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Character and competence are two of the most sought after qualities in the workplace. Ideally, an applicant will have both, but hiring managers often find themselves forced to choose between two qualified candidates who each excel in one area only. Thus, determining the benefits of each quality and the importance they play in the role being filled is of the utmost importance.

Competence is acquired through experience and learning. Generally, more experience yields more competence, especially in nursing. Nurses with extensive experience are invaluable not only for the quality of care they provide, but also the knowledge they can impart to new staff.

Character, on the other hand, is a more intangible quality. Character involves acting with integrity, a positive attitude, and a superior work ethic, as well as being a team player. Employees with strong character can raise both the morale and productivity of the workplace.

When determining the greater need between these qualities, the purpose of the role is an important consideration. Most nursing jobs require significant teamwork, making character highly desirable. However, in more independent roles like research, competence may have greater value. That said, competence without character can lower morale, while character without competence can hinder productivity.

Thus, when hiring, nurse leaders and staff nurses should determine “what gives” between competence and character in the role they are trying to fill, with the setting and culture of the work environment being prime factors in determining the importance of these qualities.

How do you decide which is the more important trait when hiring? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

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Tyler Faust, MSN, RN

Tyler Faust obtained his BSN from Winona State University and a Master's degree in Nursing and Organizational Leadership from Winona State University. He has worked at Mayo Clinic for the past 6 years and is in the process of transitioning from a staff nurse to a nurse manager. Tyler is passionate about professional development, nursing leadership, and strategic thinking.
Tyler Faust, MSN, RN

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