“Hire Character, Train Skill.”

I just came across this expression today, but according to at least one web site, the saying has been printed on many posters. “Hire character, train skill” has been credited since 2005 to former Porsche CEO and motivational speaker Peter W. Schutz, but it’s uncertain when he first said it.

Regardless of when it was first said, it’s an interesting phrase, and one I strongly agree with.

The web site HH Staffing offers an interesting perspective on the phrase, looking at the advantages of each approach.

Hiring for Character:

  • Many companies hire employees for their character and then train them on the job. They do this with the idea that you can teach skill, but cannot change a person’s character.
  • Experienced and talented employees with a bad attitude often fail at their jobs. However, inexperienced employees with great attitudes tend to succeed long-term.
  • A person can have all the necessary experience and skills, but if their personality does not fit the company culture, are they really the right person to hire?
  • Considering 99.9% of positions, regardless of the industry, require dealing with fellow coworkers, bosses, or customers a person’s attitude should be a priority.
  • 89% of new hires lose their jobs due to something involving their character.

Hiring For Skills

  • A person’s character can only get them so far. When real change is needed at a company, character is unlikely to be enough. This is where skills and experience reign supreme.
  • For example, you would not hire a really bright and polite candidate to work on an assignment where certifications are needed. That would be a safety hazard, not to mention a waste of time.
  • When you hire for skills versus character, you try to get the best talent available. A team of happy employees is great in theory, but if they do not have the qualifications to succeed you may find yourself in a pickle.
  • 11% of new hires lose their jobs due to technical ineptitude.

Those last statistics quoted in each section are revealing; it seems to strongly suggest that since most people lose their job because of a character issue, that seems to be the more important quality to focus on when hiring. If only 11% of people lose a job because of a lack of skill, then skill does not seem to be much of an issue. This might suggest that skill is something that can be more easily trained than character.

And as to the argument that when you hire for skill you have a pool of qualified people but not if you hire for character, to me that reflects a problem with your training program. I think the vast majority of skills needed for most jobs could be learned on the job and with proper training. What you want are people who are willing to be trained and are of good character.

I also think that this phrase applies to our elected officials.

No one becomes a politician already having the set of skills needed to be effective at such a job.

However, you would hope that they can learn how to do the job once they are elected.

To me, that suggests that character is the critical quality to look for in a political candidate, and personally, it is a quality I value very highly.

*image from quotefancy

40 thoughts on ““Hire Character, Train Skill.”

  1. So if you’re hiring HR staff, I wonder if it’s best to focus on their character, or on their skill at judging character? If you focus on character, then they may hire those of poor character. But if you focus on skill at judging character, they may be real assholes to deal with, and have a poor work ethic. But at least everyone they hire would be real nice characters.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. There is the saying that “adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals it.” The character revealed by adversity is usually prominently displayed long before adversity occurs. People just need to believe what they are seeing.

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  3. I agree wholeheartedly that character is the most important trait in any employee. You can teach a skill, but character is ingrained. I have lived the truth of this my whole life. I have changed jobs, positions, and industries many times in my life. Often to new positions where I had little or no experience. What I did have is a great work ethic and the belief that there is nothing I can’t learn. Character should always win out. Great post, Jim!

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  4. I completely agree with this. in my jobs/professions over the years, I know this to be true.

    and, a bonus, you’ve inspired a new blog post for me.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I think it depends on the job, Jim. I am a very technical person. Most people can’t really relate to what I am saying and doing when I am working. I often feel like a parrot because I have to repeat myself so often and explain everything so many times to others. Someone like me, should be hired on skill I think. A politician, on the other hand, is supposed to be acting for the good of the people so empathy, kindness and understanding would be good characteristics. Unfortunately, however, most people seem to vote for greedy, unethical and selfish people. I don’t know why.

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    1. thank you for your thoughtful comment, Robbie and I see your logic. I’m curious which scenario below you would prefer:
      1 – hire someone who has the skill to do your job, but is not of the highest character
      2. hire someone of good character and train them in what they need to know in order to do your job

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Jim, I suppose that depends on what you mean by good character. Obviously someone who is dishonest, shifty or who lies is no good in my job, but neither is someone who is set in their ways, unimaginative or a clock watcher. I have always had to train my staff from scratch as you don’t learn stock exchange and corporate finance work from a text book. It is all about application. When I hire, I look for someone who enjoys challenges and is imaginative. I ask, how would you approach xyz? They need to be hard working and committed and prepared to work when its there and needs to be done. There are no set hours. I assume this is why banking and stock broking pay so well. It is your life.

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      2. They are fluctuating wildly. Our government needs to make policy changes if it wants investment and things were bleak for the economy long before lockdown and C-19. There is a lot of immigration taking place. We are aiming to get our oldest son through high school [end 2021] and then we will be joining the mass exodus. It is hard because our families are here but we have to think of the boys and their futures.

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      3. I’m sorry to hear things are so bleak. You mention both immigration and a mass exodus – is the total population remaining about the same? Where would you go – to the UK?

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      4. I meant a mass exodus of educated people, Jim. Its called a “brain drain” locally. It is a common phenomena in Africa as the countries gradually nosedive into corruption and economic crisis. The uneducated poor can’t leave and, as our borders are open, there are always more people arriving in the hope of a better life here than in their own countries. Yes, we will go to the UK as the boys and I are English.

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      5. OK, thanks for the explanation. We have the same problem with brain drain here. We have a lot of great colleges in the Philadelphia area (the big city right next to us), but when they graduate, many of the students look elsewhere for employment. I am sure it will be tough leaving SA, but I also have complete confidence that you and your boys will flourish wherever you go.

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  6. I am all about character education, and I loved that we used to teach it in school. I tried to focus on one character trait each month and create activities around that. There are so many great children’s books that reinforce these concepts. I tried to practice what I preached by hiring some of my more responsible students to come work for me or to take care of our dog when we traveled.

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    1. What great idea to incorporate character education into the curriculum. Was that consistent across all your teachers, and at every level. Seems like it should be. I also like how you reinforced the concept by giving some of your students the opportunity to display their character. Well done, Pete!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It was something I tried to promote with the staff, but not everyone got on board with it. One successful thing that I got going was that at our monthly assemblies, each teacher would get up and share how a specific student in their class had demonstrated the character trait for the month. I took pictures and displayed these in a prominent place in the school for the month.

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  7. Totally agree! One can always be trained. Though no matter how hard one tries, I still wouldn’t make a good banker! Kind of hard when you don’t like math!! 🙂

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