Hire for attitude, train for skills

  • 6 minutes read

One can recognize a high-performing company from the fact that it has the best employees. But how can we define “best employees”? First, it’s about having the right person for the right job. We have to make sure they are exactly what our company needs. There are a lot of variables to keep an eye on in the recruitment process. The most important one is the employee profile you are looking for; this is the part that allows more flexibility. The question is: do you go for the person with the best attitude, even if they require some training or do you go with the most skilful one?

Recruiting based on company values

The HR vice-president of a large airline stated, more or less as a joke, that getting hired in their company is like joining a cult. The people stick together, they care a lot about the company and their own activities, they believe in what they do and follow their leader, no matter what. What more could you ask of an employee? To find this kind of people, they’re not searching based on a fixed set of competencies derived mainly from work experience. They are searching for a perfect mix of energy, humour, team spirit, ambition and self-confidence that best suits their famous internal culture. They want a strong team and client orientation. Tick those boxes and you’re in.

A person that believes in you and in the company vision and values will have a great work experience and will give all to be prepared for his daily tasks. This is how high performing companies operate. They know they are in that position mostly due to their employees.

During the recruitment process we also need to assess if the person we have in mind has the capacity to perform well on a certain position, looking at the innate skills, but keeping in mind that if they don’t have all the knowledge yet it’s not a problem. Knowledge is something you can work on with the right training.

I assume you want the same kind of enthusiastic people as the airline company hires. How should one go about recruiting them?

We tried to analyse the difference between “good employees” and “bad employees” or “good hires” and “bad hires” and we found these 4 strategies for “smart hires”.

1. Keep in mind: what people know changes, what they are doesn’t

Remember Popeye, one of our childhood heroes? He always said: “I am what I am”. And he was so right. The biggest mistake we make in recruiting is hiring a person with the right skill-set but with the wrong mind-set and attitude thinking that “we will change them…” or our culture will change that. It does not work that way.

This was an issue for me when I was the leader of a student’s organization. It was the moment I had to pick my management board. It was very difficult as a lot of the members were new in the organization and were not well prepared. I chose to take with me the people with the right attitude, not caring what they knew at the time. They were performing extraordinarily by the end of our term. The ones that showed that they knew their area of expertise very well but weren’t as connected to the organisational culture did not improve their knowledge and some of them didn’t even finish their term. I noticed this in the years that followed with the other executive boards and the conclusion was always the same: what you are never changes.

2. You cannot find what you’re not looking for

This principle is simple: the best way to choose a new employee is to compare candidates to the current ones that do well. Identify the high-performers, analyse their behaviour and attitude, their main traits that make them a good fit for the company culture and develop the interview guide based on that. It’s important to include questions based on facts. What did they do on specific occasions? Behaviours might reveal patterns.

  • The best way to evaluate people is by watching them while they work

Some companies took this very seriously. My suggestion is to adapt this suggestion to your activity. For example, a large steel company created an assembly line where the people that got past a certain recruitment phase are observed while they do daily tasks, as they would do if they were already hired.

Another company does simulations in which candidates receive different scenarios based of specific tasks and they interact with the company employees. Why would this be a good idea? It’s simple: you need to see how they fit into the internal culture, see them work before they are hired. Hiring the wrong person will cost the company a lot.

3. You cannot hire people that don’t apply for the job

Recruiting also implies promoting the vacant jobs. It’s best to have a large number of CVs so you have a good pool to choose from, to maximise the chances of finding the best candidate. Still, one thousand CVs are useless if they are not the quality we need. Some companies, like Google have no problem in gathering applications. But that’s also because they promote a healthy internal culture.

A good way to make sure you have qualitative applications is the one suggested by the HR manager of an international company: “All around the world, the best way to attract new good employees are the ones we already have.” A good case practice is also the SGI company that recruits 65% of their people based on recommendations from current employees. And the good part is that this also helps a lot the recruitment budget.   

4. Keep in mind that what happens immediately after the employee starts work is of crucial importance as well.

Specialists agree on the fact that recruiting a person is a very important investment. Some companies protect their investments by scheduling proper time for induction, as other employees help new hires adapt to the work environment and create a personal growth plan in the company. These experienced guides are often called buddies, mentors or coaches. Companies also invest financial resources to help new employees accomplish their growth plans, knowing that this is also benefits them.

This process is more intense than the usual one. It takes more time and very efficient methods to get to know the person in front of you well enough to decide whether or not they fit your company culture. Hiring this way requires more effort but when people are right for the job they are easier to lead and their results are better. My favourite expression in recruitment is “hire hard, manage easy”.

Find here out training topics: SOLVER Training

So, when trying to recruit the person that will make us performant, the person with the right attitude is the better bet. Of course they will need to learn some more through training, so make sure to put willing to learn as a characteristic to get checked on your recruitment form.  

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