Why Hiring for Character is Critical
I've sat in my pulpit, holding forth on hiring for character over skills. I've harangued the destructiveness to an organization of protecting toxic employees because of their talents, and I've tried to shame businesses for being held hostage by malcontents. But I've not offered much of an answer or plan other than to terminate poisonous teammates. Today I want to share how uncovering character traits in the initial employment interview, both good and bad, can save you time and headaches. But first, I want to talk about why hiring for character is essential, and then I'll share how.
Hiring for Character
I believe experience and knowledge are useless, if not destructive, without character. Hiring for character takes a tremendous amount of work. It's so much easier to hire for experience because it reduces the need for training. Consider this; are some of your best employee's those who came to you with little or no experience? Have you worked with experienced and knowledgeable people who caused problems due to poor character choices? So … what should you look for – experience, knowledge, or character?"
How to Hire for Character
I discuss some of this in the first chapter of my book, The New Manager's Workbook: A crash course in effective management, but I'll recap a few ideas here that have helped me. Before I begin, I want to say that I've hired more questionable character employees than I want to admit. What I'm about to share isn't the absolute system to eliminate poor character candidates, but what it has done is help me dodge some bullets. There have been ten poor hires I've avoided for every hire I've made and been mistaken about the candidate's character. My point is you'll still make mistakes, but, if you're like me, you'll revel in uncovering candidates of questionable character.
Uncovering Character in an Employment Interview
Review the Application
I begin by reviewing the application. Are there several short-term jobs, if so, dig in and find out why. There may be reasonable explanations, the pandemic, the economy, career advancement, or completing school. However, if the reason for quitting (or being terminated) for more than one position is about assigning blame, tread lightly. If every boss they've had was domineering, every culture broken, and all co-workers were clickish, then it might be the candidate, not the previous job that's the problem.
Also, look for gaps in employment. Once again, there may be legitimate reasons for long breaks between jobs, but you'd be amazed what you can learn if you only ask. I once had an interviewee, after more than a year without work; tell me he was holding out for a management position. What did he think this was "Christmas Vacation?"
Complete Background checks
Most states share multiple resources for background checks, including state government services. For example, the Indiana State Police offer limited criminal background checks and a driver's license search. Once an account has been set up, checks can be completed in minutes. Expect to pay $15-$25 for a criminal background check, and $7-15 for license verification.
I wholeheartedly recommend the expenditure. I've found backgrounds with every type of felony — convicted embezzlers applying for money handling positions, burglars applying for residential in-home installation jobs, and much worse.
When Kevin Scott, who was previously convicted on federal charges of bank and mail fraud, was hired to head the Indiana State Employee Retirement Fund (PERF), he had access to 200,000 social security numbers and 11 billion dollars in funds, Indiana State Senator Murray Clark had this to say: "It is patently obvious that PERF does not have an institutionalized background check process. That's startling to me."
My Two Favorite Character Interview Questions
Both of the questions I'm about to share have saved me from hiring the wrong candidate and helped me discover the best fit for the position.
"What makes you happy and unhappy at work?"
I always ask happy and unhappy together, and I ask happy first. I want to learn what they dwell on. When an interviewee begins with what makes them happy it's… nice. It might even be an indicator of a happy, positive individual. However, when they begin with what makes them unhappy at work and especially if they dwell on it, there's a good chance they bring the unhappiness with them. Sometimes I'm rewarded with a direct answer like when a lady answered me with, "May I tell ya the truth, I hate working with minorities, especially those from south of the border if you know what I mean." I didn't introduce her to the department manager over the position she was applying for. His name is Rodríguez.
"What would you most like to improve about yourself?"
When I receive a shallow or ingenious answer to this question, such as "I give too much!" or a response that's not character based, like more income, education, or a nicer home, I lead them to character choices with, "I understand, but what would you like to improve about who you are?" or "What character trait would those closest to you say could use improvement?" Sometimes I'll give an example.
What I'm looking for are people who want to be better people. To be a better person, one must know what needs to be improved. Those people are generally easier to train because they want to learn. I also want to find out if the interviewee will be transparent, will they be honest with me.
What's More Important than Character?
What's more important than character? In job recruitment, nothing. It may be that love, happiness, and spirituality all top character in life, but in the workplace, character is number one on the hit parade. So, let me ask you, how do you uncover character in an interview?
Randy Clark is a leadership trainer. He tells us much of his training is based on the years of mistakes he made in management. He’s passionate about helping others avoid the same mistakes. He’s proud to share that over the past 30 years every organization he’s worked with has grown. Randy is the Amazon best selling author of The New Manager's Workbook a crash course in effective management. He can be reached at Randy Clark Leadership.com, or follow him on Twitter @RandyLyleClark Facebook Randy Lyle Clark or LinkedIn Randy Clark. You can find his weekly posts at Randy Clark Leadership Blog or on his Amazon Author Page.