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The age old question: should you hire for skills or attitude?

Posted by: Max Crowhurst
11/10/2017

 

In an ideal world, businesses want to hire people that encompass the perfect balance of attitude and skill.

Having the right skill set is vital for candidates to hit the ground running and minimise loss from a new hire. But when collaborating with a team and working with clients, attitude and more importantly, social skills have to be the right fit. The right attitude means employees are more motivated and easily adaptable to learning new skills at a faster rate.

However, improving attitude is often more of a challenge than up-skilling. This difficulty lies within trying to change a person’s behaviour and traits, which are often ingrained over the course of their life. This can be hard to alter because it often relies on the person in question being open to changing themselves.

Donna Wells, CEO of online trading platform Mindflash stated that any skill can be trained, but its personality and temperament which are the deciding factors in how this person will fit into your team and perform to your customers and clients.

When it boils down to it, employers are ultimately more attracted to attitude rather than the qualifications you have on paper. Companies and clients will look for people who are going to fit in with their culture, values and environment. Hire people with the wrong attitude and they could clash with the culture at your workplace, disrupting teamwork and office environment as well as the overall performance of other employees.

Former Red Arrows pilot and Executive Officer Justin Hughes, says effective leadership is the key to unlocking a high performance culture. Now MD of consultancy Mission Excellence, Hughes claims good management has more in common with precision flying than people might think! He argues that to be a fighter pilot, you are required to work in an extreme version of a cross-functional matrix team with a line management structure. It is fast paced and often ambiguous with demanding deadlines, imperfect information and an element of risk.

Hughes believes if you take away the military and flying aspects, this is what businesses face day to day. He claims high-performance teams such as New Zealand’s All Blacks rugby team, have primacy of attitude over skills; “It’s not just about being the best in the world you have to have the right attitude as well.” You will find people who are good at things such as decision making and compromise but the important thing and point of difference will be the team dynamic and the realisation that some are always going to be better at certain things than others, for example there are those who will naturally take to leadership and whereas others are more team players. But give someone the right environment and the right opportunities within that environment no matter what position they are in, and it will help them on their way.

Let’s also not forget hiring for attitude opens up a wider pool of candidates. ‘Hire for attitude, train for skills’ has become the catchphrase recently for recruitment. Despite this, lots of businesses across the globe say that they’re facing a critical shortage of appropriately skilled entry-level workers and entry level vacancies are going unfilled because of the skills gap.

Apparently, the number one issue American businesses face when looking to recruit for entry-level staff is an inability to communicate in a professional manner. This basic inability to express themselves and communicate across a variety of stakeholders is going to be severely off putting.

However, hiring solely for attitude is not always the best route if the candidate does not posses the ability to learn technical skills required for a role. Plus teaching said skills to a proficient level is an expensive and time consuming process and can take months, if not years.

Making the decision to hire can sometimes be a tough call, but looking to your top performers for attitudes/personality traits and seeking candidates who show signs of similar characteristics can provide a solid benchmark for recruiting. However, be careful not to discriminate indirectly by having a lack of diversity within a company, as this could have a detrimental effect on your company’s competiveness.

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