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Personality matters – we want to work with people we like

March 9, 2013

Hi Steve: Here is my problem: I am a wedding photographer and there is a guy in my town who I often compete with for business. While my business is good, for some reason, when I am up against him, he usually gets the gig. The quality of our work is the same, and in fact, my background is more impressive. I will admit he is a little more personable than me. Is that really it?

There are many reasons why someone may win business over someone else: Lower prices, better quality, a better pitch, great contacts . . . it is tough to say. But let’s not underestimate the importance of that one-to-one connection. It is often said that business is about relationships and I think that is very true.

People like working with people they like.

Let me share a little story: Back in the day, I had a pal in law school who was not only smart, but also very personable and interesting. He told me, more than once, that once you get to the level where you are competing against other smart people for the same position, a lot more goes into the hiring equation than being the one with the best grades, or resume, or whatever.

“Steve,” my friend told me, “Everyone at this level has great credentials, otherwise they would not be here. We are all smart. Given that, I think that what hiring partners really want to know is whether they will like spending 8 to 10 hours a day with you every day.” His point was that because we spend so much time working with the people at the office, what employers really look for are people who not only can do the job, but who are good to work with; people who are personable, interesting, good teammates, smart, and friendly.

I know a woman with the great resume who can’t seem to find a job right now. She has excellent qualifications, a stellar academic background, and mad skills. But still, she cannot seem to land a position. Why? Well, although she is whip-smart, she lets you know it. In fact, she is a tad arrogant, and I bet, probably feels/acts like she is slumming when interviewing. Who wants to work with someone like that?

Compare that to a guy I know who just fielded three different job offers. While he lacks her credentials and breadth of knowledge, he’s got one thing she hasn’t got (to quote the great and mighty Wizard of Oz): a heart. Sure he is smart and sharp, but he is also easy to talk to, listens, does not take himself too seriously, tells a good joke, is quick to laugh, and, all in all, is a fun person to be around.

And that, I think, is a good reminder that when you are in business, a lot more goes into getting the sale, making the presentation, or getting the gig. You can buy your inventory from, probably, a dozen different companies. Why do you choose the ones you do? Sure, price and products are part of it, but I bet so too is the fact that you like working with those vendors. If you did not, you would have moved on; after all, who has not said “I will take my business elsewhere.”

Where will you take it?

It will be to people like my old law school pal who knew this vital lesson: People like working with people they like.

Today’s tip: What is the best thing you have learned from your small business? Whether it is a management insight, a marketing strategy, or what have you, USA TODAY wants to know! E-mail your tip, along with and original photo of your small business (with caption of everyone pictured) and they may feature it in a gallery for USA TODAY’s “Savvy Small Business” series. The series showcases innovative and interesting entrepreneurs. E-mail your entry to

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