Hire Better and Hire Right with a Focus on Character

Young man have job interview.According to a recent study by Leadership IQ, 46% of hired employees will fail within 18 months, while only 19% of hires will become successful in their new role.


By any standard, this track record is poor. Human Resources and leaders of every part of the organization continue to search for ways to be more successful in hiring practices as the cost of ineffectiveness is costing millions of dollars each year.


The challenge is clear. Hire better and hire right!


It’s time to rethink the hiring process and make some changes. We’ve whiffed on promising practices of competency-based hiring, on IQ-based hiring, and more recently hiring on “fit.” Strike three.

It’s time to step back, take a breath, and really think about what we want in a new hire.


According to the Leadership IQ survey, hiring managers spend too much time focusing on a person’s competence and too little time assessing a person’s motivation, coachability, and emotional intelligence.


These qualities are, in essence, the true character of the person.


When I’ve asked managers to consider, given the choice between hiring a person with a high level of competence and a low level of character, and another with a moderate level of competence and a high level of character, every manager chose the latter.


Many try to hire based on a person’s attitude, but this is an inconsistent technique. Attitude is often just a reflection of a person’s character. It’s a limited trait of a person and usually is poorly measured as being either “good” or “bad.” Besides, almost everyone shows up at an interview with a wonderfully positive attitude. Attitude can be faked, and this is especially true in a short interview.


My experiences and research, including more than a decade of HR leadership, and nearly two decades studying human motivation and performance, combined with being responsible for hiring many people, has helped me understand that the truest and most effective form of hiring is this: A relentless focus on hiring for character.


Hiring a person with the right competence level is important, but we hiring managers must put special emphasis on understanding a person’s true character. Hiring for character and competence together is the key to hiring better and hiring right.


At Strata Leadership, we teach people what we call the C3 Concept. This concept is a formula for how we hire and develop people. C1 (Character) + C2 (Competence) = C3 (Consistency). If you want to have long-term, consistent, and high performance results – achieved in the right way – you must have both character and competence. The C3 formula explains why so many hires fail.


There are many who have a high level of competence (C2) and get hired. Yet, according to many surveys, the reason people derail or get fired is due to character (C1) issues that include dishonesty, inability to get along with others, poor work quality, refusing to adapt to change, and tardiness or absenteeism.


Here are some examples of issues or problems often found in the workplace that inhibits performance or cause termination, and the character qualities they reflect.


Issue/Problem Character Quality Character Definition
Tardiness/Late to work or meetings Punctuality Showing esteem for others by doing the right things at the right time.
Inattentiveness. Missing important information Attentiveness Showing the worth of a person or task by giving my undivided concentration.
Resisting change or the ideas of others Flexibility Willingness to change plans or ideas without getting upset.
Incomplete or poor work Diligence Investing all my energy to complete the tasks assigned to me.
Poor customer service. Poor attitude or energy at work. Enthusiasm Expressing joy in each task as I give it my best effort.
Follow-through. Not dependable. Dependability Fulfilling what I consented to do, even if it means unexpected sacrifice.
Ego-driven or selfish behaviors. Treating others poorly. Humility Acknowledging that achievement results from the investment of others in my life.
Cutting corners. Subpar work products. Poor quality. Thoroughness Knowing what factors will diminish the effectiveness of my work or words, if neglected.
Poor communication. Persuasiveness Understanding others so I can effectively communicate with them.
Lack of initiative, drive, or work ethic. Initiative Recognizing and doing what needs to be done before I am asked to do it.
Not getting along with others. Handling conflict poorly. Sensitivity Using my senses to perceive the true attitudes and emotions of others


Did you ever think of punctuality, sensitivity, humility, or flexibility as personal traits that reflect character? Many people haven’t made this connection. Yet, these are qualities that greatly affect the success of the person and ultimately the organization.


Character is not an arbitrary concept. A person’s character can be measured by observing a person’s behaviors and by getting a better understanding of how they have behaved in certain situations in the past. Using the character quality definitions helps managers better understand what to look for and how to assess candidates during an interview.


How to Hire for Character and Competence


To hire for character you want to first identify the character qualities you desire in a new hire. We challenge hiring managers to, using a list of character qualities, determine the top 5 that are non-negotiable for the job. Of course, we want to find people who display all qualities. However, for the purposes of preparing for an interview and making a decision on a person’s level of character, we want to focus on the 5 most important qualities for the job.


You also want to identify the competencies (skills, knowledge, know-how) necessary for the employee who will fill the job role. Be as specific as possible. Think about how both character and competence work together in a way that will help the new employee become successful. For example, if the role will depend on a great deal of collaboration to manage the creation and production of a new product, you need to focus on the pairing of the character quality of persuasiveness with the competency of project management.


Next, a hiring manager should create an interview plan that utilizes questions that assess the demonstration of character qualities in a candidate’s behavior. For example, if a hiring manager has identified Diligence as a quality of importance, the following questions could be asked:


  • Tell about a time you were assigned a task you absolutely dreaded. What did you do?
  • Give me an example of a time when you had to go above and beyond the call of duty in order to get a job done.
  • Share an instance when you were in charge of a project. How did fulfill your responsibility?


Notice that you are not using the word diligence or defining the quality for them. Rather, you are asking the questions and looking for evidence to support their diligence – Investing all my energy to complete the task assigned to me. A candidate you would rate high on diligence would likely be someone who talks about setting a goal, creating an action plan, determining priorities, overcoming adversity, or asking for input from a mentor in order to make good decisions.


Finally, a hiring manager can use a character rating system to appraise each candidate during the interview. By using a rating system, you keep your measurements of each candidate organized and, as much as possible, guard against bias. The rating system doesn’t have to be complex. We encourage people to use a simple four-point system: 1- Marginal, 2- Competent, 3- Above Average, 4- Excellent.


At Strata Leadership, we are dedicated to helping companies attract, hire, and grow great people while creating a winning culture. You can begin hiring for character with the help of the Hiring for Character Toolkit. This toolkit provides you with 16 customizable tools that help you create an end-to-end hiring process that is built on our proven character-based hiring system. Click here to learn more.