Hire – Work Ethic, Humility, Integrity, Maturity

Skilled workers are available.  In this economy, there is always someone available who can do the job.  Skill and competencies are not hard to find or to hire.

Character is a different story.  As I have worked with oil and gas companies, large integrated medical systems, large regional banks and Fortune 50 companies, I see the same pattern repeated over and over again.  We hire skilled people that we end up firing for character issues. 

Hiring Character

Hiring Character

Lack of work ethic, selfish behavior, poor teamwork, lying, cheating and poisonous attitudes are the most common reasons skilled people fail.  The companies I work with list these qualities as the most common reasons for terminating employment.

I can train skill.  I can’t train character.

Character is something that is developed over time and often through challenging situations.  The character a person brings into the job is more important than the skills she brings.

Teaching someone the skills to do the job is simple compared to changing someone’s character.  West Point takes four years to work on developing the character of our nation’s future Army officers and they are very careful to begin with good raw materials.

In business, most leaders do not have four years to devote to the character development of an employee.  That is why it is critical to hire character and make it a priority above hiring skill.

If I must choose between skill and character, I will choose character every time.  But I would prefer both.

Hire On A WHIM

My good friend and former colleague Garret Miller (cotria.com) wrote a great book titled, Hire On A WHIM.  It is a business fable that lays out the why’s, the what’s and the how’s of hiring character.

Here are a few hints from his book:

Work Ethic

If a person has a hard time discussing himself and there is little excitement in his story, it should send up a red flag.

  • If he isn’t enthusiastic about his work or life, what will motivate him?  Will he have it inside of him or will I have to provide that motivation?


Humility is the willingness and ability to be taught.

  • Have they ever been publicly reprimanded.  Listen for their reaction and if they share lessons learned.


The constant effort to verify an employee’s work wastes your time and theirs.  Without integrity, trust suffers and therefore productivity declines.

  • Ask about their biggest disappointment or failure and see what level of responsibility they take for it.


People who possess maturity can process and react to stress, pressure and uncertainty with calmer more thoughtful approach than those who lack it.

  • Ask about the most difficult experience they have ever had and listen for their bitterness/complaining or for how they grew as a result.

Hire On A WHIM is being adopted in many organizations as a guide to hiring.  It is a great read for anyone who carries hiring responsibility and wants to go beyond just hiring for skills and then cleaning up the mess later.

The Bottom Line:

Skilled workers abound.  Unfortunately, people of high character are becoming harder and harder to find.  The search for these people may be difficult, but the rewards are huge.

When I speak with organizations about their hiring practices, they all believe they are good at identifying skilled candidates.  They also all agree that they are bad at hiring character.

Character is not measurable and just because someone claims to have it, does not mean it is so.  That is probably why these companies have a hard time hiring character.

Garrett Miller’s book (cotria.com) is a great template for discovering the character of the people who apply for open jobs.  There are no foolproof hiring techniques and Hire On A WHIM is not a foolproof system either.  But Hire On A WHIM is a major improvement from the foolish system of focusing on skills alone when hiring.


Where do you see failures at work occur?  Competency or Character?

3 Responses to “Hire – Work Ethic, Humility, Integrity, Maturity”

  1. Eric March 6, 2014 at 3:56 pm #

    So true! I learned early on that I would rather be shorthanded for a year while looking someone with the right character than have to hire and fire “skilled” people over and over. People often look at turnover as a gauge of employee engagement. I think it is a more effective measure of hiring practices.

    • Dave Anderson March 7, 2014 at 5:22 am #

      The pain caused by one bad hire is never worth the time saved by hiring quickly on the front end.

      There is such a thing as positive turnover when the right people are leaving. But if good people are leaving, then the leader must take action and figure out why.

  2. Eric March 7, 2014 at 8:47 am #

    Agree. I should have been more specific. Turnover as related to discipline problems, character problems, lack of productivity, etc. is often at least partially due to hiring practices. If good people are deciding to leave, the leadership culture needs to be looked at very closely.

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