The importance of character

The most significant factor is mostly the least regarded when it comes to hiring…

Robin Campbell-Burt – Director at Spreckley 

The success of a public relations consultancy is determined by the quality of the brains within it. In a business providing services, this maxim should surprise no one and it therefore naturally follows that hiring the right people, and getting the interview process right, is possibly one of the top skills a leader in our industry can have.

It is also very hard to do correctly. There are so many factors which come into play when assessing whether someone is right for the job. It is a balance of assessing their skills, experience, and cultural fit. However, these points of assessment are all surface elements. To make the best hires we need to go deeper – to the foundation of a person – and examine their character. Everything stems from someone’s character as it is about who you are, rather than what you do. This may seem counter-intuitive at first but someone’s actions always stem from their thoughts and attitude. When I interview someone, I am trying to understand the essence of the person who is in front of me.

So, what is character? A common definition is “the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual”. They are a set of behaviour traits that define who you are. Integrity, patience, humility, work ethic, ambition, diligence, perseverance, loyalty and more, are all character defining words that as an interviewer, I have at the centre in my mind when asking people questions. A helpful way to consider character is to imagine the opposite of these words. Why would you want to hire someone who is dishonest, impatient, proud, lazy, unambitious, sloppy or disloyal? They can have a fantastic CV with a great skill set and level of experience, but if they lack a good character then they will always be a bad hire for a company.

Assessing someone’s character in an interview is not easy – you cannot have a clear window into a person’s soul. There also must be a caveat here that in an interview people are very aware that they are on show and will be presenting their best selves. So, it is often what they do not say when asked a question that will provide the answers that I need to make a judgement. Instinct also comes in. Often, if something does not feel right it is because the person’s body language does not complement what they are saying. However, some of the questions that I like to ask in an interview are set out below:

  • When talking about achievements, are they claiming all the credit or showing how they contributed to a wider effort? Acknowledging the work of others is an important mark of humility.
  • Find out the times when they have taken responsibility for failure – either personally or as part of a wider group. If people are not responsible for all their actions, they find it harder to learn and become better at their jobs.
  • What motivates them? Is it external recognition, financial reward, or a sense of satisfaction from doing a good job or working in a team of like-minded people? People who unduly crave recognition will not be loyal.
  • Do they offer their time willingly in service to others? Volunteering outside of work or showing how they have thrown themselves into helping the wider team at work with a challenge, shows a service-orientated individual.

These are just a few examples – I would not want to give someone coming to an interview at our company a crib sheet of what to prepare for! It is also important that an interviewer develops their own style for interviews that means they can find out the information they need to when making a hiring decision.

Skills and experience need to be assessed – but a good character will have the greatest impact on the success of a business in the long term.