By David Snyder and John OConnor

What do you think would happen if a group of CEOs from a handful of the largest companies in the world was gathered together and told that there was a simple, cost-free, and 100 percent legal method of multiplying their annual return on asset numbers nearly fivefold? Would they scoff as they walked out the door, thinking that it was nothing more than a desperate sales pitch for some radical, new age idea.

Not necessarily. There is hard evidence to prove that radical increases in performance are, in fact, tied to one timeless principle:  character.

“Researchers found that CEOs whose employees gave them high marks for character had an average return on assets of 9.35% over a two-year period. That’s nearly five times as much as what those with low character ratings had,” according to a recent article published in the Harvard Business Review. These results were based on a study performed by KRW International, a leadership consultancy firm located in Minneapolis. KRW Executive Director and co-founder Fred Kiel published a book in 2015 entitled Return on Character: The Real Reasons Leaders and Their Companies Win, which details the ways in which leaders of successful corporations utilize strong character in order to succeed in the marketplace.

Having high character has become an increasingly important factor for leaders in today’s ever-more-complicated society. As investigative media and transparency laws continue to become entrenched in our way of life, the general public becomes more and more aware of the character of those at the helm of our largest institutions. The debates surrounding the character of the candidates in the coming presidential election are beginning to come to an ugly head, and it is still early in the season.

There are countless examples of successful companies and organizations that collapsed for reasons that centered around the poor ethical manner in which they were run by their executives. It is for this reason that, when hiring employees, there is one factor that should be considered above any other qualifications or work experience: their character.

Not so many years ago , one of the authors here was approached by one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies with an interesting proposition:

The CEO and sales executives of the company, after reading one of the  author’s publications, had decided to change the theme of the annual sales conference at the last minute, and wanted to make it all about “character.” They wanted to know if the author could do a keynote followed by an extensive training on the subject “Engaging Your Customers with Character.” In the mind of the CEO, the company was simply not going to meet its goals if its sales people were not perceived as professionals of the highest character.

Both of the authors of this article do a lot of consulting with companies domestically and internationally  on the topic of finding “top performers.” The notion of finding “top performers” or “high performing people” has become such a buzz phrase that is has almost become a buzz thought. How does character fit in?

The short answer is that a high performing, consistently productive person is a someone who has not only the job competencies and the intellectual skills, but also the right attitudes, ingrained behaviors, work ethic and life habits that are known to create success over the long haul. People who spend more time in the gym than they do in the bar usually have a chance to be in better physical condition

Character is the Foundation

Despite the nuances that are involved in a rigorous selection process—again, asking the right questions, in the right context, with the right assessments as a guide—character is undoubtedly one factor that always plays a part in predicting whether a person will be successful in the long haul.

In brief, people with great character do not feel a sense of entitlement. They do not start off the job search or interview process thinking or wondering what might be in it for them.

The first thing on their minds is to demonstrate to their interviewer what is in it for the company. In other words, champions have a deeply ingrained desire to prove their worth and to make the firm feel glad that they made the hire. Their overriding concern is to prove themselves every day and to show how much more they can do, if given the chance. This is the spark that drives them. It is the same spark that drives great Olympic athletes.

The Interview Process Takes Work

There are no shortcuts to an effective job search. For example, say you are hiring a person to perform research.  They may have great problem-solving skills, as ascertained through interviews, or a validated assessment of workplace competencies that highlights their abilities.

However, if they cannot tell you the last interesting book they have read, you may begin to question their inquisitiveness.

Finding a person who is the “right fit” is never as easy as one piece of information, one interview, or one assessment—it is a discovery process that involves examining the job and the candidate through a variety of lenses in order to make the best judgment call.

Does this person really want the job? Are they naturally suited for it?  Will they be driven to set high goals for themselves? These are not questions that can be easily obtained in a lazy style of handing out a few tests.  Rigorous interviewing combined with testing is required. The recruiterand the candidate both have big jobs to do if they are to convince one another that the candidate is a good fit for the job, and that job is a good fit for the candidate.

Example from Sales Hiring

In the world of sales, certain character traits correlate with higher earnings. What are they? They include resilience, optimism, being energetic, and follow through. Follow through is especially important. For example, if you say you will get a proposal out that day you do it that day. Never the next day. That day. People trust you and your words follow your actions. Furthermore, people who score “great” on validated tests of sales competencieshave been shown to bring in about three times more revenue than people who merely scored “good.”

We Can See You

A handful of technologies that are currently under development will soon enable us to effectively gauge a person’s personality style in real time on the phone, without ever giving them a standard test. This technology is in its formative stages, and much remains to be examined.

Even if your character is not being monitored and examined by some high tech personality detection device, bear this in mind: People usually know anyway. They can “feel” it. Human beings have a great sixth sense of character. They usually can tell if you are bluffing or if you are who you say you are. Human beings were born with this gift as a survival tool.

Top Three Questions

So, before you walk into any job interview, there are really three questions you have to answer:

  1. Wants. Do you really want this job? Why?


  1. Others Count. If we were to ask someone about your character, what would they say? Now, give us a specific example of the last time you heard someone say that. When did they say it, and in what context?


  1. Life/Example Track. Do you have the lifelong record of drive and achievement that would help someone predict whether you are going to give it your all if you are hired? If so, prove it. Let’s hear some examples.

Armed with those three pieces of information, you should be well on your way to finding your best role and your best area of contribution—if indeed, you are a person of high character.


David Snyder is the author of two critically acclaimed business books, How to Mind Read Your Customers (American Management Association) and How to Hire a Champion (Career Press.) He is a sought-after speaker and consultant to companies nationwide.

John O’Connor is the 20+ year President of CareerPro Inc., a diversified career services, outplacement and consulting firm. He has recently been named to Forbes Business Council and has been quoted in Forbes, CNN Money, Yahoo!, Hotjobs, and other media on career issues.




Category: Editorial