On November 16, 2004, I wrote ERE's first blog post. I remember Manaster calling and asking me if I wanted to have a blog on ERE. I had been a rabid discussionnaire since the beginning and was never at a loss for words so I agreed.

Just so you can see how far I've come - or possibly regressed - here's my virginal post...

The Case for Character

Sometimes I think there are really only two questions that recruiters need to ask - sorry Lou, two, not one: The first is just an amalgam of all variants of behavioral interviewing (yes, this is where Lou Adler gets a shameless plug for his single, greatest interview question of all time). But to master the one question really requires an in-depth understanding of everything about the job.

Since so many recruiters just aren’t up-to-speed in terms of content - I mean, who has the time to really learn, for example, finance when all you really need are the buzzwords to conduct an effective interview, right? ;) Most recruiters might just as well ask a simple Yes or No question, something like this:

Look, let’s cut to the chase - this position is for a CFO of a multibillion dollar multinational. You've read the job description so here’s my question: Have you been the CFO of a multibillion dollar multinational corporation where you've increased profits as measured by EVA by at least 15% annually over the past three years without putting the company under SEC scrutiny? Now before you say yes, if you haven’t and you lie, then you’ll be fired without any severance and your reputation will be smeared from here to the end of the earth. Now, what is your answer?

Perhaps this conjures up thoughts of the bridge scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail (What is your quest?). In reality, it is a simple binary - Yes or No - that might take about two minutes to ask and answer. If done correctly, for most it is about as effective as a battery of highly targeted behavioral questions (which ultimately get at the same result - assessing whether the candidate can perform the job as described). Since so many recruiters and hiring managers do a less than stellar job at behavioral interviewing - incidentally, this is the greatest opportunity for improvement in our profession; and this opportunity for improvement is part content knowledge, part learning how to effectively drill down - heck, most might as well just ask a Yes or No question and move on to a far more difficult trait to assess...Character.

Cicero, the Roman Empire-era philosopher believed that Within the character of the citizen lies the welfare of the nation. To paraphrase him, within the character of the employee lies the greatness of the company. Recruiters need to understand how this applies to their company or client and then come up with specific ways to assess character in the same way they focus on work-related behaviors. Because at the end of the day, it is those who are of exemplary character who will create the most value for a company.

Specific ways? How about a business ethics question related to a specific event or series of events that took place in your organization? Something with many levels, potential traps, dead ends, etc. You’ll have to do your homework for this one folks - talking to C-levels, hiring managers, direct reports, suppliers, et. al. - and you may get some funny looks, but when you start talking about why employees really fail to make the grade, once you get past the Well, they just couldn't do the job excuse and dig deep...the reason they failed was most likely character-based.

In interviewing for character and when using developed business scenarios, consider some of the following questions (tailor them anyway you want):

  • How do you define character?
  • What values are the most important ones to you as you make daily business decisions?
  • How do you think your company defines values and values training?
  • What are some of the values highlighted in your work?
  • To what extent do you feel that your values have been consistent with your employer's values?
  • How do you incorporate character development into interactions with your subordinates?
  • How do you handle situations in which peers hold conflicting values or express values contrary to what you believe are the norms of your employer?
  • What skills do employees need to possess to be able to determine viable alternatives, hold options up to critical examination, and develop strong rationales for their positions as they solve problems and make decisions?
  • In what ways should employees and their bosses demonstrate care and concern for each other?
  • How often and in what context are values-oriented issues discussed in your business meetings?
  • To what extent have your peers been aware of their role in transmitting values to employees?

What criteria should be used to assess the success of a company's character training program? According to these criteria, how successful are your company's character training efforts? What would make them more effective?

Character is a rather arcane concept because it means so many things to different people. But assessing character as it relates to one's organization is the first step in promoting the Daffodil Principle. Ever plant daffodils? Know what happens the next bloom? There are more daffodils - and the bloom is stronger. What recruiter wouldn't want to be part of a success like this? Rhetorical question, right?

Here's why you should seriously consider assessing character.

Last Monday I attended the funeral of a United States Marine killed ten days ago in Iraq - I know, well knew, him and his brother (oddly enough, also a Marine as was their Dad and Grandfather). Matt Lynch was a Duke grad who when asked by his Dad what his plans are now that he's entering the real world responded by saying, Dad, the Marine Corps, of course. He went to Marine Officer Candidate School, then IOC, then E/2/5 and the 1/5 - at one point, he was stationed in a place called Karma (it was a good omen). After his second tour in Iraq, he had the option of going home; instead, learning that his old and intact 2/5 was headed back to Iraq, he chose to go back saying, They are my guys, I’m going.

Matt was killed on October 30, 2004, the victim of a roadside bomb. Even in death, character prospers according to the Daffodil Principle.

After the funeral, many of us assembled at a local restaurant, told stories, and yes, hoisted many a toast in the late soldier’s honor. What was clear to me - aside from the buzzing in my head (for the record, Marines can put away adult beverages at an alarming rate), was how so very much alike each Marine was - especially as it pertained to character.

Now I’m not talking about the four guys I spent hours with - every Marine I met this day was of exemplary character - seriously, the kind of person every Mother and Father wants to meet. And commitment - each of these Marines would put their life ahead of each other. Absolutely amazing - how did the USMC recruiters do such an exemplary job in selecting people who were so in tune with the Marine way? Sure Marines are made but there has to be something in there to work with. So how do the Marines select on the basis of character? I’ll touch upon this in a very near future post.

Original post

Again, I believe that character really does matter. What do you think?


As I re-read this, not only did I cringe but i also I noticed that my writing style has changed - it flows so much better now. What's funny to me is that I told David that I would never post something that would embarrass him. He was adamant that he wasn't worried at all; nonetheless, I remember letting him know about posts that I thought were close to the edge; he never censored anything I wrote.

I suppose if there was the lesson to all this is that you have to condition yourself to being an active observer. These days, everything I experience is blog fodder and I try to find a connection to recruiting. Of course there are things that simply will never make it to the blog - I won't list these but any reasonable person would have these on their List of No.

In the end, my purpose is to help others see things from all directions other than from straight on. Sometimes it means changing the color of my glasses by becoming someone else; other times it means looking at things for the first time with the wonder of a two-year old.

Or even from the perspective of a monkey (thanks to Jim Durbin). Heh, heh...

Views: 196

Comment by Martin H.Snyder on January 30, 2009 at 10:45am
Steve I've been a fan as you know since your early days because you are not afraid to be outside of that cliche'd box- in your first ever post you wanted to share a big life lesson; great character can be found in all kinds of people- you can't just go by social class, education, or experience.

Your story about the brave marine (he was not a soldier by the way- they don't take kindly to that term) points to how much team loyalty and drive shapes motivation and performance.

My battle with Wendell Williams goes on- we just went another round on ERE this week on the same topic....you cant really assess individuals who work in teams without an assessment of the whole picture.
Comment by Joshua Letourneau on January 30, 2009 at 10:51am
Steve, a highly relevant post . . . even today. But isn't even today a back-handed compliment we often hear? I mean, the truth is that character has always, and will always, be important. In fact, I'd say perhaps even moreso today . . . as we look to some of the reasons we find ourselves arduously mulling through the quicksand of a financial crisis.

So how can one of us determine if another has "it" (character, integrity)? I'd think much of this comes down to our EI, some of which can be acquired.

But would you agree with me when I say that the larger issue is the individual psychology of the Hiring Manager? I often see Recruiters point to 'lack of fit' as to why a given candidate is turned down . . . but I ask, 'lack of fit to the organization . . . or to you?'

In my eyes, a great TPR (and Internal Recruiter) has a keen ability to identify what makes that HM "tick". I would even argue that great Recruiters embrace the fact that what we do may, in fact, be the most tacit of any job in the world.

Great post - more relevant today than ever.
Comment by Steve Levy on January 30, 2009 at 11:00am
Marty, as always Marty, thanks for your eyeballs and comments: You've always been one of the people whom I write for.

I've always enjoyed reading and speaking with Wendell for his passion about measurement is always clear. I'll have to check out this argument; I'm not sure what the "whole picture means" but I'm sure it all has to do with one's definition of assessment.
Comment by Martin H.Snyder on January 30, 2009 at 11:10am
Whole picture means when you assess one player, you have to assess the group, or build the group to work well with new players- the difference between a Bill Belichick team, and oh....the 2008 Dallas Cowboys as one example.......
Comment by Martin H.Snyder on January 30, 2009 at 11:11am
PS you got three bald mice here ! Do I sense a pattern (male pattern that is!)
Comment by Joshua Letourneau on January 30, 2009 at 11:14am
Steve, btw, in regards to your comment:

"how did the USMC recruiters do such an exemplary job in selecting people who were so in tune with the Marine way?"

Personally, I was never a Recruiter - I picked up Sergeant at 21 yrs old and this, in my eyes, was too fast for an Infantry Unit (there are some political reasons there as to morale dynamics and pre-existing relationships in the Platoon). But I can remember really coming down on other Marines that I didn't think were 'doing the right thing' in any given scenario. As a Troop Leader, you find yourself tackling more of these kinds of issues than the typical day-to-day.

However, if I may, I'd like to introduce you to a gentleman at Tyson Foods by the name of Stephen Shearman. He was a USMC Recruiter for a very, very long time . . . and I'd love to see him share some of his recruiting philosophies with our community.

His email address is Stephen.Shearman@tyson.com
Comment by Joshua Letourneau on January 30, 2009 at 11:20am
Martin, LOL, bald mines think alike . . . and as I say with friends, we 'get more head' :) (I mean that cleanly!)

Speaking of Cowboys . . . it's the baldness, man! (http://tinyurl.com/8q4o73)

Also, may I turn you on to Malcom Gladwell's recent New Yorker Article, "Most Likely to Succeed
How do we hire when we can’t tell who’s right for the job?" --

Comment by Steve Levy on January 30, 2009 at 11:27am
Josh, I'd take the tack that psychology vascillates between the individual and the organization and can produce a positive or negative contagion effect that is greater than the sum of its parts. In the case of "lack of fit", we both know that this is a tough conversation for a recruiter to have with a hiring manager.

We say we need to drill down to bedrock to interview people yet we take certain statements on face value.
Comment by Steve Levy on January 30, 2009 at 11:28am
Marty, where's your soul patch?
Comment by Steve Levy on January 30, 2009 at 11:30am
Josh, I know Stephen but never new he was a Marine. Think I'll call him now. Thanks. And you after lunch.


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