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Character Over Skills

Why character matters most

Finding out how to develop skills, face setbacks, and continue learning is always both interesting and intriguing. However, I’ve noticed with time that character seems to have a more profound impact on anything we do. Character traits are fundamentally more important than skill-sets or degrees. Skills certainly help forge character, but it is character that persists despite setbacks and moves forward.

Take resumes. Say you are sifting through many resumes looking to fill a position. Assuming all candidates are qualified for the job, then what do you think you would you be looking for? The fact is that a resume offers very little in terms of knowing who the person is. Maybe you could draw conclusions from the resume’s design, but it’d be mostly guess work. Rather, you would want to know more about them and their character. So let’s start by asking: what are desirable character traits? What character traits would you benefit from developing? And more interesting, could we incorporate new traits into ourselves?

Some desirable character traits:

  • Being on time
  • Being reliable
  • Being trustworthy
  • Being kind
  • Being respectful
  • Being supportive
  • Being disciplined
  • Being confident
  • Being grateful
  • Being humble/compassionate
  • Being generous
  • Being helpful
  • Being persistent
  • Being flexible
  • Being responsible
  • Being organized

What other favorable traits can you think of?

With over qualified people for all sorts of jobs, it is character traits that matters most. Notice these traits are all about how you treat yourself and others. For instance, being punctual is about respecting other people’s time. Being reliable is about doing what you said you would do, and being kind is really not about you, is it? We all think we’re respectful, or responsible, or reliable, until we’re not.

I wonder. How can you become a more punctual, respectful, or generous person? How can you be the person that goes the extra mile when you don’t have to? In other words, how can we develop these traits? How can we hone our character? The common denominator is that character traits are about “being.” Recognizing what we want to be more of, and committing to practice those traits every time is what could help us be it. Keep in mind not to fall in the trap of virtue signaling. Molding, developing, or strengthening character is an introverted process. It’s an inner decision that you reflect on to others.

The challenge though is that building character can be quite elusive. How can we be more humble when we have more or know more than someone else? How can we be more generous? Or persevering when we don’t feel like it? I’m not certain how to truly incorporate positive traits like these, but a powerful starting point is to approach them via negativa.  Instead of asking how to be more generous or humble, ask how can you can be less selfish, less arrogant, and less entitled. Be vigilant of what a lack of character looks like and avoid it. Character is built early but shaped over a lifetime.

Think of two or three character traits and keep them in mind. Think about it. Pause. Which ones did you choose? Now think of their opposites: like the opposite of grateful is entitledand recognize this, and be less of the latter. If gratitude is about showing your appreciation, then the opposite is not showing it, but feeling like you don’t need to (entitled). So your mission is to show how you are grateful every time you can and mean it. Thinking about opposites is hard, but it helps clarify what to be less of.

As much as skill sets do matter, we have to recognize there’s an obsession with schooling, activities, and an endless race to be more skilled. But at what cost? There’s not nearly enough attention to what makes us more human. And people with “human” character traits are ultimately who we all want to spend more time with, work with, and be with. In the hiring process as in any relationships, choose for character and grow the skills. In a world with over qualified people, you stand out more by who you are than what you can do. Character over skills doesn’t mean you stop learning, it just means skills don’t define you. Character does.

Juan F. Diaz

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