Why do so many companies struggle when it comes to making great hires? They overlook the obvious. In other words, the people doing the hiring fail to understand, look for, and qualify the one characteristic that indicates the certainty of a good hire.

While companies screen for many things, they often miss the gold standard litmus test – they play a game of chance when it’s simply not necessary.

I was casually reading the results of a survey on the topic of hiring methodologies last weekend when one particular survey question caught my eye: “When considering a new hire, what is the one characteristic or attribute of the candidate that would most influence your hiring decision?” The “right” answer seemed quite obvious to me, but in reading the respondent’s (100 hiring managers, executives, and HR types) answers, I was truly amazed at what I saw… It’s no wonder companies make bad hires when they make decisions based on the “wrong” evaluation metrics.

Let me begin by sharing some of the representative answers (not mine) that were put forth in response to the survey question above:

  • “Leadership ability”
  • “I would have to say being a good communicator”
  • “The ability to think outside the box and eagerness to learn”
  • “The ability to make a good first impression”
  •  “Intelligence”
  •  “Passion”
  •  “Commitment to invest long hours”
  •  “Being a team player”
  •  “Excellent time management skills”
  •  “Enthusiastic attitude”
  •  “Strong analytical abilities”
  •  “Solid technical skills”
  •  “The ability to execute”
  •  “The ability to follow the process”
  •  “That individual is a nice person”
  •  “That they have a degree from a good school”

Did you notice anything missing from the list? Again, keep in mind these (along with the other answers posted) were given by senior managers and executives. Here’s what I’d like you to consider; while the answers noted above all point to admirable traits, when you evaluate them based upon the context of the original question posed, they are woefully inadequate, and nothing short of mystifying. Out of 100 answers provided only two respondents answered with what I believe is the correct answer: “Integrity and Character.”

You see, any of the traits identified in the 98 other answers absent character and integrity will eventually lead to some type of disconnect or debacle. Put another way, if you can’t trust someone to do the right thing, it doesn’t matter how likable, passionate, or talented they are. You can teach many things, but altering the hardwiring of an adult’s character is best left to a therapist or the clergy – not an employer.

A values-based approach to hiring increases performance enhances collaboration, reduces turnover, improves morale, and creates a stable culture. The fact that character and integrity showed as poorly as they did in the survey is proof positive for why the corporate workplace struggles with hiring. If you’re going to probe for something, probe for the character.

What should be jumping off the page here is that based upon the above-referenced survey only two percent of the companies surveyed appear to utilize a value-based hiring methodology.  Moreover, one might conclude that 98% of these companies have the wrong people doing the hiring. I strongly suggest that whoever is doing the hiring within your organization utilizes a values-based recruiting model. This doesn’t just mean hiring a top producer, or the candidate who graduated from the best business school, but rather hire a quality individual who is a person of integrity & character, whose values are in alignment with the organization’s core values and vision, and who also happens to be talented.

The simple truth of the matter is you can have your cake and it eat too if you’re willing to holdout for the right person. It simply isn’t necessary to compromise on core values to acquire talent. A new hire should desire to be part of your company for more than the ability to maximize immediate earning potential – they should be interested in your company because there is a sincere alignment of values and vision. My premise is a simple one – there is no talent shortage, just a shortage of those able to recognize it.

Don’t be quick to hire based upon gut feel, but rather take time in the interviewing process to let the prospective new hire get a feel for your culture and your company. Never oversell the company, but rather disclose all the problems and weaknesses of the organization so the candidate can make a good decision that won’t later be unwound by inconsistent messaging or practices. Above all, don’t be seduced by qualities that while they may be attractive on the surface, won’t ever make-up for a lack of character and integrity.