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What is Hiring for Character and Why We Think It’s Not Such a Good Idea

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In a crowded labor market, various thought and HR leaders are promoting different golden tickets for selecting top talent. While some gravitate towards objectifying the process as much as possible, others come to a different conclusion. A famous author and inspirational speaker, Simon Sinek, is one of the leaders advocating the approach based on candidates' attitudes and character traits instead of skills. One of his famous quotes is:

"You don't hire for skills, you hire for attitude. You can always teach skills."

Sinek's quote was taken from his book titled: "Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action (2009)" which also yielded a concept named the WHY? The idea is based on the belief that great companies don't hire skilled people and motivate them but hire already motivated people and inspire them. It hypothesizes that people are either motivated or not and that people with the right mindset can develop the relevant skills as necessary.

Although the concept may sound refreshing and even groundbreaking to some, inspiring them to completely change their attitude, it remains slightly utopian and, frankly, biased. So, in the following sections, we'll take a closer look at what it means to hire people for character and offer an alternative approach to attracting great talent to your company.

What is an attitude based on character?

It is important to distinguish between attitude and character. Although many people confuse the two, the truth is that mentality comes from character, and more importantly, attitude, unlike character, can be faked during the interview. As Jason Jones, organizational psychologist, mentioned in his article for LinkedIn, punctuality, sensitivity, humility and flexibility are personal qualities that reflect character and significantly influence the success of the company and ultimately the company.

As Jones explains, these properties are no longer an arbitrary concept. They can be measured by observing a person's behavior and getting a better understanding of how they have behaved in certain situations in the past. He adds, "Using character trait definitions helps managers better understand what to look for and how to assess candidates during an interview."

Sinek's similar concept of hiring candidates based on their attitudes seems a little more troubling. As part of his philosophy, the author mentions that one should get to know candidates as professionals and as individuals in a less formal setting, e.g. B. over coffee to find out more about their personalities. He compares hiring to dating and seeing whether the candidate is a good fit for the company environment. While it might seem like a good idea to find out if the candidate is a good fit during an after-work meeting, this can easily lead to misconceptions about their skills, which in turn leads to a bad attitude.

Why won't hiring for a character work?

Hiring for character assumes that attitudes are much more important than skills. It goes from the assumption that attitudes as the constant something that cannot be trained have superiority over skills that can always be taught. But this theory doesn't have significant support in reality.

Here are the reasons why you should reconsider hiring for skills instead of attitudes:

  1. Attitudes & character are hardly measured.
  2. Attitudes can be faked.
  3. Hiring for character leads to biased hiring decisions.
  4. Learning new skills takes time and money.

Attitudes & character are hardly measured.

The first thing that authors who advocate hiring for character advise is to look into the company's needs and detect which characteristics they are looking for in candidates. But, how can one measure these concepts? Are you going to decide one's character based on their behavior out of the formal setting of an interview? And, how are you going to do that systematically?

There are so many questions about how you can measure the concepts that advocates of this approach suggest. Things like asking candidates about how they spend their free time or what they see as their biggest trait/flaw can only be used as icebreakers and potential indicators of red flags in some candidates. However, making truly informed hiring decisions that will predict a candidate's success in case of hiring cannot be made based on answers to these questions.

Postures can be faked.

This is an important point. We often see hiring managers make the mistake of assuming that candidates will be open to them in everything they see or do when they visit the company for an interview. But that is far from the truth. Even highly qualified applicants who should be sent to the next phase of the hiring process can fake their hiring. Applicants are not necessarily faking their behavior because they are bad people or poor performers. The stress of the situation causes pretty much everyone to adjust their behavior and sometimes respond to what they believe is desirable behavior in the company. So be careful - attitudes can be faked, and authentic characters are not easy to spot during the selection process.

Hiring based on character leads to biased hiring decisions.

One of the elements that most hiring managers and HR teams try to eliminate (or at least minimize) is biased hiring decisions. But hiring based on character can undo all those efforts at once. If you think about it, judging a person based on their characteristics can easily lead to affinity bias. Affinity means that we are subconsciously attracted to people who are similar in terms of their appearance, beliefs and background.

Therefore, assessing a person's character can be difficult for hiring managers, especially when we know that the assessment of these traits is very subjective and may not be perceived equally by all members of the hiring team.

Learning new skills takes time and money.

If you choose to hire a candidate based on their character rather than their skills, you could find yourself in financial trouble. Although it seems that you can teach people anything, this is only partially true. Everyone's ability to acquire new knowledge varies, and learning something from scratch (or at least most of the subject) can take a lot of time. Additionally, when the challenge of learning new skills requires a lot of time and effort, attitudes may change as motivation decreases. So there are several factors that affect a person's ability to learn. They cannot all be predicted in an interview if they show perseverance from one of their previous experiences.

How can you efficiently assess applicants' skills?

Hiring based on character can only be a helpful tactic as a supplement to assessing applicants' skills and knowledge. In this case, you have the best of both worlds - a new employee whose personality fits into your team and a qualified specialist who is ready to handle business tasks. There are several things that should be done:

  1. Create a structured and repeatable evaluation plan
  2. Use scorecard
  3. Use online assessments

Create a structured and repeatable assessment plan

When advertising a new position, you should create a structured evaluation plan that makes sense for the position you want to fill. Determine which hard and soft skills you are looking for in your applicants, what is definitely out of the question and what plus points an applicant might have. All of this information and the way you plan to assess these skills should be formalized into a structured and repeatable process that is the same for all applicants. Whether you conduct interviews or online assessments to test specific skills must be decided in advance and the process must be the same for all applicants applying for the same position.

Use scorecards

Scorecards are sets of questions used to assess candidates' skills, knowledge, or cultural fit at any stage of the selection process. They are most commonly used for interviews and initial screenings. Evaluating your candidates by the same questions or guidelines makes it easier for you to assess each candidate and, most importantly, makes their results comparable. The idea behind scorecards is to create a valuation system that will make sense to you and your colleagues even days after assessing the candidates and will allow you to make informed hiring decisions.

In your Evaluation plan, you can determine whether you prefer adding Scorecards or Assessments to a certain stage of the process.

Just think of job openings when you have 200 applicants and more than a dozen of them go through an interview. If the scoring process isn't properly set in place, you will soon have a mess among all your applicants, and it can quickly happen that you overlook some incredible talent. Therefore, introducing scorecards will make your hiring process more efficient and accurate!

Use online assessments

Assessments are pre-made online tests written and designed by assessment companies and vendors. They are designed to test the specific characteristics of your candidates.

For example, they can determine the level of respect for authority your candidate has, if they are better working in a team or alone, the level of organization skills, and so on. There is a range of online assessment providers specialized in testing candidates' personalities, ways of thinking, or specific skills ( such as knowledge of different programming languages or knowledge of SEO).

For example:

  • Kandi offers a range of tests written by experts in digital marketing, software development, content management, and business development.
  • Ingelnix offers customizable online assessments for more flexibility and efficiency in your hiring process. The tool helps you assess and ultimately hire the right fit for your organization.
  • Selekcija uses questionnaires and tests constructed with scientific psychometric methods and tested on thousands of candidates in selection processes for real jobs over the past few years.

How can IceHrm help you assess & hire the right candidates?

Create a structured evaluation plan in IceHrm and decide whether you want to perform structured interviews with assigning scorecards or order online assessments from one of the renowned online selection platforms such as Kandio, Ingelix, or Selekcija! Improve the efficiency and accuracy of your hiring process by basing your decisions on informed knowledge instead of guesswork!

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