Employee character: A key to hiring all-star employees and creating a competitive advantage

We have all heard and shared stories about the woes of hiring employees. It can be a daunting and unsuccessful task. Many would agree that great employees are the backbone of a company and can be an owner’s secret sauce in differentiating from the competition. Sadly, however, what you often see in the interview is not what is observed six months after hiring. Candidates who appear to be all-stars on paper do not produce the results that you need, and worse leave or have to be let go. The latter creates an increase in expenses and time in hiring, training, and onboarding your next hire. Many employers try to select employees solely based on ability, skills, and experience. To solve the employee conundrum and cook up that secret sauce for your competitive advantage, the key is to place a greater emphasis on the character of your future employee.

The importance of character

A mentor likened a person’s character to the foundation of a skyscraper. Early in a career, we’re building, and like a skyscraper, we start building with our foundation. Many don’t spend much time here and quickly focus on what’s on the surface — the part others can visibly see. However, as one’s “skyscraper” grows, if the foundation isn’t deep enough to sustain what is built, there is the all-too-common crashing down experience. We have all witnessed leaders and those in the public eye collapse. The reason is they did not have the character to support what they grew. Thus, if you are making your hiring decision solely based on what your next hire can do and not on who they are, you could be the one cleaning up the next demolition site.

What does a solid foundation and character look like? 

Character encompasses a person’s values, attitude, integrity, commitment, and the overall substance of who he or she is. Our character can be seen in how we treat others, how easily we can admit our mistakes, how flexible we are, and who we are when no one is looking.

Practically, what do you get when you hire based on character? You get what everyone wants! One survey of 1,200 of the world’s largest companies showed the following most desirable traits in prospective employees:

  • 86% said they desire professionalism
  • 78% said they desire high energy and enthusiasm
  • 61% said they desire confidence
  • 58% said they desire self-motivated attitudes
  • 57% said they desire intellectual curiosity

Furthermore, research shows that most employers seek the following traits in their next hire:

  • Hard working
  • Honest and self-aware
  • Ambitious, goal oriented, and self-motivated
  • Action-oriented
  • Modest
  • Self-reliant, confident, and proactive
  • Positive and upbeat



Character equates to attitude

When employees are selected based on their character, employers have the potential to experience the blending of all of these qualities. The results are a strong, high-performing staff. A driver to these traits is the attitude of your next hire. Hiring experts agree that attitude is a large determiner of success and how well someone will perform on the job. Our attitudes influence our actions and stems from core convictions, beliefs, and values similar to our character.  

Human resource consultant Carol Quinn aligns attitude with motivation and grit, the traits that separate high performers from mediocre employees. Quinn encourages employers to not just rely on skills if you want strong performance, but rather on if the employee has an “I can” attitude in the face of challenges. Quinn asks, “What does your interviewee do when facing an obstacle?” Do they climb over it, go through it, work around it, or choose defeat with an excuse? Those with the “I can” attitude are those who fall into the camp of high performance. They are the ones who are optimistic, action-oriented, solution focused, and determined to succeed.  

Character success story

A hire-for-character success story can be seen in the operations of fast food giant Chick-fil-A. Currently, Chick-fil-A is poised to be the largest fast food operation in terms of sales by 2020. In 2017, according to QSR magazine, the company regularly led the way in generating the most revenue per location compared to any other restaurant. For example, a typical Chick-fil-A grosses $4.4 million in revenue per location compared to the $2.5 million of a McDonalds and $1.1 million of a Starbucks. According to the American Customer Satisfaction Index, Chick-fil-A scored the highest rating for the last three years compared to all other fast food and full-service restaurants. Their strategy is to offer an elevated service experience, which starts with their employees. Chick-fil-A owners are known to hire based on the 3 Cs — character, chemistry, and competency. Chick-fil-A Training Director Shannon Leidy says, “We don’t care about a person’s prior experience as much as we care about who they are … we believe we can teach people just about anything to do a job, but if their character and chemistry isn’t good, we can’t do much. We can’t teach them to be a nice person.”

On average, hiring the wrong employee costs employers 21% of the departing worker’s salary. Some say that hiring the wrong employee can cost as much as a full year of that employee’s wages. To reduce turnover and make your business stand out from the rest, build a team of all-stars who will be committed to your cause and have the right essence to help you succeed. Remember, skills can be taught much easier than character. When the cement of someone’s foundation is dry, it is a lot harder to start rebuilding. Hiring based on an individual’s character will give you the bedrock to develop the high-performing team that others will envy. Think of your next hiring decision as a proposal for a lifelong relationship. Even though the person you could be “marrying” is a good provider, he or she may still be impossible to live with and that’s what matters!

Nanak Malhotra is sales manager for Princeton Club–East in Madison.

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