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Hiring for Skill or Character?

β€œTalent got you in the door, but character will keep you in the room.”

Hiring new employees costs a company an average of $4,000 an employee. Hiring the right people will save your company money, as well as employee retention.  But who are the right people? Should you hire for character or for skill? 

Character includes the personality and ethical qualities that each person possesses. These qualities can be taught through upbringing or life experiences β€” or in special circumstances like a military culture. Skill on the other hand is the technical ability to perform your job functions. 

Out of curiosity, I sent out a survey to the WordPress community while I was at Post Status for the Get Hired newsletter. The survey asked companies what skills they looked for in a new employee. The majority of the answers we received back were not technical skills β€” they were soft skills. Most companies were looking for individuals who were coachable, dependable, honest, etc. The list goes on and on. 

Character traits were by far the most sought-after skills in the responses we received. What we discovered after inquiring is that each company has different processes and procedures they teach their employees. What they could not teach were character traits. Most WordPress companies need someone coachable who is willing to learn the right technical skills. 

There is a quote I came across some time ago that says, β€œHire character, train skill.” The author of this quote, Peter Schutz, talks about how specific skills, knowledge, and understanding are teachable and easily learned. However, an applicant's demeanor, personality, compliance, ambition, and overall character are not things a company can change much.

I have thought about this quote a lot over the last few months. I think its author has a relatively good point. While you do need to hire some basic level of skills, you can teach the rest. Most companies have their own way of doing things anyway. Generally speaking, there is some form of an onboarding process for every organization that teaches new employees about the company and how to do their job effectively. I have never heard of character or soft skill training being part of an onboarding process. But that is what all employers want.

In digital remote work environments, character is an amazing quality to look for in a new hire. If a person is coachable and dependable, you can train them with the skills they need to know. If you hire a person who is not coachable they will never progress past the basic knowledge that they possess. 

Talisha Lewallen is the Founder and CEO of WP Connects and the former Director of Operations for Post Status.

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