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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 tends 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’d be looking for? The fact is that a resume offers very little in terms of knowing who the person really 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 we benefit from developing? And more interesting, can we incorporate said traits into ourselves?

Consider 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?

The fact is that with over qualified people for all sorts of jobs, it is character traits that matters most. It’s what makes the difference: what separates skillful candidates from skillfuland worthwhile. Notice these traits are all about how we treat yourself and others. For instance, being punctual is really about respecting other people’s time. Being reliable is about doing what you said you would do, and being kind isn’t really about you, is it? We all think we’re respectful, or responsible, or reliable, until we’re not.

So I wonder. How can we hone our character? Is it possible? How can we 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 and incorporate these traits? We certainly don’t learn that at school. We can begin by noticing that the common denominator within these character traits is being. Recognizing what we want to be more of, and committing to live these traits is what can help us incorporate them.

Keep in mind, however, not to fall in the trap of virtue signaling. Molding, developing, or strengthening our character is an introverted process. It’s a realization and inner decision that forging character is about becoming a better human being. We’re not after being perceived as a better human being by being better than others, but because we treat ourselves and others better.

The challenge though is that building character is quite elusive. How can we be more humble, for instance, if we have more or know more than someone else? Or persevering precisely when we don’t feel like it? I’m not certain how to truly incorporate positive traitsbut once you’ve defined what you want to be more of, a powerful starting point is to approach it via negativa.  Instead of asking how to be more generous, organized, or humble, ask how you can be less selfish, less distracted, or less arrogant. Be vigilant of what a lack of character looks like and you’ll have a head start.

Character is built early but shaped over a lifetime. Think of two or three character traits that you would really like to be more of. Do think about it. And pause. What are they? Then think of their opposites: like the opposite of grateful is entitledand recognize this, and be less of the latter. If gratitude is what results when you recognize what someone else did for you, then the opposite is not necessarily not showing appreciation but failing to appreciate others’ efforts (entitled). How can we be less narcissistic? Thinking about opposites is hard, but it will help you clarify what to be less of. That is the key.

As much as skill sets do matter, we have to recognize there is 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 relationship, 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 most definitely does.

Juan F. Diaz

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