LinkedIn is full of quotes from various sources with some form of this saying, “Hire for character, train for skill”. While I understand the concept and agree with it, I don’t often see it used in practice. In our executive search business, character is rarely referred to by clients as they discuss qualifications of candidates sought. The typical job description includes experience, skill and education requirements with an occasional reference to integrity as ‘a must’.

Here are some questions to ask that may help determine if your practices reflect hiring for character:

1.      How do you define character?

2.      Is character referred to in your corporate purpose, mission, vision and value statements?

3.      What aspects of your candidate identification, attraction and hiring practices help identify character?

4.      What elements of your interview process are used to document and evaluate character?

5.      What character flaws are candidate knockout factors (even for a candidate who has the skills, experience and accomplishments you seek)?

6.      Do you have learning and development practices in place to train for missing skills?

7.      Who was the most recent business leader you hired who had great character, but lacked the skills necessary for the role?

8.      Have you ever fired a business leader or key-talent for character flaws/incidents?

9.      Do you have leaders or key-talent in place now who have questionable character?

10.    Do you know for sure?

Beyond criminal background checks and reference calls – usually completed after a hiring decision is already made – most organizations have no formal steps for determining character.

I’m certain that every hiring manager is interested in hiring candidates with integrity. I’m less certain that hiring managers are prepared to hire unskilled people with integrity.

However, if a company is facing a skills/talent shortage (and most are) and current methods of identifying, attracting and hiring are not producing the candidate flow it desires, figuring out how to hire for character and train for skill may open an untapped candidate pool and increase focus on corporate values.

As part of an integrated talent strategy, one that is tied to corporate purpose, mission, vision and values, ‘hiring for character and training for skill’ can be a reality and achieve the desired results.


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