Most job descriptions do an excellent job in explaining exactly what a successful applicant needs to know and be able to do. Knowledge and skill are important, but they’re not sufficient. Successful job candidates are also honest, accountable, and courageous. In other words, they are people of high character.
Why, then, aren’t you actively looking for such people?
Let’s take a closer look.
A Typical Job Description
Suppose your company needs to hire an aircraft maintenance technician. How would you let potential job candidates know this? What follows is an amalgam of several different descriptions for this position that are currently online. All of the descriptions I saw had virtually identical characteristics.
What Employers Look For
The employer is looking for two kinds of things in an aircraft maintenance technician: knowledge and skill. On a scale from one to ten, with one being completely unimportant and ten being essential, how critical is it for such a technician at your company to be knowledgeable and skilled?
Ten, of course. The best people in this area of aircraft maintenance, and all of the others as well, thoroughly understand what the job requires of them and are skilled in doing the work. No company would want an employee who lacks the requisite knowledge and skill.
But are knowledge and skill sufficient? Consider Bernard Madoff in the field of finance, for example. He had a deep understanding of the securities industry. He had great skill in electronic stock trading and in persuading people to invest in his firm.
He also used this knowledge and skill to orchestrate the largest Ponzi scheme in history. He died in prison while serving 150 years for his crimes.If you’re looking for someone to excel on your team, knowledge and skill are necessary, but they’re not sufficient. The best employees are also people of high character.
What is high character?
People of high character demonstrate:
• Presence (that is, mindfulness or focus)
The Mechanic’s Creed, written by Jerome Lederer in 1941, alludes to several of these qualities. For example:
• “I pledge myself never to undertake work or approve work which I feel to be beyond the limits of my knowledge….” (Honesty)
• “…nor shall I allow any non-certificated superior to persuade me to approve aircraft or equipment as airworthy against my better judgment…” (Care and Courage)
• “…nor shall I permit my judgment to be influenced by money or other personal gain…” (Fairness)
• “…nor shall I pass as airworthy aircraft or equipment about which I am in doubt….” (Accountability)
Although you’ve read the creed before, it’s not a bad idea to print it out and post it in a prominent place in your office. Why not do it now? Go ahead. I’ll wait.
Let’s return to our discussion about the ten crucial qualities of high-character employees. One concern you might have about the list is implementing it. How realistic is it to expect anyone, let alone a top employee, to have all ten qualities? We’ll address that question now.
How Good Do You Have To Be?
It is setting the bar too high to expect anyone at your company, including you, to be a saint. We all make mistakes, and we make them over and over.
The distinguishing feature of high character people, however, is that they are honest more often than not. They keep their promises to the best of their abilities, although from time to time they don’t. They usually, but not always, take responsibility for their mistakes.
The people you’re looking for slip up from time to time. But they do their level best to do the right thing as consistently as possible.
Because even the most dedicated, ethically conscious people make mistakes on occasion, the most successful and honorable companies in aviation maintenance have checks and balances in place to make sure that mistakes are caught before they pose a risk to customers.
A Terrifying But True Story
Here’s what can happen if you don’t actively look for a person of high character to fill a position at your business.
Years ago, my company, The Ethics Guy LLC, needed to hire an IT person, so we placed an ad and were deluged with responses. One applicant put himself ahead of the pack. I’ll call him Sly. He described in detail how he would solve the problems we’d presented. He listed his qualifications, which were impressive.
Then he blew it. In the last line of his email, he wrote, “You can pay me X dollars with a business check or X minus Y dollars in cash.” Why would someone offer a discount if they’re paid in cash? So they wouldn’t have to declare it as income on their taxes.
When I wrote Sly back and explained why I wasn’t going to hire him, he was livid. “I thought I’d be saving you money!” he replied. Yes, I want to save money, but not that way.
I reviewed the ad and noticed that there was no reference to honesty in it. I ran it again but added “honesty” to the list of qualifications I was looking for. I got far fewer responses this time. But I also found someone who is just as knowledgeable and skilled as Sly was, and she is an honest, accountable person to boot.
When she can’t solve a problem, she tells me so. When she’s going to be late, she lets me know this. She cares deeply about her work, and I can depend on her to do what she says she’s going to do. I found her by including a reference to character in the job description.
A Call to Action
If you want to build an A-team, you must include references to character in every job description you post. Bonus points for identifying your company’s values in it. This assumes your company has clearly defined values. If not, put it at the top of your to-do list.
But including references to character is just the first step toward building and keeping your A-team. You must also evaluate the character of every job candidate you interview.
In a future article for Aviation Maintenance, I will reveal several questions you can and should ask that will help you identify people with a track record of honesty, accountability, and the other crucial qualities of high-character people. These questions are also valuable for performance reviews to help you determine who you should keep, who deserves a promotion or a raise, and who should be let go.
You can’t afford to hire a single dishonest person. The recommendations here and subsequent ones I’ll present will help ensure that all of your team members are not only knowledgeable and skilled but also people of high character. Your company, the people you serve, and you deserve nothing less.
You Don’t Hear it Often Enough
When the airline industry is in the news, it’s usually because of customer complaints. Even if some of those complaints are justified, why don’t we hear about the thousands of problem-free flights that occur every day? Transporting human beings safely from one place to another is nothing short of miraculous, given all the things that could go wrong but don’t. Surely these incredible accomplishments are newsworthy too.
Therefore, on behalf of millions of airline passengers around the world, I would like to quote the great modern philosopher Ted Lasso and say, “I appreciate you!”