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Why Personality Outweighs Aptitude in Hiring

Updated: May 6

According to research, staff you hire for cultural fit may stay with your company longer. Here are some tips on how to use this information and why.

  1. Research suggests that an employee’s attitude, rather than their skill set, is the strongest indication of whether they’ll succeed at your company.

  2. Every organization has its own ideal employee attitude, but poor emotional intelligence and temperament, as well as resistance to learning, almost always signify a bad attitude.

  3. You can find employees with fitting attitudes when you ask the right interview questions, focus on talent sourcing, and offer shadowing opportunities.

  4. This article is for business owners interested in whether it’s better to hire based on attitude or aptitude.

Finally, you've discovered the ideal applicant for the position you've had open for a very long time. Each and every one of the skills you were seeking for are present in this candidate. Yet, after hiring this applicant, you find that both you and your staff dislike them. This new employee isn't eager or able to learn your procedures and systems. They are being a downer to everyone with their negative attitude.

You'll probably become tired of this new hire eventually and wish to find someone else to take their position. Now, what if this whole mess could have been averted if you had first hired based on attitude rather than aptitude? Find out why it's preferable in the section below.

Why attitude beats aptitude when hiring

According to Mark Murphy, chairman and CEO of Leadership IQ, focusing on skills over dedication or cultural fit can lead to a lousy hiring decision for several reasons.

“When most managers talk about hiring the ‘right people,’ they mean highly skilled people,” Murphy said. “But , 46 percent of failed within 18 months, and 89 percent of the time, it was for attitudinal reasons and not skills. It’s not that skills aren’t important, but when the top predictor of a new hire’s success or failure is attitude, then attitude is clearly what we need to be hiring for.”

Even those that might not often come to mind when you think of workplaces or teams can benefit from this advice. According to a study published in Surgical Endoscopy, a surgeon's success may be influenced by psychological factors just as much as by cognitive and physical abilities. The study also found that psychological characteristics can aid novice surgeons in overcoming challenges during training. It is reasonable to expect that positive attitudes can contribute to enhanced employee development in other industries as well.

More than only your company's present work quality and production are involved in hiring for attitude. Murphy asserted that hiring decisions based on attitude have an immediate and noticeable impact on the future of your workplace.

“Ask every one of your high performers if they would rather work short-staffed or work with someone with a bad attitude,” Murphy suggested. “Every time we do this, people always say ‘short-staffed.’”

How to spot a bad attitude in a potential hire

Murphy cited a lack of emotional intelligence, an unwillingness to learn and a bad temperament as signs of a poor attitude fit. He also emphasized that the “right” attitude looks different for every organization. 

How to find job candidates with the right attitude

Below are some tips for hiring job candidates with attitudes that fit your workplace.

Write down what you’re looking for.

Maybe you have a general idea of the attitude you’re looking for — positive, friendly and upbeat. That’s a start, but these qualities might not be directly tied to your team’s tasks or workflows. Instead, come up with more detailed descriptions, such as “is willing to pause what they’re doing to help a co-worker.” You can often determine whether new hires meet these criteria within their first few days on the job or, ideally, during the interview process.

Prioritize talent sourcing, not just talent recruitment.

Whereas talent recruitment covers incoming job applications, interviews and background checks, talent sourcing involves finding candidates before they find you. This isn’t limited to contacting people currently looking for work. You can also reach out to people working elsewhere who seem like attitude fits and ask whether they’d like to have a casual conversation. If that person is an attitude fit and they express interest in your company, you can then schedule a formal interview.

Ask attitude-related interview questions.

During job interviews, ask candidates about hypothetical situations where their attitude could come into play. For example, asking, “How do you approach challenging tasks?” could reveal the candidate’s attitude toward teamwork, difficult assignments and professional development. Questions like these will help you get a sense of the candidate’s attitude before you hire them.

“When you ask high performers to tell you about a past experience,” Murphy said, “they’re 40 percent more likely than low performers to answer using past-tense verbs.” “That’s because high performers actually have the experience to recount, and they’re not afraid to reveal their attitude to you.”

Murphy also said that employers should avoid asking certain questions.

“Some of the most common interview questions are also the least effective, including ‘Tell me about yourself’ and ‘What are your weaknesses?’” Murphy said. “You’re not going to discover someone’s real attitude by asking questions to which everyone has a canned or prepared answer.”

Look at how job applicants treat people.

Let’s say you’re looking for employees who don’t hesitate to reach out to other people. The right candidates might approach team members who aren’t involved in recruitment — such as front-office staff or potential future teammates — without pause. That fearlessness will extend beyond interactions with your hiring team — it’s real, it’s consistent and it’s a hireable quality.

Add shadowing to your hiring process.

What if you could test out a potential employee before they officially join your team? Try shadowing, an arrangement where candidates spend a paid day on the job working alongside their possible future co-workers.

On the candidate’s shadow day — for which you should pay the same rate you would a full hire — observe their demeanor and interactions. Do the phrases you’d use to describe their attitude and behavior match what you see in your existing staff? If so, you’ve found a fit.

Don’t entirely neglect skills.

Hiring for attitudinal fit shouldn’t mean hiring someone just because you like them. You should hire people who can contribute to a good work atmosphere and back their positive demeanor with enough skills to do satisfactory work. This person’s positive attitude can carry them through all manner of training and learning opportunities. Before long, they’ll have enough skills to do truly top-notch work.

Attitude vs. aptitude in the workplace

Would you prefer working with someone who does brilliant work but knocks your workplace environment off balance? Or would you rather work with someone whose skills are still growing but who matches your company culture to a tee? Probably the latter. And that’s the value of hiring for attitude over aptitude.

Fortunately, with all the advice above, doing exactly that can be a breeze. Once you staff your office with culture fits, you’ll notice a difference in how your team operates — and how your workplace feels — in no time.

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