Hire For Attitude; Train For Skill

Hire for attitude; train for skill

This winning outlook defies clear definition, but employers recognize it when it when they see it. They say personality goes a long way, and a new-hire with the right attitude could be just what a company needs. Unfortunately countless managers are blinkered by qualifications or experience. We uncover the vital aspects of attitude and why it’s often more important than technical skill.

A Brief Hypothetical

Comparing two sets of skills and attitudes would provide us with a new vantage point. Let’s imagine for a second we have two candidates for a position. One of them, let’s call him Matthew, has a serious passion for the role he’s applying for. He seems genuinely interested in the company, and although his credentials seem a little weak compared to the other candidates, he appears keen to learn and hungry for the job.

Our second interviewee, let’s call him Toby, has an impressive CV and he clearly demonstrates a vast amount of experience in all of the technical skills related to the position. However in his interview Toby seemed less engaged than Matthew. Perhaps he has worked in the industry a while and has found himself slightly burnt out. Maybe he’s generally less enthusiastic. Whatever the reason, who do we go with?

If we hired Toby it could be that our intuition was wrong, perhaps he was having an off day. Nevertheless, there’s a chance he could be difficult to motivate. He would excel at the technical side of his job, but what about the array of soft skills that can often take a team from good to great? If we hired Matthew it may take longer to get him up to speed, however this could be worth the investment if he has the right attitude for the job. It is often much quicker to train a skill than it is to reshape a person’s character. Matthew could also provide a fresh pair of eyes on an industry that might be unconsciously stagnating.

The X-Factor

Whilst building-up the multimillion Virgin Group from a one-man band, UK business mogul Sir Richard Branson quickly realized that people are what gives a company it’s face. “Nothing is more important than hiring the right team”, writes Sir Branson in a blog post for LinkedIn. [i] “The first thing to look for when searching for a great employee is somebody with a personality that fits with your company culture. Most skills can be learned, but it is difficult to train people on their personality.”

When we talk about the right attitude what we’re essentially referring to are a selection of soft skills that this attitude cultivates. These include:

  • Ability to take onboard feedback or constructive criticism
  • A burning desire to learn new skills and develop oneself
  • A healthy sense of camaraderie and collaboration
  • The ability to innovate

These skills are trickier to quantify than those of a more technical discipline; they aren’t apparent until you really get to know a person. This is where group interview icebreakers can come in, observing how candidates interact with each other is more illuminating than a self-serving CV or handcrafted bios.

One For the Team

Mounting evidence supports the vital importance of emotional intelligence in the workplace. This psychology buzzword refers to a concept that directly influences a number of desirable soft skills, many of them related to social skills. There are numerous reports of individuals who, lacking effective social skills, have been unable to work well within a team; this breeds an entire host of problems, such as:

  • Ideas being shot down too quickly
  • Clashing of egos
  • Lack of diplomatic communication
  • Unwillingness to collaborate on a project

An employee can be highly intelligent and capable but may lack the emotional intelligence or social skills required to work well alongside people.

Conversely, individuals with a high amount of emotional intelligence tend to be more flexible. They typically work well in teams, thoughtfully weighing up the suggestions of others and responding in an accommodating manner. This team player mentality is recognised as being one of the most essential facets an employee can have, there’s a reason it comes up in nearly every interview.

By exploring extreme examples we create a useful distinction to illustrate the significance of attitude. Southwest Airlines are a company who recognize this significance. When growing their company, the airline chiefly looks to build groups of people who enjoy working together. Former Southwest Airlines CEO Herb Keller says, “Attitude is very important and has to be weighed with experience and skills. Someone with a high IQ who is a backbiter is a disaster for your organization. Someone who is outgoing and altruistic and can work convivially will be a huge asset”. This progressive mentality appears to be working for them, last year the airline ranked second in the Consumer Reports customer satisfaction category.[ii]

What Do the Numbers Say?

If we’re to come to any substantial conclusions, we need to analyze at the foremost reasons new employees fail soon after they’re hired. High staff turnover is a widespread problem, and it hits businesses right where it hurts—the wallet.

Over a three-year period, Leadingship IQ tracked over 20,000 new-hires and found that a staggering 46% of employees fail within 18 months; this information was subsequently broken down into specific problems:[iii]

  • 25% fail due to an inability to accept feedback
  • 23% fail due to being unable to manage their emotions
  • 17% fail due to a lack of motivation
  • 15% fail due to having the wrong temperament for the position
  • 11% fail due to technical incompetence

Looking at these figures we can construe that technical inability is actually the least common reason for an employee not working effectively within a company; conversely we see how the majority of serious work issues are related to the individual’s attitude, which includes their emotional intelligence.

So What’s The Take Away?

A keen demeanor and positive attitude can’t totally offset a complete absence of required technical skill. However, the fact remains that the most common problems in the workplace are related to attitude rather than technical ability.

Ultimately there is no black and white rule; a business may save themselves some training costs by hiring only based on qualification, but in doing so they run the risk of missing out on a real asset to their team.

When it comes to choosing between an aloof professional or a bright eyed newcomer; it’s worth taking the time to consider the invaluable benefits of a desirable virtues weighed against the skills that can be trained for in just a few weeks.


[i] https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20130923230007-204068115-how-i-hire-focus-on-personality

[ii] http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-best-and-worst-airlines-1421254623

[iii] http://www.leadershipiq.com/blogs/leadershipiq/35354241-why-new-hires-fail-emotional-intelligence-vs-skills

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