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February 19, 2002
Character Should Count, Hiring Experts Say
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Employers often zero in on skills when they hire, but skills alone won't guarantee a motivated, dependable, and honest employee. Experts tell the San Francisco Chronicle that character needs scrutiny, too.

In fact, overlooking it can have serious consequences for the worker and employer.

"I don't care what kind of technical know-how they have," said Norm Meshiry, a career consultant from Walnut Creek, Calif. "If they don't have strong character, they will cause damage to your crew."

Companies that ignore values pay a price, said J. Mitchell Perry, a Ventura, Calif., workplace psychologist who helps employers evaluate candidates based on their character. Companies that neglect character often are less productive, reap smaller profits and are hit with more lawsuits, he said.

Many employers neglected character in recent years in favor of focusing on the bottom line, he said. But that may change as the nation begins to embrace higher standards, Perry said. In many ways, the shock of Sept. 11 has awakened society to the notion that character matters as much as competence.

"Companies are reflective of American society," Perry said. "People had gotten so disgusted and so unimpressed about so much that it required a major crisis to wake us up."

When Perry evaluates someone, the Chronicle reports, he looks for four basic values:

- substance (whether candidates know what they're talking about);
- a magic personality;
- proaction (willingness to make the first move);
- and character (integrity, responsibility and generosity of spirit).

The truth about a person's character usually shines through in the interview, he said. Managers should not only ask candidates about their achievements since high school, but what they've learned about themselves and life since that time. An employer also should ask about a potential employee's values and priorities in life.

Perry once asked a woman what she had achieved that she was most proud of. When the woman said she didn't know, Perry knew she wasn't right for the job.

"You look at what people say, and how they say it," Perry said. "Are these questions foolproof? No. But they will increase the chances that you'll get someone who will go the extra mile."

Michael Josephson, founder of the nonprofit Josephson Institute of Ethics in Marina del Rey, Calif., also encourages companies to ``hire for character and train for skills.''

Josephson says there are six major qualities that employees should demonstrate: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship. A shortcoming in any of these areas can have a serious impact on business, he said.

"If you hire a person that can't be trusted, then people will have to constantly check on that person," he said. "If the person isn't respectful, then you might be dealing with sexual harassment or discrimination."


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