My wife is retiring from her job as the Business Manager of Lincoln Christian School. It means they need to hire a replacement. She has been put on the committee of people hiring the replacement.

So, because it is what I went to college for and it is part of what I do for a living, she asked me for some advice. Reading and study on this topic is a hobby of mine. I listen to a few podcasts and read about a book a month about human resource topics.

This is what I told her. It is also what we do at Willmar Electric.

First, the experts will tell you that when you are looking at hiring somebody, you are looking for a reason not to hire. If the person has red flags, DON’T hire them. You aren’t going to fit people. If you hire the wrong person, you must replace them shortly. You aren’t simply trying to compare a pool of people. Don’t pick the best of the pool. Hire only people who fit. Being the best isn’t good enough.  Of course, if you have more than two people worth hiring, you get to hire the best of the pool.

I understand people are going to put pressure on you to hire somebody. They will tell you they need help, and they need to catch up. That might be the case, but making a bad hire will only worsen things.  You are going to waste time training a lousy fit and end up needing to hire their replacement.

You are likely wondering then how you know who is good enough.

Your questions and research must fall into three categories—skills, character, and development. You need to find out if they have the skills and required knowledge to do the tasks you will ask them to perform.  You need to make sure they have the character to fill the role. You need to ensure that if they lack any skills, they can learn them, and you have the time to assist them in getting them.

Skill is simple. The person needs to score 100% on this part of the interview.  For example, you must know various accounting to do Sue’s job.  At Willmar Electric, when hiring a Journeyman, you need a Journeyman’s license.

If a person doesn’t have the needed skills, you need to drop down to the development portion of the evaluation.  In most situations, when hiring an office staff person, they will unlikely know the exact software program you use. So, you need to determine if they can pick up your system. Getting an accounting person to learn a new software program is one thing. It is an entirely different thing to get the music teacher to understand that every debit needs a credit or that in accrual-based accounting, total revenue doesn’t depend on how much you have billed but instead on how much you have spent.

Character is where things get tricky. It is the critical thing you are looking at in the interview. The person also needs to score 100%. But first, let’s define character.

When I say character, I’m not asking you to judge whether the person has what you would consider a high or low character. I’m talking more about what you might call personal traits. For example, I don’t have the character to be the Business Manager at Lincoln Christian. I would pass the skills and development parts of the interview with flying colors. But I lack the focus to do the data entry Sue does consistently. Could I do the data entry, yes?  Would I succeed in doing it for several hours a day no? I would try to help in areas I’m not needed. I likely would speak out on items people didn’t want my feedback. Those moments would frustrate the people around me.

In an interview for the position, if asked, “do you like to work in teams?” I would eagerly answer, “yes, I prefer to work in teams. Going to meetings is where I shine.” In many cases, that answer might make me a great fit. Teamwork is positive. But this position requires people who prefer to work alone. People who are given a task and then do the task.  Is being a good team player a plus, yes.  But not every position involves group work.

Good companies put a lot of energy into figuring out core values. Those values often lead them to understand how to make good hiring decisions.

For example, we can all agree that compassion is an important character trait. We all want our nurses, school teachers, and social workers. But if we were tasked with hiring astronauts, airline pilots, or air traffic controllers, we might not consider compassion in the hiring process. The same thing can be transposed on several other traits.

Different careers don’t just take different skill sets. They often take people with entirely different characters or personality traits. Nurses and auto mechanics don’t just need different skills.  Working with a car instead of people involves different characteristics. At times those differences can happen inside the same industry. In the medical field, some doctors spend their days moving from one person to another, interacting with them, and discussing the patient’s health issues. Other doctors spend their performing surgery or analyzing information.

Our company has electricians who spend their day installing electrical materials and equipment. We also have electricians who spend their day managing people. Again, these people are differentiated by more than their physical skills.

I advise Sue and you to go into the interview knowing the skills the position requires. Have a clear understanding if you can easily and quickly develop them after you hire them to make up for any skill gap they might have.  Make sure they have the character to complete the job you require.

If you skip a step, you’ll get a chance to redo the process again because you will be replacing them soon.