Keywords that reveal people's personalities and help with recruitment decisions

Keywords that reveal people's personalities and help with recruitment decisions

Mahatma Gandhi once said: "Your beliefs become your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits become your values. Your values become your destiny." If you want to find out more about people's core beliefs and thoughts, pay close attention to the words they use regularly.

Today, I'd like to tell you what these "keywords" can tell you about someone's personality, and how you can use these insights to make better decisions when recruiting talent or selecting candidates for development.

Cognitive profiling methods: Many companies established personality profiling methods with well-known acronyms such as MBTI, DISC or HBTI to learn about the preferred styles of employees, managers and prospective recruits. But what if a candidate cheats by ticking certain answers because he or she knows that those answers will improve the chances of getting chosen?

Solution to the personality test dilemma: TIPS is the cognitive profiling tool I created for my company, Thinkergy. TIPS stands for four base orientations -- Theories, Ideas, People, Systems. These bases also capture basic value orientations, allowing us to check if people fudge their answers. How?

Imagine you're applying for a talent development programme focused on innovation, but deep down you don't consider yourself a "creative" person. The questionnaire on your cognitive profiling test has certain answer options that allow you to assert how creative you are. What will you do? Some candidates will intentionally tick the "wrong" answers that portray them as creative types and increase their odds of being selected.

TIPS addresses this problem in two ways. First, I designed the test so that someone who tries to "game" the result will either end up with a balanced "All-Rounder" profile, or end up with a test score that just edges into one of the other 10 profiles. Second, if the latter happens, we pay attention to the words that such "borderline" candidates use in a final interview to find out if they're really all-rounders or lean more towards another profile.

Keywords to listen for: What are typical keywords that people with different profiles enjoy using? I recently jotted down a number of them while interviewing 50 applicants (whom we had tested earlier) for an innovation talent development programme. Let's first get a sense of the language favoured by the four pure profiles (Theorist, Ideator, Partner and Systematiser) who rest solely on one base:

Sitting at the top-left Theories base of the TIPS map, Theorists emphasise their passion for the truth through expressions such as "honestly speaking", "if I am honest" or "to tell the truth". They use "reason" and are "reasonable", and consider the "facts" or "evidence". They "confront" people who talk nonsense, take intellectual short cuts or are not up to a job. They enjoy "thinking" in a "logical" way and use their "knowledge" to build an "argument". They "define" concepts and "problems" and "weigh pros and cons". Their favourite question particle is "why".

At the bottom-right People base, Partners are in many ways the flip side of Theorists. They "enjoy" using verbs like "feel", "touch", "share", "help", "follow" and "lead". They talk about "teamwork" and "partnerships". They "care" for "people" and their "team" and "leader", and cherish a workplace that feels like "home" and "family". Adjectives such as "happy", "human" and "emotional" predominate. They also enjoy talking about "sales" and "closing deals". For a Partner, the most important question word is "who".

Floating at the Ideas base on the top right, Ideators use creative action verbs like "create", "innovate, "make it better" or "make it happen". They talk about "change", "ideas" and "opportunities", and use adjectives like "dynamic", "entrepreneurial" and "meaningful". You'll hear a lot of "new" phrases -- "new ideas", "new products", "new services", "new business", "new concepts". Ideators enjoy formulating a lot of "what" questions.

Anchored at the Systems base on the bottom left, Systematisers are "accurate", "diligent" and "responsible". They enjoy talking about the "system" and "processes" that they "implement" and "optimise". They "manage" "performance". They make sure everyone is "compliant" and "follows the rules". As the profile most concerned with the past, they often use words with the prefix "re-": so, Systematisers "review", "remove" and "renovate" where Ideators "view", "move" and "innovate". When Systematisers ask questions, they often start with "how" -- including "how much" and "how many".

How about the keywords of the six dual profiles (Conceptualiser, Promoter, Organiser, Technocrat, Coach and Experimenter)? Because they are located between two bases, they tend to borrow a lot from each. However, each dual-profile type also employs certain words that hint at their uniqueness. Let's look at two examples:

Sitting in between the Theories and Ideas bases, Conceptualisers love to "learn" about new "tools", "methods" and "technologies" that they then "apply" or "teach". They enjoy thinking "big" and focusing on the "big picture". They enjoy asking "what" or "why" questions.

Promoters connect Ideas with People. They are "lively" and "expressive", "stylish" and "easy"-going. Promoters enjoy "life" and having "fun", and love to "communicate" and "convince" people and to "present" in front of them. Promoters tend to ask a lot of questions starting with "what" or "who".

Conclusion: Your TIPS profile is hidden in your words -- and so is mine and everybody else's. The words we frequently use in conversations reveal what we value and what makes us tick. So, first pay attention to your own words to get hints of your profile. Then, enjoy listening to the conversations of others to learn more about what makes them tick and what personality type they probably have.

Dr Detlef Reis is the founding director and chief ideator of Thinkergy Limited (, an innovation company in Asia. He is also an assistant professor at the Institute for Knowledge & Innovation-Southeast Asia (IKI-SEA), Bangkok University, and an adjunct associate professor at the Hong Kong Baptist University. He can be reached at

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