When searching for the perfect hire, it can be tempting to make a choice based on candidates’ knowledge of the technical skills necessary to succeed in a new role. However, statistics show that a better strategy would be to prioritize softer qualities over technical understanding. Placing attitude above skills when hiring new employees can help recruiters find a professional whose attitude not only fits the company’s culture but also drives organizational success.
This idea is most often associated with the mantra “Hire for attitude, train for skill” that was initially attributed to Herb Kelleher, one of the co-founders of US-based Southwest Airlines. In a nutshell, it means that when a company is recruiting, it should look for candidates with traits like enthusiasm, integrity, humility, and passion as these kinds of personality traits are impossible to learn. Experience and skills, on the other hand, can be gained more easily. It doesn’t mean, though, that the recruiter should select an enthusiastic first-year IT specialist for its Senior Software Engineer position. Hiring for attitude is more about challenging recruiters’ current addiction to use work experience as their primary screening criteria.
Hiring for Attitude
A company looking for an employee usually focuses on the best available talent in the field. The goal of each organization is to find the “right person” who can generate added value. Attitudes and skills are the most important requirements to consider when looking for the “right person.” Attitude usually refers to the way of behaving based on inner beliefs, values, and motivations. Skills are the activities employees are able to deliver, and what they've learned during their professional careers.
Most of the time, a suitable candidate is perceived to be the one who has enough technical skills and experience to perform the job. Personal traits and attitudes are perceived as a pleasant bonus to the existing knowledge. However, recruiters should not underestimate the importance of employees' attitudes, as they help overcome possible obstacles and keep them motivated. The critical point is to realize that a suitable attitude exists for each company and to not forget this when you interview a candidate with lower skills but a great attitude.
“If you hire people just because they can do a job, they'll work for your money. But if you hire people who believe what you believe, they'll work for you with blood, sweat, and tears.”Simon Sinek
Why is Hiring for Attitude Important?
Companies that recruit employees with positive attitudes improve the efficiency of their communications, and achieve better teamwork and faster growth. Employees with a positive attitude of engagement and dedication contribute to high levels of effort even though they are not most skilled and experienced. Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation gives her thoughts on why attitude is important:
"[Attitudes] either move the needle forward or keep it still. A positive attitude keeps everyone trying new things, feeling brave about brainstorming new ideas, and makes people feel excited to go to work with their co-workers."Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation
Studies regarding hiring methodologies have made a few facts very clear:
- Experienced and skilled workers with negative attitudes fail quickly;
- Inexperienced and unskilled employees with positive attitudes succeed in the long run.
Additionally, statistics provided by LeadershipIQ suggest that 89% of failed employees lose their jobs due to something involving employee attitude (poor motivation, lack of coachability, or a bad temperament). On the other hand, only 11% of hire failures get fired due to technical incompetence.
These assertions have proven true across many industries and nearly every position that requires contact with other human beings including bosses, coworkers, and customers.
Employee With an Attitude Problem
It is common for companies to have at least one or two employees with negative attitudes towards their jobs or the company in general. Employees with negative attitudes often undermine the authority of management, criticize decisions made by colleagues, complain about the workload, gossip, and cause tension between staff members. Even though it might be obvious to identify an employee with an attitude problem, spotting a poor attitude before hiring can be a challenge. Below are some of the job interview attitude questions that can uncover the “can do” attitude of a potential employee:
- How do you handle situations in which you’re asked to do something beyond your capabilities?
- How do you handle a situation where you are becoming overwhelmed with work?
- When was the last time you worked with a difficult person, and what did you learn from the experience?
- Tell me about a time when you wanted to give up but chose not to.
- How have you helped someone on the job, at an inconvenience to yourself?
A smart strategy will be to incorporate pre-employment tests into the hiring process. The “Can-Do” attitude test is developed as a simple way to identify valuable employees who will constantly approach work duties with a positive attitude. It allows recruiters to test candidates for traits and behaviors that cannot be determined in an interview. Companies that use pre-employment tests are 36% more likely to be satisfied with their new hires.
Positive Attitude at Work Examples
Positive attitude examples include being nice to others, handling criticism well, and thanking colleagues for their good work. A positive attitude is an ability to see the bright side of a situation and remember that challenges are inevitable, but they don’t have to be debilitating.
There are five key attitudes that companies should seek out in employees to ensure a productive and harmonious professional environment:
- Respect for others
- Commitment to the job
- Enthusiasm about life
- Helpfulness with others
- Innovative mindset
So, why should managers be interested in their employees’ attitudes?
A manager’s attitude towards employees can have a significant impact on employees’ attitude towards work. So, it is the manager’s responsibility to ensure that employees are positive about work and the company in general. Managers should identify the changes in employees’ behaviors and know how to talk to employees about attitudes. Changing employees’ attitudes is hard and time-consuming, so it’s always better to identify people with poor attitudes before hiring them. However, it is not always possible to accurately identify a candidate’s traits and values. So below are some of the tips for speaking to an employee with a bad attitude:
- Try to make the employee feel more comfortable
- Be specific, provide an example of a bad attitude
- Focus on productivity and results, do not make it personal
- Give an employee time to think about what you are saying
- Listen to what employee has to say; there might be a root cause of a bad attitude