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Do You Hire for Character or Skill? By Dr. Ken Byrne

Character and Skills in Hiring for a Christian Organization

“…be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one,

to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility towards everyone.”

Titus 3: 1-2

Every Christian organization wants to extend God’s grace in Word and Deed.

Doing so includes hiring staff. Social media emphasizes the importance of choosing people with the right skills. In my view, this can be a serious error.

Of course, some skills are fundamental requirements to be employed. For example, if you are hiring a nurse or a teacher, certain qualifications must be met as a basic entry point. However, these roles are more likely to be exceptions rather than the rule.

Differentiating Skills and Character

A skill is the ability to perform a series of tasks. The more one possesses a skill, the greater the likelihood of being described as proficient. No one is born with skills; all have to be learned.

Character is a description of the nature of one’s personality. It will include factors such as temperament, resilience, optimism, and other traits. These are primarily inherited or learned in early childhood. It is very difficult to change.

Making Hiring Decisions

A thoughtful approach to hiring will always begin with a well-thought-out job description. This should outline in broad terms the outcomes that this job is designed to produce. It should also outline the personality traits and skills that are likely to be associated with success.

This document often emphasizes skills too much. One reason is that evaluating skills is easier. Judging the applicant’s real character is much more challenging.

Evaluating applicants largely on skills can easily lead to hiring the wrong person. People with the designated skill level can have character limitations that interfere with getting the job done.

Despite having the required skills, an applicant can be immature, aggressive, lazy, or unable to work in a team. Detecting these traits can be difficult, as the candidate will be on their best behavior during the interview.

What Matters Most

Here are some qualities to look for in every applicant:

  • Integrity: the ability to act honestly in all of one’s dealings.
  • Maturity: the hallmark of maturity is the ability to accept responsibility for one’s behavior without making excuses or looking for others to blame.
  • Perseverance: the ability to tolerate frustration and inevitable setbacks while continuing to work toward a goal.
  • Empathy: the ability to understand how other people feel, even though it may not be spoken, or indeed, the exact opposite may be expressed.
  • Teamwork: the ability to subordinate one’s ego to work cooperatively with others toward a common goal.

Certain personality traits predict a problem performer. Only a skillful assessment can reveal these. Nonetheless, any sign of these should be carefully investigated.

  • Arrogance: conveying that the person is more important than others. Conceit or haughtiness are common synonyms.
  • Lack of common sense: Independent of chronological age, the world is filled with people who cannot see what most others do. This lack of common sense is often manifested as poor business judgment.
  • Impulsiveness: someone who acts first and thinks later or rushes into situations without considering the consequences is likely to be a poor fit for most jobs.
  • Poor work ethic: these are people who look more closely at the clock than the task before them.

A Better Approach

Begin by identifying the personality traits that will be critical for success. Then, seek people who are likely to have these traits. Consider whether any gaps in skills can be offset by training.

Regardless of skill level, proceed with caution with any candidate who cannot demonstrate evidence of the required personality traits. Should you find evidence of even one personality trait that is likely to predict problematic performance, be especially careful

One experienced executive said, “You must hire people who naturally smile. You won’t be able to teach them to smile after you hire them.”

MY Summary

In most – but not all – cases, the skills necessary for the job can be taught. On the other hand, no training program will instill kindness, humility, a genuine desire to help others, or maturity. These are inherent in the person. These characteristics will not change through performance management.


Dr. Byrne has been an independent organizational psychologist for over forty years. This blog is adapted from Hire Right, First Time: A Practical Guide for Staffing Christian Organisations, co-authored by Ken and Rev. Peter Corney.  

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