Why and How to Hire for Character

Many important things must be assessed when interviewing potential candidates. Often we think of the most common and obvious: skills, education, relevant experience, or accomplishments.

More recently, however, hiring managers have been looking into techniques to assess something else: character. Can you trust a potential employee to do the right thing when presented with a difficult situation? Can you trust them to act with integrity towards their job, clients, and co-workers?

Hiring for character, although a relatively new practice, can be very beneficial to your company overall, and can easily be worked into your hiring process.

What is Hiring for Character?

It may be helpful to first answer - what is character? Character is defined as a person's unique mental and moral qualities. According to Dhushan Thevarajah, Founder and CEO of HUELLA, hiring for character involves thinking about competencies

For example, some competencies you might want to interview for include approachability, compassion, problem-solving, or learning on the fly.

“People often think of character as something subjective,” Thevarajah says, “the challenge is, how do we make it more descriptive and more specific?”.

Hiring for character also involves thinking about specific traits you value in your employees: humility, trust, kindness, or loyalty. 

Thinking about it from this perspective, hiring for character means including a section of your interview where you assess integrity and values through specific questions about traits and competencies. 

The difference between skills, traits, and competencies

Traditional interviews should include skills-based questions. Hiring for Character means adding a section to your interview to involve questions to assess personality traits and competencies as well. 

An important distinction to make when thinking about hiring for character is the difference between skills, traits, and competencies.

  • Skills - Skills are learned abilities that you need to complete your work. They can be quite specific. They are usually split into hard skills (more technical) and soft skills (non-technical). Examples of hard skills are graphic design, budgeting, and project management. Examples of soft skills are communication, critical thinking, and creativity.
  • Traits - Traits are also called “character qualities” or “personality traits”. They often have to do more with patterns of behaviors or feelings that make a person unique and can reflect their character or attitude towards particular situations. Examples of traits are sensitivity, honesty, and compassion.
  • Competencies - Competencies are the specific knowledge and behavior a person may have, that lead them to be successful at work. They explain how a person reaches their desired result. Examples of competencies are initiative, negotiation, fairness, and innovation.

Why is Hiring for Character a good idea?

A few reasons why a hiring manager should consider hiring for character:

  1. Trust - Can you trust your employee to make the right decisions? To do the right thing? It’s very risky to hire someone whose character you question. If you hire someone who demonstrates good character, you assume they won’t do anything to harm the business or your other employees.
  2. Alignment - There is value in ensuring that an employee has a similar personality and character to the rest of your team (especially if this is someone you’ll be spending lots of time with!). This would ensure that the new employee will work cohesively with the rest of the team.
  3. Long-term outcomes - In the long term, hiring for character ensures that the employee and the employer can have a long-standing relationship. On the other hand, if an employee is great at their job, but doesn’t get along with leadership - they may not last.
  4. Easier to manage - Hiring for character makes the employer/employee relationship much easier to manage. If you’ve hired for character, you know that you’ve chosen someone whose integrity and values match yours, and hopefully, this will lead to less fallout, more understanding, and easy conversations around difficult topics.
  5. Keeps it people-focused - While hiring for skills is incredibly important, it’s also important to hire candidates who have the willingness to learn any skills they may be lacking. By assessing for character and skills, you’re giving opportunities to those who may not have traditional qualifications. “By doing simple things like letting candidates know the domain of questions in advance, you’re helping to keep the hiring process people focused,” Thevarajah says, “it helps to bring out the best in people when they’re not nervous or blindsided, it shows that you’re on their side and you want them to succeed.”

How do you Hire for Character?

The way interviewing and hiring is currently being done is very ad hoc. There is no real structure to follow and this can easily lead to the wrong hiring decisions, which will eventually cost you money.

Thevarajah says hiring for character is “as simple as starting with checklists and behavioral questions. For example you can ask questions to figure out how someone looks at a problem. By assessing how they’re talking about the ‘how’”. In this way he says, you can look back at your list of traits or competencies and see if they line up with what you’re looking for. When they talk about the situation you’ve given them (or one from the past) are they demonstrating level-headedness? Problem-solving? 

In your process, you may eventually start to come up with a scoring system based on how candidates answer these questions.

Here are some suggestions of steps you can take to begin hiring for character:

Step one: Determine which traits and competencies are important for you and your company to have.

Step two: After you assess for knowledge, skills, and qualifications, add a section to your interview about character. 

Step three: Include questions (behavioral or situational) that evaluate your candidate’s traits and competencies.

Step four: Decide how you’re going to assess your candidate’s responses and lay out the scoring scheme beforehand (a rubric is a good way to do this).

Hiring for character is a great way to make interviews more active. It allows you to get to know your candidates on a deeper level. With Hireguide, we help you define your focus areas up front. You can easily start hiring for character by choosing which traits/skills/competencies you’d like to assess for in our “Add Custom Focus Area” section. We include common traits/competencies like problem-solving, communication, management, etc. Ready to start hiring for character? Get started for free today!

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