Every year it happens—talented players fall in the NFL Draft because of character concerns. In the 2016 NFL Draft, one player’s stock dropped moments before the draft due to newly found problems in his background. The actual details are not the point here, the issue is the importance of character, in sports and in business. Who you hire means everything, especially in a small company where the impact of one person is that much greater.
How do you find people with good character? Of course, you could use a lot of psychological testing, there are plenty of companies that do, but let’s keep it simple. Let’s keep it person-to-person. Because even the latest, most rigorously analyzed test misses some of the most important pieces.
1. Gut Feeling
This is one of those hard-to-explain things. Like, how does an NFL scout know that this linebacker from a Division III school will have a successful NFL career? There’s no evidence, just a gut feeling. Of course, not everyone’s feelings about people are reliable, and nobody is right all the time, but with experience—with taking chances (or not taking chances) and seeing what happens, you develop a sense of people. Or you learn that you just don’t have good judgment about people and you learn to defer to someone who does. Talent can be measured and talent is important, but the best test of the immeasurables is still that feeling that this person is going to be good. And not just good, but a quality person—a person of character.
2. First Impression
Shake a person’s hand, look in their eyes, pay attention to how they present themselves–it’s all part of building a first impression. What does this person like to talk about? Do they speak well of others, put people down, or just talk about themselves 24/7?
First impressions aren’t always reliable. But you can still learn a lot about a person from subtle signals on first meeting, and that information is part of the overall puzzle of getting to know someone.
3. How Someone Handles the Ups and Downs
If possible, watch how the candidate handles life’s ups and downs. Someone who over-celebrates might simply be exuberant (which is fine), but might also turn out to be boastful and self-absorbed—or simply irrationally optimistic, which can cause problems, too. On the other hand, someone who over-reacts to set-backs might lack the drive and resilience you need. Maybe a candidate who blames others a lot has been treated badly. It happens. Or maybe this person just doesn’t like accountability.
Don’t go making assumptions based on one or two incidents. You’re not a psychoanalyst. But over time, how a person reacts to both successes and failures can tell you a lot about their character and it doesn’t have to be a really long time, either.
4. What Friends and Colleagues Say
Go ahead, ask around. Don’t just take a yes/no poll, though, because you don’t know what kind of bias people have. You could be talking to the person’s best friend, or you could have stumbled onto a mean-spirited bully with a grudge. It’s like if you go to Amazon and you see a book with ten reviews and they’re all five stars? You know those reviewers are friends and family of the author. That’s ok—ignore the stars and pay attention to the content of the review, the descriptions of the book. Whether the buzz you hear is positive or negative, it can still tell you a lot about how a person usually acts. You can make up your own mind about whether you like that behavior.
5. Social Media
Even people who don’t use social media now usually have some kind of online footprint. Maybe they used to have an account. Maybe somebody else posted about them. Maybe they blog or showed up on someone’s website. It won’t work all time, but try a searching them out on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Google etc. Nothing online ever really goes away.
Now, don’t be the person who recycles a job application over a ten-year-old photo of your candidate drinking a beer. Even if you find something really troubling, don’t assume the worst. You won’t find answers to who someone is online. You’ll find questions. Ask them.
Putting Together the Puzzle
No one source of information will tell you everything you need to know about a person’s character. What you get is a whole bunch of pieces, and it’s your job to put them together to get the whole picture.
In the past, I hired someone who had great answers in the interview, but it turned out this person only did things their own way. They weren’t a team player. The clues were there early, but the level of talent got in the way.
Just like that football player who everyone thought was going to be a first round draft pick until some information came to light. Talent isn’t everything.