4 Ways to Assess Character During the Hiring Process

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Most recruiters assess candidates based on skills, credentials, and accomplishments. It makes sense: If you want to hire someone you’re certain can do the job, that often means hiring someone whose education and experience are in line with the role.

However, there’s something to be said for considering another trait that’s more difficult to measure during the hiring process: character. Character can speak volumes to someone’s integrity. If you can’t trust an employee to do the right thing on a daily basis, you open yourself up to a lot of risk.

One bad hire can expose your business to a wealth of problems. For example, an unscrupulous employee may be prone to “borrowing” company funds.

Aside from financial risk, workplace safety should be a chief concern. The last thing you need is a new hire who creates a hostile work environment through offensive, abusive, or harassing words and actions.

These bad situations don’t only harm employees. They can easily fester until they become public relations nightmares. Consider what happened to Uber when former engineer Susan Fowler alleged the organization’s HR representatives ignored her reports of sexual harassment during her tenure with the company. The fallout led to more than 20 dismissals after an internal probe uncovered a culture of sexism, not to mention the departure of former CEO Travis Kalanick.

On a less dire note, character can be a great indicator of whether a candidate clicks with your corporate culture. After sinking thousands of dollars into recruiting and training a new employee, you don’t want them to turn around and bail on you. Skills might make a candidate look great on paper, but it’s important to go beyond sterling resumes to suss out any would-be hire’s character.

The Cultural Impact of Character

By paying careful attention to character, recruiters can both minimize risk and maximize potential gains. When you hire an employee with tremendous character, it can have a ripple effect on your organization.

For example, David Siegel, CEO of Investopedia, has been jokingly described as “unsettlingly winsome” – but it is his charming persona that empowers employees to act decisively and creatively. Siegel understands the need to hire the right people and develop their talent, and his amiable personality has helped him create a cohesive company culture that attracts talented employees. Like truly attracts like.

BoardroomIf you compromise on character, you risk hurting your employees, culture, investor relations, and public reputation. It might seem daunting to accurately assess an applicant’s character, but it can be done. Here are a few good places to begin:

1. Go Beyond the Standard Questions

While it is always important to inquire about a candidate’s experience and skills, unexpected questions about rules and ethics can reveal a lot about a candidate’s character. However, you need to ask such questions in the right way in order to get any benefit.

Start the interview with a few standard questions, and slowly work up to the more telling ones. The more at ease you can put the candidate, the more likely it is they will be candid in answering your questions. Ask about times they have dealt with difficult coworkers, faced adversity, or handled failure. Then, sit back and gather some invaluable insights.

2. Grill Their References

Instead of the typical cursory reference check, do your due diligence and reach out to every reference available. Ask probing questions about the candidate’s past and demeanor. Chances are that you won’t hear anything disparaging. After all, most people choose references who will give them glowing endorsements. However, the more comfortable you can make references when talking to you, the more open they’ll be about the candidate. This offers you an opportunity to read between the lines.

3. Poke Around Social Media

Social media can provide a wealth of information about a person’s character, but tackling this sort of investigation can be risky. Your findings could open you up to a potential lawsuit if the candidate happens to be a part of a protected class.

Let’s say you inadvertently uncover details about a candidate’s race, ethnicity, sexuality, or religion that cannot legally be used to inform employment decisions. Even if you passed on that candidate for legitimate reasons, the simple fact that you were privy to those details could expose you to a discrimination claim.

Instead of tempting fate, you can always hire a professional investigator to scour a candidate’s social media for you. You’ll be protected against any sort of discrimination claims, and investigators are much cheaper than lawsuits.

4. Conduct a Background Check

Many applicants make false or exaggerated claims on their resumes. In fact, 56 percent of hiring managers have caught candidates fibbing on their resumes at some point. This means many resumes require a little verification.

If your potential hire will be in a prominent position, dealing with large sums of money, or handling sensitive information, a background check on their financial, personal, and/or criminal history may be in order.

In the hiring process, education, experience, and skill are all documentable and verifiable. A candidate’s character, on the other hand, is particularly difficult to pin down. Determining good character is not just about avoiding risk — it’s also about maximizing gain. Unlike skills, character can’t be taught.

Danny Boice is the co-founder and CEO of Trustify.

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Danny Boice is the cofounder and CEO of Trustify, providing private investigators on demand. Danny attended Harvard for undergrad and completed graduate programs through the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and Stanford University. Danny founded Trustify out of his passion for and experiences around truth, trust, and safety – especially about vulnerable populations such as children and the elderly. Danny is married to Trustify cofounder and president Jennifer Mellon. Together, they lead Trustify's charitable giving by providing pro bono investigative and protective services to vulnerable populations such as missing and exploited children, domestic violence survivors, those in the foster care and adoption system, aging Americans, and more.