Skills AND Character

It’s not JUST about a skills gap.  Skills without character -- the traits that lead to perseverance, modesty, working toward a larger goal -- will fall short.  I believe that it is for this reason that Mike Rowe (of Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs) requires applicants for his technical school scholarships ( to sign the SWEAT pledge (  This is a list of 12 “I will…” pledge items that commit the applicant to a strong work ethic.  This pledge reinforces that learning skills are just a part of getting and holding a good job and building a career.


During the 11 years I owned and ran Bay Cities Automatic Gates I hired and managed over fifty field technicians.  During this period we had between five and ten techs at any one time.  The scale of the business was tiny compared with much larger service companies, not to mention AT+T or Comcast or PG&E.  Nonetheless, fifty is a significant sample size.  And I learned a lot about skills AND character among my employees.  Here are my takeaways:


All jobs require skills.  From the artificial intelligence computer software programmer, to the neurosurgeon to the laborer digging post holes for a fence line: skill matters.

  1. Skills can be broken into two categories: soft and hard.  

    1. “Soft” skills include verbal communication, self confidence, respect toward others, organization, self motivation.

    2. “Hard” skills include the technical performance of a task -- its quality and speed.

Both are important.  

  1. Soft skills are more important the more the employee works with people outside the company: customers, suppliers, business partners.

  2. Hard skills can be easily measured (e.g.., How quickly can you wire up a control board?, How clean is the weld bead you laid down to attach a hinge to a gate post?  Most hard skills can be taught.

Character, is a set of personality traits that have a large impact on the long term performance of the employee and their contribution to the success of the company.  Employees with strong character show modesty in the face of adversity.  They take responsibility for the difficult decisions and take responsibility when things do not go as planned.  They have patience.  They believe in the value of each of the people around them.


These observations lead me to the following formulas:


Soft Skills + Hard Skills + Character = Extremely valuable, long term employee and possible leader


Hard Skills + Character (with poor soft skills) = valuable internal employee (hard working, dedicated, dependable)


Soft skills + Character = valuable employee IF they can quickly master hard skills. (Requires a training program...their soft skills and character should motivate them to learn)


Hard Skills without Soft Skills and Character = liability to the company


Evaluating a candidate for Skills and Character:


Evaluate hard skills by:

  1. performing skills test (reading blueprints, welding, solving a technical problem, taking a math test, writing a short memo),

  2. By asking detailed, technical questions

You are looking for someone who is fast and high quality in their performance of the technical tasks your work requires.


Evaluate soft skills by:

  1. Looking at resume for frequency of job moves.  Many moves reflects more on soft than hard skills.

  2. Ask references about attendance, teamwork,

  3. Behavioral interviewing questions (give me an example from your past work when you dealt with an angry customer/colleague).

  4. Probe into their favorite job and why it was are looking for answers that demonstrate their success and rewards with soft skills.

You are looking for someone who is responsible, a confident communicator,


Evaluate character by:

  1. Asking about uncomfortable disruptions in their life/ career.  Why did you leave this job?  What has been a failure, a regret?  You are looking for

  2. Asking about the rewards that come from hard work.  In what job/role did you work the hardest?  What did that feel like?

  3. Ask broad questions about values and belief.  What do you value most in a work environment? Why?  At root, what do you believe in?

What you are looking for is someone who is modest and humble in their answers.  This does not mean lacking in self confidence. A person with strong character will have defined values and beliefs.  They will be loyal to a safe and fair organization.  They will work hard.  And they will hold you and the rest of the organization to a higher standard.


More resources about Character and its importance:  David Brooks (NYT columnist) wrote a marvelous book, The Road to Character.  This explores character by profiling a group of historic figures.  This is an organization advocating “character” elements be fused into education.

Skills Gap, Hiring Skilled Employees


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