GettyImages_78621733.jpgYou have an opening in your company.  You get a slew of resumes for the position, you interview a number of candidates, and then you finally narrow it down to two people: One has experience that’s right on the mark, but during the interview you had glimpses of an attitude that might not mesh with your corporate culture.  The other person is lacking a number of important skills, but it seems that she makes up for her shortcomings with an energy and attitude you admire.  She seems like a real go-getter who will be a good fit among your staff.  So what do you do?

We’ve seen this debate played out in the blogosphere repeatedly (here’s one example, and another), and usually folks tout character over skills.  The reasoning?  Skills can be taught, but character cannot.  But if you’re the person doing the hiring, how do you make sure that your impression that someone has a good character is right?  Or if you’re an attorney who’s looking for a reliable witness, how do you make sure you pick one whose credibility won’t be ruined by proof of a less than upstanding character?

Is this as simple as confirming that the candidate’s resume is accurate?  Determining that someone must have good character because they didn’t lie on their resume is setting the bar pretty darn low.  So do you just resort to Googling the candidate or witness?  Checking their Facebook page or Twitter feed?  We’ve pointed out more than once that assuming everything you need to know about someone can be found on the Internet is just not true.  You don’t get a full picture of someone just because you saw their listing on LinkedIn or scrolled through their pictures on Facebook—expect perhaps that they have yet to master the social networking site’s privacy settings. 

So is this instead an “I know it when I see it” sort of assessment—where you base your decision primarily on your “gut,” your “instinct,” or some sort of “hunch” about the candidate’s character?  Maybe you’re a great judge of character with a wonderful track record who can trust your instinct without reservation.  But for most people, that’s rarely the case, especially those who are new to hiring or who don’t have a lot of experience selecting witnesses for a case. 

The truth of the matter is that being a good judge of character is sort of like being funny: everyone thinks they are but we all know that’s not always true.  I don’t mean to suggest that instinct isn’t valuable—sometimes it’s all we’ve got and more often than not it’s worth heeding a “bad feeling” about someone.  But we’re talking about pretty high stakes here, and it would be good to base an important decision on more than a hunch. 

This is where a good investigator is invaluable.  Every worthwhile investigator will look beyond the Internet and do various in-depth database searches.  But those who really know what they’re doing know that that’s not enough.  They know that ultimately they have to get on the phone and start interviewing people.  They will talk to those old employers, track down ex-colleagues, and get the skinny from friends, classmates and co-workers.  Sure this might generate some gossip, and some of it may or may not be true.  But combined with smart and thorough database searches, this approach will provide a much clearer picture of your candidate’s character, helping you make a genuinely informed decision.