Innate vs. Acquired Qualities: Which Is More Important When Hiring the Next Top Talent 2022?

by Sarah Reyes

Hiring managers consider many things about a candidate’s suitability for a particular work before deciding whether to offer the job or withhold it. Employers and HR professionals almost always zero in on an applicant’s qualities, characteristics, and skills they believe are instrumental in accomplishing a position’s core responsibilities.

Unfortunately, HR professionals rarely meet a candidate who ticks all the right boxes. Some qualities are a definite must-have for the role, while others might be nice-to-have. Hence, it would be best for employers, hiring managers, and HR professionals to recognize the difference between innate ability and acquired skill to help decide who to hire next for a position. 

What are Innate Qualities? 

The American Psychological Association defines ‘innate’ as a person’s characteristics, attributes, or capabilities present at birth. Innate characteristicsdescribe the person’s essential or original body and mind constitution without the impact of learning, developmental processes, and maturational control.

On the other hand, philosophers describe ‘innate’ as an idea that a person knows by reason alone, requiring no validation and confirmation by experience or body of knowledge.

Ordinary people describe ‘innate’ as native or inborn, a characteristic that exists throughout the person’s lifetime, regardless of circumstances.

What Candidate Attributes are Innate?

Most HR professionals look for innate qualities in all candidates because they believe these personal attributes are longstanding and permanent. These qualities exist in the person come hell or high water. The following are some of the crucial innate characteristics of candidates that employers find advantageous and beneficial in their respective organizations.

Cognitive Aptitude

A person’s innate ability to assimilate, process, and apply new information defines cognitive aptitude. It also describes the person’s ability to learn quickly, solve problems, and perform other cognitive tasks. Cognitive aptitude also includes other mental faculties, such as perception, memory, spatial and visual processing, decision-making, mental flexibility, and attention, among others.

Research shows that cognitive aptitude is one of the best predictors of overall job performance, including training success, valid and accurate work results, and job-related competencies. It is four times better at predicting job fit and performance than educational level, three times more predictive than job experience, and twice as effective as job interviews.

Unsurprisingly, many HR professionals now focus on evaluating a candidate’s cognitive aptitude to prevent ‘hire remorse.’ Expectedly, candidates put their best foot forward during interviews and deliver impressive resumes, complete with an extensive work history. Candidates can ace these hiring activities, only to fail when the actual work begins. Only then will the hiring manager see the incongruence between the hiring decision and the actual job performance, leading to regrets.

Hence, employers and HR professionals must use cognitive aptitude tests to evaluate candidates’ suitability in the organization in the long term. Job prospects can undergo tests that measure their problem-solving skills, critical thinking competencies, learning abilities, and information application abilities.


One of the five big personality traits, agreeableness is an innate ability to prioritize other people’s needs over personal needs. It is a trait that one can never learn. For example, it would be challenging to teach a person how to genuinely empathize and trust others because these attributes are not innate in the person.

Unfortunately, agreeableness has two sides.

Studies show that agreeable persons are less successful than disagreeable people. They also tend to earn less and significantly lower employment status than dislikable employees. Managers and supervisors with genial personalities are more likely to find making hard decisions challenging, undermining the organization’s bottom line. They make weak negotiators and can be passive in adversarial situations.

However, there is a good side to being agreeable. Studies show that likable and empathic people make excellent employees in service-oriented industries, using their interpersonal relationship skills and genuine empathy to build and nurture long-lasting customer relationships. They are also more resilient than other employees, an attribute that modern businesses in highly-demanding work environments look for. Agreeableness can also improve job performance when the core competency calls for leveraging relationships.

Employers in service-oriented and highly-demanding workplaces can evaluate a candidate’s innate ability for agreeableness to improve customer relationship-building, expansion, and retention programs.


Conscientious people have the innate ability to do their duties or work thoroughly and well. It is one of the most significant personality traits and inborn qualities modern businesses look for in their future talents.

Research shows that conscientious employees have higher job satisfaction ratings than less diligent workers, allowing them to enjoy more rewards, such as higher remuneration benefits and more attractive perks. Other studies show that conscientious candidates have better chances of landing a coveted position and retaining it longer than others.

The Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology also published a report underscoring the importance of conscientiousness as a predictor of job performance. Conscientious employees start their activities with clear goals and a detailed plan for accomplishing the objectives. They never give up. Instead, they look for alternatives and other possible solutions to achieve the goals. 

The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a study of 92 meta-analyses concerning conscientiousness’ impact on work performance. Research shows that conscientious employees are dependable, reliable, goal-oriented, rule-abiding, self-controlled, orderly, hard-working, and organized. These characteristics contribute to generally positive work performance. 

However, conscientiousness does not apply to all organizations. For example, businesses that require spontaneity, creativity, and innovation might find a conscientious candidate unfit for the job. 


Another innate ability is extroversion (extraversion), describing a person’s talkativeness, sociability, assertiveness, optimism, liveliness, and outgoingness. Carl Jung introduced this concept in 1923, together with introversion, extroversion’s polar opposite. 

Most organizations prefer a mix of introverted and extroverted individuals. Extroverts think quickly and decisively, while introverts are more methodical and purposeful, sinking into deep thought before deciding. 

Some business activities require quick solutions that only extroverts can provide. However, it does not mean that introverts are less beneficial. With their abstract and deep thinking, introverts are better at proactive solutions. On the other hand, extroverts make excellent people in marketing and sales.

Studies show that extroversion has a non-linear relationship with work performance, especially in sales and similar business activities. Research also indicates that extroversion is an excellent predictor of leadership, giving companies a reliable tool for evaluating a candidate’s potential to lead teams in the future.

The University of Toronto Scarborough published a meta-analysis underscoring the impact of extroversion on leadership potential. The educational institution found that extroverts score higher in emotional, motivation, interpersonal, and work performance factors. 

Extroverts enjoy other people’s company, allowing them to adapt better to various social situations. They are also exceptional at persuasion, empowering extroverts to perform better than introverts.

Sales organizations can benefit from extroverted employees because they have a more extensive social network businesses can leverage to increase and expand their reach. Their outgoing personalities make them more likely to close a deal than introverts. Extroverts are excellent communicators and team players. Their charisma is also an innate ability that businesses can leverage to influence customers’ buying decisions.

Stress Tolerance

There is no escaping stress in the workplace. Studies show that more than four out of five US employees suffer work-related stress. Meanwhile, businesses lose an average of $300 billion annually because of stress-related absences, work disruptions, and poor performance. 

In 2019, Wrike reported that 94% of US employees experienced work-related stress, with more than a third (35%) citing their superiors as the top stressor. Less than 40% of them identified heavy workload as the number one stressor. 

Stress can produce anxiety, anger, emotional instability, irritability, depression, and self-consciousness, undermining a person’s work performance. These responses underscore neuroticism as the person responds to various stresses. A candidate’s stress tolerance is a crucial innate ability that organizations must evaluate before making a job offer.

One cannot expect businesses to reduce their workloads or employ only agreeable managers and supervisors. Organizations have strategic objectives to achieve, and they can only do this if they have goal-driven teams with high-stress tolerance. Although training managers to be people-oriented can help reduce workplace stress, it does not address the other sources of employee stress.

Hiring a candidate with exceptionally high-stress tolerance makes sense because it shows resilience, self-esteem, mental security, and emotional stability.


The innate ability to be intellectually curious, imaginative, and creative is something one can never learn or acquire. 

Research shows that open-minded people see things differently, allowing more information to enter and flow into their minds and facilitate better processing. They thrive in cognitively exploring sensory data (sounds and sights) and abstract information (arguments and ideas) to create a broader and deeper consciousness.

Open-minded people have distinct characteristics that many organizations find valuable at work. They are highly knowledgeable, intelligent, adventurous, and interested in mental imageries, abstract concepts, novel concepts, and artistic endeavors. 

Studies also show that openness to experience is an excellent predictor of job performance. Researchers observed that job performance increases plateau after about three years (2.93 years), after which the performance starts to decline. Scholars say open-minded people tend to exhibit a decline in work performance at a slower rate than close-minded employees.

Openness can also predict a candidate’s suitability for an upward job change (i.e., promotion to a supervisory or managerial role). Moreover, research indicates that openness to experience is especially beneficial in high-complexity jobs, such as law, surgery, and social work.

What are Acquired Qualities?

Innate ability is a characteristic that one is born with. On the other hand, acquired qualities are those attributes that people develop or learn from experience. 

Some people say innate qualities can contribute to a person’s acquired characteristics. For example, musically-inclined people can play musical instruments faster and more efficiently than people without musical giftedness. However, the bottom line is that both musically-inclined and non-musically-inclined people can learn how to play a musical instrument. Hence, the ability to play an instrument is an acquired quality and not innate. 

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy provides a simplified definition of acquired characteristics – reflecting environmental influences on people. Hence, it is safe to assume that acquired qualities are skills and characteristics a person develops over time and results from his interaction with the environment.

What Candidate Characteristics are Acquired?

Unlike innate qualities with transcendent nature, determining which candidate acquired qualities are perfect for the job is arbitrary. A skill highly valued today might become obsolete tomorrow. 

For example, there was a time when typing skills were a must-have for anyone applying for an administrative or secretarial position. Although typing remains a relevant acquired skill, it is insufficient to meet the demands of the changing times. Secretaries must also be knowledgeable of office processing applications and other relevant skills.

According to Indeed, the following are some of the acquired skills many organizations seek from future employees today.

Cloud Computing

Tech Jury says that 78% of small and medium-sized businesses use cloud computing, with 43% utilizing public-hosted services. About one in two Fortune 500 businesses will undergo technological transformations, with cloud computing at the core. 

Nine out of ten global enterprises will use multi-cloud computing platforms this 2022, contributing to a global cloud computing market worth $461 billion by 2025. 

It makes sense that many companies today look for candidates with cloud computing skills.

Artificial Intelligence

Although some people find artificial intelligence intimidating, it is an area that modern companies want to leverage to stay competitive and relevant in the changing world. 

According to Data Prot, 37% of organizations use AI, 90% of industry leaders have substantial investments in advanced AI technologies. Although AI translates to 85 million job losses, it will provide employment opportunities to 97 million people by 2025. 

Unsurprisingly, many businesses today seek candidates with excellent AI-related competencies.

Data Analysis

More companies integrate data analytics into their processes to provide actionable insights for more positive results. Sixty-three percent of companies use data analytics to improve organizational efficiency and productivity, while 57% rely on data-driven analysis to help make effective decisions fast.

Sisense’s State of BI and Analytics Report showed that 49% of small and medium-sized businesses increased their reliance on data analytics to survive COVID19. Sixty-eight percent used DA in operations, 45% in product development, 50% in sales and marketing, and 56% in finance-related activities.

Employers who want to leverage data analytics should hire candidates with matching skills. Although cognitive aptitude tests can weed out the undesirables, it would be best to institute evaluation tools that measure candidates’ analytical skills.


Web development skills and other relevant competencies are insufficient to carry the message of a local company across continents. The target market must also understand what they are getting. That is why multilingual skills are a must in many industries today. 

According to Translate Day, translation services are crucial for legal service providers, the healthcare and medical industry, financial services, e-commerce platforms, scientific research, the manufacturing industry, the tourism and travel industry, and the gaming and entertainment industry.

It would be best for organizations in these sectors to look for candidates with impeccable skills in different languages.

An Employer’s Dilemma: Innate vs. Acquired Qualities in the Workplace

Hiring managers do not need to choose between a candidate’s innate and acquired qualities because these attributes can work seamlessly together. However, recognizing clear differences between the two concepts is crucial in predicting a candidate’s chances of succeeding in the job role.

Employers can evaluate a candidate’s innate qualities to determine how he will perform in the long run. For example, openness allows the candidate to learn and master new competencies he can use to improve work productivity and contribute to the company’s bottom line. Extroverted candidates are also more likely to thrive in a sales environment, allowing him to showcase his interpersonal relationship skills in building trust with clients.  

It is worth appreciating that innate qualities are permanent. They will never change, regardless of circumstances. For example, a naturally funny person might feel sad and depressed one day. However, his gift of comic relief will still shine a few days later. 

Hence, hiring managers can evaluate a candidate’s innate qualities to predict his job satisfaction and work performance in the long term.

RELATED: Understanding Talent Acquisition vs. Recruitment in 2022

On the other hand, acquired qualities are suitable for determining whether a candidate can do the required job responsibilities on Day 1. For example, HR professionals can administer a competency test measuring candidates’ programming language proficiency if the desired competency is programming in JavaScript, C++, or Python.

Just because the candidate is proficient in these languages does not mean he will learn newer protocols in the future. The company can never predict how the candidate will process and assimilate new information. What matters is that the candidate can perform job roles and responsibilities from Day 1 onwards.

Final Thoughts     

Innate and acquired qualities have their respective significance, depending on a company’s inherent hiring goals. If the organization seeks long-term stability and predictable work performance, evaluating innate characteristics is a must, using personality tests and cognitive aptitude measurement tools.

However, businesses that need candidates who can hit the ground running from day one without extensive training and supervision will do well to design their hiring strategies to focus on acquired qualities. They can use competency-based evaluation tools for this. On the other hand, having both attributes in a candidate would be ideal. 

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