Hiring Graduates: “Hire character, train for skill”

Do you agree with Peter Schutz, the former CEO of Porsche? He said once in a well-articulated way “Hire character, train skill”. More and more recruiters realise that it’s not all about just having the right set of skills. Often it seems that the character of a person plays a more important role when looking for the right person. The focus lies on the applicant’s personality, demeanour, experience, drive, adaptability, fast learning, problem solving and creative thinking. Specific specialist skills, knowledge and understanding can be taught and easily be learnt by the person.

We can say that there are two types of “fresh” graduates: Those who focus entirely on completing their studies and gaining their degrees and think the corporate world starts afterwards. And those who during their studies use the opportunity to gain experiences, extend their network, make use of their skills and earn money in the process too. Would I have to hire one of them I would always give the preference to the one student who showed to be a multitasker. The one who does not just have a degree (regardless of what the final grade is) but who gained already some insights into the corporate world.

A candidate might have the perfect set of skills that the company is looking for but still be rejected due to other reasons. Someone could be the most talented individual but if s/he doesn’t have the right values and character s/he will not fit into the organisation.

Imagine there are two candidates – Bill and Steve - who are attending an assessment week at a company. The result at the end of the week is as follows: Bill has all the required skills but does not make a good culture fit and doesn’t seem to work hard and in the best interest of the company. Steve has a skills gap which the company identified but:

  • he got the job done as best as he could (80 % compared to Bill who got it 95 % right)
  • he was keen to get involved in new projects
  • he thought about a problem and suggested a solution the next day
  • he took on further job responsibilities (beyond his job description) to help the business improve
  • he talked enthusiastically to clients about the company’s products
  • he got other people surrounding him excited about his work
  • he looked always forward to go to work
  • he was able to demonstrate that he works well with all other team members
  • he always started a bit earlier or left the workplace a bit later than many other employees in order to make sure a task got completed on time.

Now who would you hire? Honestly, I hope your choice would be Steve. He proved that his work ethic and attitude were impeccable, while his skills gap could easily be overcome by providing him with tailor-made training. Bill would not have needed any further training but his lack of commitment towards the company and the poor culture fit could have led to several conflicts and issues in the long run.

Remember, attitude is not really something you can teach someone, either you have it or you don’t have it. If a candidate needs to be reminded continuously – or even forced – to do things or behave in a certain way in order to achieve the desired outcome, it is not something that will benefit the company. It’s therefore much more beneficial to hire people with the right mindset and provide them with training that helps them to excel in their future tasks. There are still some open questions regarding the training offered to Steve that would need to be considered. For example:

  • What kind of training is the most suitable and effective for him?
  • How long will it take to get him trained?
  • Is the company prepared to invest time and money in his training?
  • Can the company wait until the person has acquired the new skill?
  • Might there be a risk that once the candidate acquired this new skill he might leave and go to work for the company’s competitor?
  • Is there anything the HR department can do to prevent that from happening?

In the book “Put your mindset to work” James Reed, Chairman of Reed, wrote “I might not know which skills will be most in demand in 10 years, but I do know exactly what sort of people I will want to hire in ten years. Good people, of integrity, who are persistent, passionate, energetic, innovative, optimistic and resilient.” Barry Hoffman, HR director of Computacenter, shares a similar opinion “Skills can be trained and our industry is fast-moving, so a skill today may only have eighteen months’ currency because the technology moves so quickly. What we want is the mindset more than skills that may well be out of date in as short time.” Or in Warren Buffet’s own words “In looking for people to hire, you look for 3 qualities: integrity, intelligence and energy. And if they don’t have the first, the other two will kill you.” 

Karin Schroeck-Singh
Karin Schroeck-Singh is a passionate Public Speaker, eBook Author, and a freelancing Online Content Producer. She has an MBA from the University of Leicester (UK) and gained 18 years of international work experience in Italy, the UK and India.