Hiring for Both Attitude and Aptitude

Jul 18, 2013
This article is part of a series called Opinion.

Lately there has been a push to hire based on cultural fit, over skill set. There are several reasons that this makes sense. When you hire for cultural fit you end up with a more cohesive workforce, and it improves engagement and retention rates. Leadership IQ performed a three-year study of 5,247 hiring managers and tracked 20,000 new hires; 46 percent of them failed within 18 months.

But even more surprising than the failure rate was that when new hires failed, 89 percent of the time it was for attitudinal reasons and only 11 percent of the time for a lack of skill. Bad attitudes or attitudes that aren’t in line with the company culture will lead to high turnover. High turnover then leads to low morale, upset productivity, and high talent acquisitions costs. It’s clear then: hire the smile!

But wait, there’s another side to this equation.

You’ve got an employee who fits in well, they display high emotional intelligence, and they’re settling in … but can they perform? According to Bill Fischer, a Forbes contributor, “Attitudes will only get you so far, and when real change is needed — innovation, for example — then attitudes are not likely to be enough to get you to where you want to go. In such situations, you need skills, and lots of them.” As much as 30 percent of companies polled have had to outsource the positions for which they didn’t have adequately skilled employees.

Medium Skills?

Employers need to meet somewhere in the middle, where soft skills meet hard skills. To call them “medium skills” would make our teams sound mediocre, but that middle ground is exactly what we need. Hiring for attitude and aptitude is the obvious choice, but there has recently been such a strong push to hire for attitude that skills are steadily falling by the wayside. Job Preparedness Indicator research from the Career Advisory Board, established by DeVry University, found that only 17 percent of 516 hiring managers said that job seekers have the skills and traits their organization are looking for in a candidate.

How to Identify a Cultural Fit and Skill Set

A lot of hiring managers, who haven’t forgotten about the importance of hard skills, suggest taking a look at your key players and finding candidates who emulate them. Identify your top talent, chart their values, skills, communication type, etc. and target your sourcing, interviewing, and hiring processes to reach those such people. HR pro John Myrna says, “Hire based on aptitude, i.e. having enough grey matter to master the skills, and attitude, i.e. the passion and commitment to put in the time to master the skills.”

Much of today’s workforce have read all of the “Dress for an Interview,” “Interview Body Language,” and “How to Nail an Interview” blog posts. They believe that smiling their way through an interview will land them the job, and sad to say, they’re probably right. There is a ton of truth to the adage, “Hire for attitude and train for aptitude.” But have we taken it too far? When there are tons of smiling faces walking around, will anyone care if the lights go out at the Super Bowl? Yeah, they will. Keeping a good balance in your workforce means keeping a balance in your hiring process. Hire for attitude — yes, but make sure they are trainable. Happy businesses go down the tubes too.

This article is part of a series called Opinion.