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