was liked.

Just because you're not liked doesn't mean you're not likable.

More reading

I originally published a version of this article on the terrific Personal Branding Blog.

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Jacob Share

Job Search Expert, Professional Blogger, Creative Thinker, Community Builder with a sense of humor. I like to help people.

This Post Has 24 Comments

  1. Tehillah Hessler

    Wow Jacob! Thanks for sharing this story. Unfortunately I know of too many names that could be substituted for “Tom” and “Steve”. It is very unfair, but a fact of the culture we currently live in. Which may explain why there are so many freelancers in the marketplace right now.

    Back in the 70s and 80s, and even early 90s “Steves” were appreciated and promoted (and hated by laid off coworkers). I wonder if the push toward improving self-esteem among American students and in turn lowering standards (e.g., “Why can’t Johnny read?” became “Johnny’s a nice boy, so what if he can’t read at grade level? It’s more important for Johnny to feel good about himself, so let’s not publicize Jane’s ability to read beyond grade level or God forbid allow competition between students because it might hurt someone’s feelings…”) has anything to do with this corporate cultural change.

    Note: I know this generalization does not apply to all schools, in all cities – or to all companies. I’ve just seen too much of it in the states I lived in during the past 20 years (NY, CA, OH, SC, TN, WV).

  2. Devorie

    I always tell people that if you get the interviewer to like you, you’re more likely to get the job. People want to work with people that they like.

    The example that you brought is pretty extreme. I’m sure seniority also affected the decision to keep Tom in the job.

  3. Steve G

    The article is right on. I have been talking about this for years. Jeb Blount is the author of “People Buy You” and although it is a sales book – it speaks to this very point.

  4. Jacob Share

    Tehillah- are you making a statement about affirmative action in general?

    Devorie- you’re right on the first count, and probably right on the second, but if so, it wasn’t the overriding factor.

    Steve- thanks for the referral, I’ll take a look.

  5. Tehillah Hessler

    @Jacob Share – absolutely not! I didn’t say anything about discrimination and countering it. I’m referring to the dumbing down of America.

    I have met too many white Anglo Saxon “Johnnys” in my career. S/He can’t “read” (or calculate without the aid of a device, or recount important historical events, or understand basic scientific concepts, or perform necessary research, or work independently, etc.) because s/he wasn’t motivated to do so and/or s/he wasn’t taught basic and critical learning skills or work ethic.

    I’m speaking from experience as a manager of employees and a parent whose child was labeled to have “learning difficulties”. My daughter (now 28 and successful in her medical career), fell through the cracks in both the NYS and CA school systems just scraping by in many subjects. When she was approaching high school age I decided to take a Sabbatical from my career and focus on her education – and the quality of education/life in the community we lived in.

    The end result: I homeschooled her, she earned her GED and went on to college. Many of her classmates didn’t finish high school; most of them were also labeled as having some sort of learning disability. When 70% of the class in a public junior high school – in a predominately white middle class neighborhood – is labeled with an LD, I tend to view the problem as a teaching disability coupled with lack of parental involvement (resulting from a self-centered culture – at least in that particular situation). When year after year final exams have to be graded on a curve to move the class on to the next grade, something is seriously wrong with the system. The board of education was steeped in politics with “I can’t hear you” fingers stuck in their ears.

    During that time we moved to Nashville, TN where we discovered a huge homeschooling movement. Families joined together to provide physical education and social activities for the children. Charity and community projects, and children involved in family businesses were part of their curriculum – children learned to learn, and learned the value of honest, ethical work.

    With the advent of the Internet, it isn’t difficult to find way too many examples similar to our situation.

    Homeschooling isn’t for everyone. Not all schools/teachers are failing. Societal shifts where parental responsibility is relinquished to government schools and social welfare systems are to blame for the increase in “Toms” IMHO.

    Today we are living in Israel where my son attends a public religious school. There is inconsistency between the quality of education (and length of the school day) in one town vs. another. Because of this we have just moved back to an east suburb of Jerusalem after living in the “Center” for a year (increasing my husband’s daily commute to work by 2 hours).

    Parents in that “Center” school admitted that the quality of education was terrible and advised me to hire tutors to fill in the many gaps. My son is now spending 6 hours per week of his summer vacation with a tutor whose goal it is to catch him up with his class here so he can start school in September on equal footing.

  6. Leslie Drew

    It’s true. Nobody wants to work long hours through tough deadlines with someone who annoys them. It brings down the overall productivity if one person is creating low morale among the group.

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