Why I Hire for Attitude over Skills (and How to Do It)

December 28, 2017

It’s something of a trend, this “hiring for attitude and train for skill” thing, which means that while it has found it’s way into multiple articles and studies, it has also received a fair share of discrediting. For me, it’s the process I rely on every time. Yes, every time.

If you don’t believe me, check out the lifecycle of my employees. Almost every single full-time Red Branch Media employee started their career as an intern who still balanced classes with their work schedule. And, even more, almost every single one moved within the company, out of their initial job and into another that better suited their unique talents. Very few came into our organization knowing exactly what they wanted to do or how they wanted to support the business, but that has almost always changed during and right after completing their probationary period.

When I hire people, I’m not hiring a job description. Rarely am I checking for particular skills (highly skilled positions are a different beast). When I’m looking to add another employee to my team, I’m looking at their attitude, how they approach communication with me, what it is that moves them and how they work best. Do they value learning and skill development? I want to know if I can see them in my organization for the long term or if this will be a passing phase.

Focusing on those traits almost always garners me a hire who fits in with my tenured employees and practiced processes. Better yet, it usually means I’ve found someone who is ready to jump in and learn the skills that will help my company grow. In return, I cultivate their passions and applaud their experimentation.

Here’s more on why i think attitude should be your focus when hiring:

Hiring for the right attitude will help you bring in someone who is a good culture add

Some of the resumes you see will be brimming with experience and boast all the skills you could ever want for a particular opening in your organization. That’s not to say the candidate won’t turn out to be a complete dud. Sure, they have a great deal of proven excellence, but at your organization, they miss deadlines and lack communication skills.

The problem isn’t that they can’t do the work, it’s that your company might be too fast-paced and collaborative. At the end of the day, the hire wouldn’t fail because they were unskilled, they would fail because they didn’t fit your company culture. In fact, more than 80% of new hires have the technical skills, but fail as an employee.

The right kind of attitude can help improve your organization

This article by Lydia Abbot explored the 3 key traits business mogul, Warren Buffett, looked for in hires. He explains that all 3 were necessary to one another. Without them all, the other two would fail the organization.

The one that stood out most was that of energy. A high energy person is focused on taking initiative and developing original ideas to old problems. While the other two traits are important and definitely something to look for, in my organization, having energy is one of the most make or break indicators of success.

One hire will affect the entire department, or company depending on your size. When you identify the right attitude for your next hire, you’re identifying what your company needs to grow. Sometimes that’s a necessary change in pace and sometimes it’s reinforcing what has been working. In either case, your hire will be filling a gap, just as intended.

How to actually hire for attitude

All right, so that’s easy. Find someone who seems to jive with the company and has a willingness to learn some new things and uphold growing job responsibilities. Obviously, it can’t be that easy. The complication that most organizations have with hiring for attitude is that it’s a pretty ambiguous term. Job requirements are factual. Company mission statements and values are clear cut. Attitude? That’s a little more subjective.

My advice to you is to:

1. Treat the target attitude as you would the target skill set

That means actually sitting down and mapping out the type of personality you need working in the particular position. Is the team jiving well and producing great work? Look for people that will mesh well with them. Maybe it’s the opposite and your company could really use some shaking up. Considering what traits will provide value to your organization will give you a candidate persona (similar to marketing’s buyer persona) that can lead everything from where you advertise the job to the language used in the ad itself.

2. Get your team involved

Bring in the manager who will work closely with the candidate and observe the co-workers he or she will work beside. Use that information to target your candidate persona and, later on, as a part of the recruitment process. In fact, at Red Branch Media, we bring every candidate into our office and introduce them to each and every employee (small business perk) so that my team and the applicant can get a chance to feel each other out.

3. Have a few tricks up your sleeve

Sorry for more ambiguity, but every hiring team knows what I’m talking about. Richard Branson had the taxi driver test and I have the thank-me-for-my-time test. If I don’t receive a follow up email from my candidate after an interview, I assume they aren’t interested in the job. Speaking of tests…

4. Create a pre-hire assessment

We require each hire to perform an assignment based on the position they are being considered for so that we can test their ability to handle projects and deadlines. These projects are built by the department lead and assigned in a way that an employee would see while on the job. If they can’t complete it or the deadline is missed, I know they aren’t going to fit into our fast-paced, process-oriented team.

Attitude and culture? It’s a challenge to define both, but the benefit of identifying the right fit instead of just the skilled hire is tremendous. I’m talking an increased time to proficiency and better retention. I mean, more excited and dedicated new hires. At the end of the day, I can proudly say hiring for attitude has helped me build my powerhouse team.

*Image from Etsy

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