Should you “hire for attitude”?

“Hire for attitude” is the clarion call of employment experts. On the surface, it makes sense. You don’t want to hire someone with a horrible attitude. After all, you spend 1/3 of your day with your employees. Even if you have a virtual team, one employee with a rotten attitude can destroy the morale and effectiveness of the entire team.

I won’t call “hire for attitude” bad advice. I do, however, think most small business owners aren’t in a position to hire based on attitude alone.

When did the hire for attitude mindset begin?

Mark Murphy published Hiring for Attitude in 2011. As he explains in this article, his research uncovered a startling fact: of 20,000 new hires, 46% failed within 18 months. Of that 46%, 89% failed due to attitude. Without a doubt, attitude is of tremendous importance.

However, Murphy goes on to explain that technical skills are also important. This is where many business owners “fail” in their “hire for attitude” experiment. They fall victim to the following mantra:

Hire for attitude, train for skill.

No matter how highly skilled a new hire is, they will require some training to ensure their success. But this does not always preclude the need for some pre-existing technical skill or talent as well.

When you should not hire for attitude

Certain positions lend themselves well to hiring for attitude alone. Attitude should be your foremost consideration for positions with intense direct customer contact – cashiers, wait staff, customer service, etc. These positions require high emotional intelligence, but the learning curve for the processes and technology used by these positions is relatively short. You really can’t go wrong if you hire for attitude here.

So, that’s when you should hire for attitude. When might hiring for attitude alone be a bad idea?

  1. When the position requires technical knowledge in order to complete even the most basic job functions. You may be thinking, “Duh!” but I have seen business owners make this mistake. The result is an employee with an otherwise fantastic attitude who becomes discouraged and demoralized. On the other side of the equation, the employer is often placed in the difficult position of really liking the employee as a person, but they are unable to trust them to function within their role. As a result, the employer sort of strings the employee along, hoping they will catch on, or – worse – they create a brand new position they might not be able to afford to keep the under-performing employee on staff.
  2. When the position requires talent. Everyone is talented, but we are not all talented in the same way. I could be taught how to use Photoshop or other graphic design software, but no amount of training will give me the inherent talent graphic designers need.
  3. When you don’t have time to adequately train the employee. Many business owners like the idea of “grooming” a person with an exceptional attitude to become a great employee. However, most business owners wait too long to hire. By the time they hire an employee, they don’t have time to devote to training them and thoroughly checking their work. This is frustrating for the employee, who wants to do a good job, but isn’t given the resources to succeed. It is also frustrating for the employer, who now has the expense of an employee who can’t hit the ground running independently.

Should you hire for attitude?

Should you hire for attitude? Attitude should play an important role in your hiring decisions. In order to get the best fit for your business and your team, though, you must consider your business as a whole. While important, attitude is only one component you should assess in a potential hire. Having a good reading on the pulse of your business as a whole will help you decide if you can afford to hire for attitude alone or if you should take a close look at a potential hire’s skills and talents as well.

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