Hire character: train skill
by: Chris Sale of Prism Executive Recruitment
How many times have I seen those sentiments albeit with different phrasing?
|Business leaders from Jack Welch to Richard Branson and organisations from McKinsey to Harvard Business School make the same point. A survey of 500 leaders found that the right “personality” was judged the most important quality in a worker by 78% compared with “skill set” which scored 39%.|
So why is this self-evident point so routinely ignored?
Jobs go unfilled for months while an employer seeks exactly the right experience. Second tier graduates who happen to have accountancy or business degrees are favoured over better candidates with “non relevant” degrees. Note this is not to suggest skills/experience have no relevance: just that they are only part of the make-up of a great hire and one that is often exaggerated.
There are a few reasons employers often choose to prioritise skill over character:
- • When deciding on shortlisting it’s easier to see and evaluate skills and experience on a CV than judge character from a CV. The latter can be broadly inferred by an experienced CV reviewer but is ultimately more subjective
- • It’s thought to be lower risk: organisations can often be very good at assessing skills objectively but personality is by definition often subjective. Personality tests can help but contrary to their proponents’ belief are not wholly reliable. They can also be time consuming and expensive. So an organisation/hirer reverts to “needs this experience” when advertising and hiring.
- • There is no easy way to define set of character/personality/talent traits so it’s difficult for an employer and recruiter to establish what a role might need let alone agree on them. Thus companies risk hiring “me-too” staff. Not necessarily always a bad thing but a clear risk of ignoring other talent(s).
- • It challenges internal dogma. If the role has always been filled by someone with ABC experience it can be tough on previous job holders and colleagues if someone dares ask the question “do we actually need this?”. Even more so if a person is hired who excels in the role without ABC!
- • Sometimes certain experience IS actually necessary! Clearly I wouldn’t want to be treated in hospital by someone with a great attitude or character but no knowledge or skill!
So why should firms considering hiring character over obvious skills and experience?
Admittedly in the field of management consultancy recruitment, demonstrable relevant experience on a CV will often make the difference between employees being billable and not. Sometimes, however, that’s just a fig leaf. Employers can take so long waiting to hire the right skill set that they could have hired a less close fit candidate and equipped them with the skills and experience in the time!
An innovative firm I met recently does just that. They overwhelmingly hire on culture and personal attributes and then give new consultants free to clients for a period to gain the experience to make them billable. All parties including the client are happy.
Another employer has recently given me exactly the same generic candidate briefing for two very different roles. The logic? “We are seeking a top flight management consultant because they usually have the traits we are looking for: ambition, communication, stakeholder management, analysis, project management, curiosity and innovation, team work, ability to pick things up quickly. As we want someone who is flexible and with huge career potential these are all very transferrable qualities.”
Clearly if a candidate with both character and skill is available then that’s an easy hire. Often employers search from months for the “ideal” candidate, only to end up compromising on the character and personality traits which are much more important to both success in the role and the success of the business.