Organizations invest a lot of time, money and resources in finding the right workers. However, according to a new study from the University of Toronto, they may be overlooking the key ingredient in determining the success of future employees: reputation.

The research, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, asked 455 military cadets in South Korea to rate their own personality, and at the same time, their personality was rated by three fellow cadets. The researchers also collected ratings on civic behaviors, as well as academic and job performance..


We are what we see in the eyes of others

Unsurprisingly, cadets who were conscientious (hardworking and trustworthy) and personable (friendly and cooperative) tended to be the top performers as well. But the researchers found it was the cadets’ reputations, not their personality traits or identity, the most accurate predictor of that success.

The mere presence of a vegetarian can inhibit an omnivorous person

The researchers suggest that there could be a number of reasons why reputation is such an accurate predictor of success. It could be that others are better at capturing information than individuals tend to distort when looking at themselves, through their own cognitive biases.

Peers also judge reputation based on behavior. They do not necessarily know an individual’s thoughts, feelings, goals, or past experiences; they’re just witnessing the performance. And, in the case of the workplace, that performance is only seen in a specific context.

Simple, binary or Manichean responses are pleasant for our brain, but very unproductive

That does not mean that one’s reputation is set in stone, even if determined by others. That’s because a person’s personality can and does change over time.. Personality is not fixed, it emerges in the roles we occupy and the relationships we build with others. For this reason, too, our morality is very flexible, and we can be good and bad depending on the circumstances, and even at the same time (not counting how difficult it is to determine whether an act is morally good or bad in its purity). And of course, we are good or bad depending on whether we value ourselves or others value us: