How to find good employees: hire for attitude, not skills

All things being equal, every company should want to hire the best possible person for the job. Of course, nepotism, cronyism, and office politics often get in the way of this, but it still seems pretty obvious business sense.

What’s not always so obvious is what “the best possible person for the job” means. Is it someone with the right abilities to help you plug the skills gap in your organisation? Or someone with an enthusiastic, hands-on attitude that fits your company culture?

Here is a hint: It’s a blend of both. Realistically, it’s hard to find new hires like this, so you’ll often have to compromise on one or the other. So which should you prioritise: Attitude or skills?

What basic skills do they need to have for the job?

Off the bat, it needs to be said that some jobs require applicants to have specific basic skills to perform the necessary tasks. For example, you wouldn’t hire a doctor who didn’t go to medical school, and you probably wouldn’t want to fill your software developer position with someone who went to law school.

These skills don’t necessarily have to have been acquired in the same industry as yours. Many people are educating themselves to build their knowledge and skills to advance their career, start a side hustle or transition into another industry.

What skills to look for in job applicants

In an era of unprecedented disruption and rapid change, it is difficult to predict what the world of work will look like a decade from now. Skill requirements constantly evolve, and what is relevant today may not be in a few years. One survey found that nearly 60% of workers believe they will need to learn new skills for their jobs within the next six months.

Along with the Great Resignation’s impact, companies worldwide face a significant skills shortage. In a Prudential survey, 71% of managers said the applications they receive for job vacancies are from workers who do not have the necessary skills. In comparison, 82% would be willing to hire someone who needs initial training to perform their job.

This is causing companies to consider what skills are truly valuable for their workers and how frequently they need to be updated. One approach breaks these down into three categories:

  • Technology skills, especially vendor- or platform-specific, need to be updated every two to three years, as do organisation- and team-specific processes.
  • Baseline knowledge, the foundation for field-specific tools, processes, and technologies, must be updated every three to seven years.
  • Tangible, measurable mindsets and attitudes such as project management, leadership, communication, and design thinking should last longer than seven years.

Attitude and an appetite for learning

Forward-thinking employers and employees embrace constant learning and upskilling to have a competitive advantage in today’s rapidly changing business environment.

People who are willing, open-minded and curious are much easier to teach skills to. Such an attitude is difficult to teach – it is usually deeply ingrained and integral to a person’s personality.

A study by Leadership IQ found that 89% of hiring failures were due to attitude issues. These included:

  • Accepting and acting on feedback from managers, co-workers, clients and others
  • Understanding and managing one’s own emotions and interpreting the feelings of others
  • The motivation to realise one’s full potential
  • Having the right temperament for the job and the work environment

In addition, the study found that 56% of HR managers reported that less than half of their employees have the right work ethic. Despite this, only 15% of organisations have identified the attitudes of their highest performing employees that make them exceptional, while only 20% have defined the attitudes that make their organisation unique.

Define the attitudes you value

Too often, companies try to mimic the practices of successful organisations by hiring the kind of people who work there rather than those who fit their own culture. However, the first step to hiring people who gel is to understand the company’s brand and attitudes. What are your company’s values? What types of personalities are successful in your company? What kinds of motivators are common among them – and which are realistic in the context of your business model and culture? What kind of culture do you have, are you happy with it, and, if not, what do you want to work towards?

Once you have these things established, you can begin to add desirable employees to the organisation and weed out undesirable employees.

The good news is that if you succeed in doing this, you’ll have highly engaged employees who’ll stay with the organisation longer. Gallup found that highly engaged corporate teams have 59% lower employee turnover than less engaged ones. Such teams also generate 20% higher revenue and 21% higher profits.

How to evaluate attitude

None of this is to say that companies should not test their employees on their skills. This is already an established part of the hiring process, and the procedures involved are well researched.

What is less well researched is how to test for the right attitude.

After you have determined your company values, you can look for those attitudes in potential employees. This means asking questions that gauge their willingness to learn and change, their response to feedback and criticism, and how they handle professional challenges or personal conflicts.

Case study interviews, where candidates are asked to come up with possible solutions to a common company problem, are a great way to assess hard and soft skills. If the candidate did well in the first round of an interview, the second round is an excellent opportunity to see how they handle and implement your feedback. Based on this, you can adjust the questions for a third interview to explore the applicant’s personality in more detail or analyse possible weaknesses.

If you want to hire the right people, attitude should be looked at and evaluated like any other skill, using the right testing tools for the job.

Find the right people for the job

Test for the attitudes you want using robust, scientifically developed tools. Talent Select employs a range of psychometric assessments to highlight the personality and aptitude traits you want and find the best possible candidates for your company. Get in touch to see how we can help.