“Hire character; train skill.”
This saying has never rung truer than in today’s economy. The necessary skillsets for most jobs are rapidly evolving due to technological disruptions. To succeed in the modern workplace, what’s more valuable than the know-how you may possess today is the ability to swiftly adapt to a changing landscape—along with the behaviors, values and personality traits that align with the mission of the company. Essentially, with the right character, the rest can be figured out.
But here’s the issue: how can companies actually apply this mantra in their hiring practices? While assessing hard skills and subject knowledge is a relatively straightforward task, defining and measuring character in a structured, comparable and unbiased way is a more complex challenge. Solving this challenge is critical to a company hiring for long term success.
day100 was born out of this struggle. With the mission of helping companies hire people—not paper—my team and I dissected the hiring timeline to identify the broken parts, and then reverse-engineered it into a structured, yet human process. Here’s what we learned.
Why resumes and interviews are not enough
The traditional hiring process—resume review, phone screen, interviews, reference check, decision—does not lead to data-driven decisions based on the nuanced combination of traits that matter for long-term success.
When hiring for a junior consultant at my past company, for example, we experienced the challenge of seeing hundreds of little-differentiated resumes enumerating hard skills and past responsibilities. The problem? An exceptional candidate, particularly in non-technical roles, is almost always set apart by their soft skills, behaviors, values and personality — and resumes give almost no glimpse of that. Very little comes across on that one piece of paper; yet, ironically, this is the step where the majority of candidates get crossed out from the list. The winners of this ill-defined process? Those who went to the same schools as the resume reviewers or who worked at the “expected” companies. The losers? Everyone else, particularly candidates with non-traditional backgrounds.
The next typical step—phone screen and interviews—while typically more informative, also suffer from bias and lack of structure. A phone screen offers the opportunity to check for verbal skills, logic, and passion, while meeting a candidate in person should help to gauge their professionalism and give a glimpse into their personality. However, this limited interaction naturally rewards gregarious and enthusiastic personalities who make the interviewer comfortable. Extroversion takes the spotlight, while other qualities that may matter much more for long-term success on the job are often overshadowed. The less structured the interview, the lower its ability to predict success: often, the findings are as good as random; at worst, they can be misleading.
Enter day100 and the “hire people, not paper” ethos
The root of this problem is that often companies do not know how success is defined. Although most companies today codify their culture, few actually take the time to break it down into the underlying behaviors, personality traits, motivations, values and work environment preferences (what we refer to here as “character requirements”) that can be measured and applied when hiring.
Fortunately, decades of research in psychology have shown that there is indeed a finite set of factors that underpin a person’s character, which can be measured.
The first step is self-awareness. The company and, more specifically, hiring managers, need to be deliberate and clear on the character requirements that will lead someone to succeed in their team. This can’t be an arbitrary exercise; the character requirements should be expressed using the factors that are relevant for success in the workplace as demonstrated by peer-reviewed psychology research. This process helps companies build a consistent, specific and meaningful language around their culture and character traits. The end result should be not only a list of important factors, but also an understanding of the relative importance of each so that priorities can be established.
After defining the priorities, the next challenge is to objectively measure candidates on each character requirement. Three pieces of advice:
- Ask smart questions: Each question that you ask your candidate should be aimed at shedding light into a particular key success factor. Best practice is to ask questions that don’t have a right or wrong answer obvious to them. Setting questions up as trade-offs between equally appealing options particularly helps to minimize inherent bias.
- Gather multiple data points from multiple sources: Don’t attribute conclusive meaning to any single data point. The best approach is to take into account a combination of data that comes from the candidate, the interviewers, and, importantly, the people who have worked with the candidate before and observed them over a long period of time (yes, references!).
- Let the data do its job: Consistently compare your measurement a candidate’s traits to the prioritized list of character requirements for success. If there is a mismatch, ask what this means for you. Perhaps it’s a deal-breaker; on the flipside, it may be a helpful facet to keep in mind while onboarding and managing the new employee. While the data is not the be-all and end-all, learn to trust the structured process and to move away from gut-feeling decisions.
Transforming your recruiting practice into a structured, deliberate, data-driven process is not a quick fix. It’s a journey that involves the entire organization: leadership, hiring managers and recruiters. By employing best-practice psychology learnings, a structured framework that limits bias, and technology like day100 that consistently analyzes the right data, a company can be set up for hiring the best-fit people who will drive success. And this is how you take “hire character; train skill” from theory to practice.
Anada Lakra is co-founder of day100, a technology startup that helps companies make better hiring decisions.