Hiring: Skills vs. Experience, Strength, and Character

Skills vs Experience and Character Proper recruitment and screening is a multi-step process with many considerations. Likewise, many factors play into the selection of a final candidate. Among these are personal attributes, such as skills, experience, and strengths. Unfortunately, many business owners and hiring managers are unable to distinguish between these attributes. This confusion leads to errors in recruitment, screening, and interviewing, all of which may result in a bad hire. A clear understanding of skills, experience, strengths, and a fourth factor—character—is invaluable to hiring the best fit for your organization.

Skills Take Center Stage

A candidate’s skills often receive most of the attention. Indeed, they are showcased in their section on a resume. The well-qualified candidate possesses specialized knowledge and mastery of specific techniques, such as languages, software programs, technical procedures, and familiarity with industry jargon. When a company has an immediate, specific need (for example, a Microsoft Excel guru to prepare complex, formula-laden spreadsheets), the proper skill set usually trumps all other candidate attributes. Conversely, when making a strategic hire in a non-urgent situation, companies often find experience preferable to skills. After all, most skills can be taught in a relatively short time.

Experience Can’t Be Taught

Unlike skills, experience—more specifically, the wisdom gleaned from extended time spent in a given company or industry—can not be taught by one person to another. The perspective necessary for proper judgment in complex situations is acquired over time. Particularly for positions involving leadership and management, work (and life) experience are critical factors in developing the maturity to remain goal-focused without being emotionally attached to outcomes.

Playing to Our Strengths

Those attributes known as strengths—sometimes referred to as “talents”—are specific to the individual and are unrelated to acquired skills and experience. Examples of strengths include empathy, analysis, and communication. Simply put, these are our gifts—the things that come readily and naturally to us. Presented in the modern business classic “First, Break All the Rules” and further explored in “Now, Discover Your Strengths” and “StrengthsFinder 2.0,” strengths are areas of extraordinary personal ability that represent a real potential for a company. When well-matched to the business needs of the organization, an individual can draw upon his or her strengths and develop them further, resulting in tremendous productivity, effectiveness and personal satisfaction. When interviewing a candidate, probe deeply to identify his or her areas of strength.

Character Drives the Story of Success

In his best-selling book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” Stephen R. Covey praises the Character Ethic. This is defined as attitudes and behavior, centered in principle, in harmony with the concepts of integrity, justice, courage, and patience, among others. Wouldn’t every employer enjoy having employees who aspire to these ideals? Skills, experience, and natural talents aside, great employees are fundamentally exceptional human beings—that is, people of excellent character.

Unfortunately, there is not a standardized test by which to measure character. However, we suggest the following interview questions which may shed light on a candidate’s character:

  • Who has been a personal inspiration in your life? How has that person impacted you? What have you done to try to live up to the example set for you?
  • What is your definition of success? Not professional or business success—success as a human being.
  • Why do you work as hard as you do? What does work represent to you?

At Menlo Partners, we take time to learn about our applicants’ skills, experience, strengths, and character. We use this knowledge to identify the best-qualified candidates for our clients in Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area.


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