Skills Can Be Taught, But Attitude is Forever

Sep 2, 2014

Positive AttitudeWhen hiring for a new position, all employers want to recruit the most talented and skilled candidates possible – preferably with a great attitude too. In reality, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find potential hires who “have it all.” All too frequently, these “have it all” individuals aren’t actively seeking a move.

Instead, employers are faced with an ever decreasing talent pool where the right combination of attitude, culture fit, and skills are difficult to find in one person.

In the final decision making process, which one is the most important?

When talent and skills are in scarce supply, we at SkyWater advise our clients to recruit for attitude and train for skill. Now, just what does that mean exactly?

Skills and talent are undoubtedly closely related but as the saying goes “hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.” While talented employees may possess the ability to learn new skills effortlessly, it doesn’t follow that they will always make the effort. Individuals possessing less natural talent but who have the willingness to work hard can acquire outstanding skills through application.

The difference in the two candidates is attitude.

On this basis, whether or not a candidate is talented is not as important as their potential.

Attitude encompasses a range of attributes, from personality, work ethic, ambition, commitment to a person’s general outlook on life.

Teach Talent?

While natural talent can’t be taught, neither can attitude. Candidates with  innate talent who do not apply it will not progress or perform to the best of their ability. On the other hand, a candidate with a great attitude will be more inclined to coomit to learning new skills. In this case hard work becomes as important as talent. While the divide between the terms is blurred, a positive attitude is clear for all to see.

Talent and skills can be taught to those who are ready to listen and apply themselves.

Hiring For Attitude

How does an organization hire for attitude?

Next time you get a job order for one of those “has it all candidates,” have the conversation with the hiring manager about the weight he or she is attaching to attitude. Work to tailor the job profile or advert to emphasize  the positive attitude you’re looking for. Be creative in describing the types of candidates you and your client are looking for so the position and the company stands out from the crowd.

On the basis that past performance predicts future behavior (and reveals attitude), use competency based questions. Some common examples appropriate to most industry sectors include:

  • Tell me about a time when you went beyond the call of duty to deliver an outstanding customer experience.
  • Give me an example of how you respond to difficult co-workers.
  • When did you last try something new when there was no guarantee of success?
  • Tell me about your last serious error with a customer or colleague and how you reacted to it?

Avoid the predictable questions such as, ‘Tell me about yourself”; “Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?”; and, “What are your weaknesses?”  Today’s candidates are well prepared and equally well rehearsed so include open, subjective questions in your interview process that ask for their opinion on issues that can’t be scripted.

Remember too, as a recruiter or hiring manager, your own attitude in an interview is crucial to the overall success of the hiring process.

Image: Stuart Miles /