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Hiring for Character, Not Skill

Updated: Mar 26

By: Dr. Brittany Castonguay May 9, 2023 #leadership

While attending a conference, I heard keynote speakers discuss attracting and hiring talent, and it made me think of a model I used for my dissertation. The model is called the attraction, selection, and attrition or ASA model. The portion I want to focus on for this entry piece is the first part of the model: attraction.

Employees are attracted to organizations that reflect their interests, morals, and values. Employers try to hire employees who mirror their organizational interests, morals, and values throughout the hiring process. The result is a dualism where the prospect and the organization seek a mutual relationship.

Hire for Talent and Train Skills That are Teachable

The ASA model reflects what the keynote speakers discussed during their panel conversation on attracting and hiring talent. The reoccurring theme was to hire character and teach what is trainable. If you look past the skill requirements for a position that can be developed and trained on the job, employers are much more likely to hire quality candidates that will raise the culture and value of the organization. A bad hire will not only wreck a team dynamic, but a bad hire can have secondary and tertiary effects that will devolve throughout the company.

Hiring Choices

Bad hires can have such a negative impact because character cannot be taught. Character is innate to who we are and sets humans apart. Our ability to empathize, feel emotions, rationalize thoughts, and react to situations are all inherent portions of our essential being. If someone’s core values do not align with the organization, then no skill can replace a poor fit. According to the ASA model, bad hires will eventually leave or attrite the organization, but at what cost?

As leaders, we are responsible for ensuring we hire the right employee for the right position every time. That is the weight of being in a management position. Sometimes it means taking a risk and hiring an employee with character and drive that has little experience. Experience and on-the-job training can be developed and will deepen employee loyalty to the organization. For example, the different branches of the military Special Operations Forces evaluate applicant potential differently, but they all agree on one thing; character and motivation are valuable attributes.

Whether you are in a desolate environment surrounded by your teammates tracking down a threat or burning the midnight oil to complete a project before the deadline, there are those you want on your team and those you do not. The ones you do possess strong character attributes and a motivation to support each other. The ones you do not want on your team can be to the detriment of the mission or the project.

While each scenario has different risk factors to consider, the emphasis is the same. Military or civilian, we should hire for character first and skills second.

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