Engineering Leadership: Hiring for Character, Not Just Skills

Jason CaldwellJason Caldwell
no further updates since

In the ever-evolving landscape of engineering, the role of a leader extends beyond the technical mastery of one’s craft. It’s about building a team that not only excels in skills but also embodies the values and character traits that foster a thriving, collaborative, and innovative environment. As the demand for talented engineers continues to grow, the emphasis on hiring for character has never been more critical. Here’s why hiring for character, not just skills, is essential in engineering leadership and how to implement this approach effectively.

The Importance of Character in Engineering Teams

1. Building a Collaborative Culture

  • Trust and Integrity: Engineers with high integrity are trustworthy and dependable, creating a culture of reliability and mutual respect. Trust is the cornerstone of effective collaboration.
  • Teamwork and Empathy: Individuals who exhibit empathy and strong interpersonal skills contribute to a harmonious work environment where team members support each other, share knowledge, and work together towards common goals.

2. Adaptability and Growth Mindset

  • Learning Agility: Engineering is a field that evolves rapidly. Hiring individuals with a growth mindset ensures that your team can adapt to new technologies and methodologies, continuously improving and innovating.
  • Resilience: Engineers who are resilient can navigate setbacks and challenges without losing motivation or focus. This quality is crucial for maintaining momentum in projects and achieving long-term success.

3. Leadership and Initiative

  • Proactive Problem Solving: Engineers who take initiative and demonstrate leadership qualities can drive projects forward, anticipate issues, and propose innovative solutions.
  • Accountability: Character-driven individuals take responsibility for their work and actions, which leads to higher standards of quality and reliability in engineering outputs.

Strategies for Hiring for Character

1. Define Core Values

  • Clearly articulate the core values and character traits that are essential for your team. This might include integrity, teamwork, adaptability, and accountability. Ensure these values are reflected in your job descriptions and company culture.

2. Behavioral Interview Techniques

  • Use behavioral interview questions to assess character traits. For example, ask candidates to describe a time when they faced a significant challenge, how they handled it, and what they learned from the experience. This can provide insights into their resilience, problem-solving skills, and learning agility.

3. Scenario-Based Assessments

  • Present candidates with hypothetical scenarios relevant to your work environment and evaluate their responses. This approach helps to gauge how they might handle real-life situations, collaborate with team members, and align with your company’s values.

4. Reference Checks and Cultural Fit

  • Conduct thorough reference checks to gain a deeper understanding of a candidate’s character and past behavior in professional settings. Additionally, involve multiple team members in the interview process to assess cultural fit and ensure alignment with your team’s values.

5. Ongoing Development and Support

  • Once you’ve hired for character, continue to foster these qualities through ongoing professional development, mentorship programs, and a supportive work environment that encourages continuous learning and growth.


Engineering leadership is not solely about technical expertise; it’s about building a team that embodies the values and character traits necessary for sustained success. By prioritizing character in your hiring process, you can create a resilient, innovative, and collaborative engineering team that drives your organization forward. In a world where skills can be taught and technologies evolve rapidly, character remains a constant foundation upon which great engineering teams are built.