You may have heard the phrase “hire for attitude, train for skill” but what does that actually look like in reality?
Making the wrong hiring decisions, especially as a startup or small business, can be a costly mistake. The good news is that knowing what you’re looking for ahead of the interview process can save you time and money long-term.
Before we jump into the details on how you can revolutionize your hiring, let’s take a look at a few statistics on employee retention and values:
The 2020 Work Institute Retention Report found that :
In traditional hiring models, recruiters typically look for a specific set of job-relevant skills that are needed for a certain position within the company. They’ll look at things like background, education, or industry knowledge and to understand how that candidate fulfills the experience, qualifications, or abilities required for that role.
When you hire for attitude, otherwise known as values-based recruitment, your focus is primarily on the soft skills and personal attributes that a candidate brings to the table. That carries more weight than the performance-related skill set that they offer.
While the necessary skills for the role are still important, they’re considered a secondary factor when determining which applicant to hire. This is especially the case when you come down to two or three final candidates who may all be a very close match in terms of technical skills but there’s only a need to hire one. Attitude and company fit can quickly become the differentiating factors between several great options.
While we think that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks, there are plenty of aspects to consider before making the leap to this new way of recruiting.
We’re taking a look at the best reasons to hire for attitude, as well as some of the potential problem areas that you’ll want to keep in mind.
Let’s start with the good news first. In most cases, the pros are the standout features of hiring for attitude.
Despite the fact that this hiring method is gaining steam, it’s not without its faults. Focusing on soft skills when hiring can definitely come with a few challenges of its own.
Ultimately, only you can decide whether the particular role you’re hiring for could benefit more from a “hire for attitude, train for skill” approach.
If specific knowledge is required for the individual to be successful and contribute to the company’s growth, think carefully about whether you or the team have the time and resources to train someone less experienced. If not, hiring at a higher salary and skill level is likely more beneficial at this point in the business’ development.
It’s also worth reflecting on the big picture and what future growth plans look like. “Hire on attitude and motivation...it’s the most transferable asset in your startup,” advises Duval. If the position is one where an individual can easily be trained and get up-to-speed fairly quickly, focusing on their soft skills and company fit will likely yield excellent results.
You’ve decided that hiring for attitude over tangible skills is the right direction for your company. But where do you begin?
Starting to think about this during the recruitment process is already too late. You need to have some foundational measures in place before you can even think about bringing in new team members for specific roles.
Knowing what to look for in a potential new hire can’t happen until you know what your own company values are. Do you have a defined culture or set of values that have been agreed on by the team, or are they more loose guidelines at this point?
Review your F4S assessment to see which motivations stand out to you as a founder or leader within the company. Take a look at what results other key team members have and where you all overlap or differ. This can be a great starting point when trying to identify the traits you’re looking for in a new hire. Some important traits may include:
Once you’ve identified what your company believes in at its core, you can start crafting a job ad that incorporates some of those less tangible requirements. This will help to save time by filtering out candidates who aren’t a good fit before you proceed with interviews.
The interview is your chance to put your new recruitment strategy into practice. There are a number of different ways that you can implement this approach, but we’ve found that the below techniques are some of the most effective when you’re looking to hire based on attitude.
If hiring for the right set of values is important to you, treating attitude like a technical skill is crucial. Don’t think of soft skills as secondary or supplemental. If this is what you’re looking for, it should be just as important as anything else.
Just because you want the team to fit and work well together doesn’t mean that everyone should be the same. In fact, cognitively diverse teams are usually more successful as they make better decisions.
Be sure to involve members of the existing team in both the interview and decision-making process, giving different people an opportunity to meet and assess the candidates and share their honest opinions with leadership.
This approach also gives the additional benefit of highlighting to the candidate that your company is committed to diversity and inclusion. Your interview panel should be a reflection of what your company really looks like, and a diverse group helps to keep any conscious or unconscious biases in check.
Before you go into the interview room, decide with your team on any red flags that immediately make a candidate questionable when it comes to opposing your company values. For example, some companies will rule out any candidate that doesn’t follow up an in-person interview with separate emails to the panel thanking them for their time and expressing ongoing interest in the position.
Others will use behavior observation to get around cases of attitude fraud. Asking the company receptionist or other staff who weren’t in the interview how a candidate acted toward them before and after the meeting (when they think that no one is watching) can be a good indication of an individual’s real personality and help narrow down the hiring pool.
You don’t need to ask detailed personal questions to get a feel for a candidate’s character. There’s plenty that you can infer from asking questions like “why are you leaving your current job?” or “how do you prefer to receive feedback?”
These types of questions will suss out their willingness to learn and grow, how receptive they are to instruction or criticism, how they handle difficult situations, and what kind of learner they are.
“Look for candidates who are comfortable with figuring things out as they go, they don’t need to see a plan,” Duval advises. “That big picture thinking, you can visually see it in interviews and identify it.”
While there is some criticism over the use of cognitive and personality tests in interviews, there are benefits to knowing how a candidate responds in a situation that they can’t prepare for and has nothing to do with the job they’ve applied for.
Some companies like to use tests like the F4S assessment to see where a candidate overlaps with existing team members on different attributes and motivations.
Others ask candidates to complete random problem-solving exercises like puzzles or brain games to see how well they can reason and overcome a challenge under pressure. Don’t put too much weight on the outcome of these assessments when it comes to making a final hiring decision, but asking candidates to complete these can help to provide additional insight.
Introducing a candidate to some of the day-to-day responsibilities that their job might involve is a great way to finish the interview process. It gives them the opportunity to see what life is really like in the company and gives you, the hiring team, a chance to see their personality in action.
Introduce the candidate to other members of the team who weren’t involved in the interview and see how they interact during the shadowing time. Does the candidate look interested and engaged in the work and while talking to other employees? Do they seem excited by the work environment and willing to learn the necessary job skills? This will give you a good indication of whether or not the candidate has the right attributes to fit in with the existing team and how much they actually want the position.
Hiring for attitude may not be the right strategy for every company—or even every position within your company—but adopting some of these practices for recruiting can yield incredible results.
As your business grows and evolves, continually re-evaluate how your values are being lived out by your current employees and where you can look for these as you bring new individuals into the team.
While there can be downsides to concentrating more on personality attributes over hard skills, there are plenty of benefits to shifting your recruitment tactics to be more attitude-focused.
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