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, both good and bad, in the initial employment interview, can save you time and headaches. But first, I want to talk about why hiring for character is essential, then I’ll share how.
Why Hiring for Character is Important
“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 people 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?” Who Should You Hire?
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 employees of questionable character than I want to admit. What I’m about to share isn’t the absolute system to eliminate candidates of poor character, but what it has done is help me dodge bullets. For every hire I’ve made and been mistaken about the candidate’s character, there have been ten poor hires I’ve avoided. 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 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
“There are several resources available, 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 setup, 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.” How to Avoid Costly Bad Hires
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 the time 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. In life, it may be that love, happiness, and spirituality all top character, 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?