Hire for attitudes; train skills

When I was seeking that perfect candidate for a job opening, I looked at a CV and saw what a candidate had done, and then tested them on their skill level.  Then you hired the most skillful (the good ones) and put them to work.

This worked for a while, until I started working for larger organisations and to understand the culture of organisations.

With small organisations you are able to directly all team members and almost by brute force create an appropriate culture. But as organisations grow, this no longer works.

Looking back I should never have been hired for my first job. As a history major, when I left university I had no business skills of any description that could help me into a job. I wasn’t an accountancy major or a law major, did no business studies. I remember my successful job interview as a Sales representative for Glaxo Pharmaceuticals- my future Boss didn’t worry too much about skills, he said people bought from people they liked, and I was likable enough… the rest they could train for.

In the same way my first boss hired on attitudes, I absolutely agree that candidate attitudes are the most important criteria for job selection. Everything else you can train.

LeadershipIQ‘s recent research tracked 20,000 new hires, 46% of them failed within 18 months. But even more surprising than the failure rate, was that when new hires failed, 89% of the time it was for attitudinal reasons and only 11% of the time for a lack of skill. The failed attitudes that doomed these hires to departing  included a lack of coachability, low levels of emotional intelligence, lack of motivation and poor temperament.

And in line with this, typically larger organisations are not finding their job candidates in the traditional way, as we have highlighted before.  According to more LeadershipIQs  research, companies are finding their best people through employee referrals and networking. They have started to realize that the high performers they already have fit the attitude they want and that these are the people they should be asking to help find more people just like them.

Great reminder of what you need to hire for…


So how do you hire for attitude?

Simply devise questions to support the attitudes you wish to hire for. Here are a few suggestions that may stimulate your creativity. First the questions and then the attitude they are seeking for:

  • Tell me about the last time you broke the rules to serve a customer in need. (flexibility; judgment)
  • Tell me how you recently used humor to diffuse a tense situation. (fun; eQ)
  • Tell me about a time when you went beyond the call of duty to assist a co-worker when you received no recognition or no credit. (unselfishness; teamwork)
  • Give me an example of how you’ve worked with an extremely difficult co-worker. How did you handle it? (eQ; flexibility; adaptability)
  • Tell me about a time when you made a serious mistake with a customer or a co-worker. How did you reconcile it? (ability to admit mistakes)
  • Tell me about the last time you tried something new or took on additional responsibility when there was no guarantee for success. (risk taking)

OK so you hired for attitude so what’s next? Well a simple training and developing matrix can assist you diagnose problems and determine strategies for development

attitude and skills

Where candidates have great attitude but lack skills, then skill training plans are the most useful approaches. This matrix is useful for assisting managers in the middle decide what to do with their existing teams; where there are both skill gaps and attitude gaps, simply placing candidates into this matrix and then working through what managers should do, helps to clearly set a direction.

and to say thanks for reading the whole post, so here’s a Dilbert

dilbert on hiring attitudes