Things That Make You Go Hmmm… Hire Character, Train Skill

by Sean G. McCormick August 1, 2016
August 1, 2016

The “Hire character, train skill” quote is shared to my LinkedIn feed on a weekly basis. At first pass, it’s a reasonable statement. It presents the facet to look qualitatively at candidates, which should be an inform. It wasn’t until I heard how this is being practiced that made me go, “Hmmm…”


I was recently talking to a Head of Marketing, discussing the dynamics of their team. Then they dropped the quote, “I hire character, and train skill”, proudly going into detail about how a majority of the team didn’t have a marketing background and they were trained on the job.

I hope I’m not the only one to think this is flawed:

Invalid principle
Out of the gate, this statement implies that character and skill are mutually exclusive when hiring, that you can’t have both when selecting your choice candidate. I don’t know about you, but I know some pretty badass marketers that I hold in high regard on both a personal level and because of their skill sets. Actually, some of these people are currently looking for their next challenge. If you’re interested, drop me a note and I can introduce you to these remarkable individuals. They’ll help bring your organization to the next level.

Effectiveness in diversity
I have the pleasure of being surrounded by a contrasting set of marketers that have strong opinions. We bring different viewpoints and have varying skill sets, allowing for effective brainstorming because of the diverse angles in our approach. You can always count on someone to challenge you when briefing and I wouldn’t want it any other way. If we were all trained in the same way, briefing may be easy, but how far are we pushing each other and how dynamic is our marketing?

Mutual respect
Since kindergarten, we have been taught that everyone needs to play well in the sandbox. During the hiring process, we scrutinize to find an individual that will play the best within the current team. The pitfall in this exploration is choosing a candidate that is most “likeable” in interviews, potentially sacrificing optimal output. The greatest lesson playing team sports? You don’t have to like all your teammates, but you have to respect them. Respect is mostly earned through contribution. I have been on winning teams where, off the field, personalities clashed and on losing teams where everybody was great friends. This is just me; I’d much rather win than lose, regardless if I “like” all my teammates or not. Mutual respect needs to be there, regardless of whether you like all your teammates or not.

Hard skills are easily definable and present well on a resume, but there is no doubt that the qualitative, character aspect of a candidate is important to the selection process. Yet, overweighting this aspect may present negative implications.

First, let’s agree that there are skillful professionals with pronounced character available to hire. Now that we are past that, hiring for a new role or replacing a team member presents opportunity to build on more than the blocking and tackling needed in the open position. Take a holistic view of the team to see if you can find candidates that will diversify the team in areas of white space.

Lastly, put aside the kindergarten value about the sandbox and focus on which candidate can provide the greatest return. If you’re going to train your associates, train them on team skills, not how to do their jobs. Learning to appreciate other viewpoints and respecting contribution is key to building character and confidence of the entire team.

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