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Hire for Attitude, Train for Skill

Dan Bobinski
March 9, 2005 -- By Dan Bobinski 

All the leading business publications are pointing to a large wave of hiring for 2005.  With this in mind, it seems appropriate to highlight some points to make your hiring efforts successful.
The most important factor in hiring is attitude. Hire for it. Through the resume process you’re going to find people who have the basic skill levels you’re looking for.  That’s the first hoop. Then with a telephone screen you can find out if people have the foundational knowledge and the intellect for what you want.
But when you bring them in for an interview, the most important question you need to answer is “can we work with this applicant?”  The second most-important question is “Is this applicant teachable?”  If you cannot answer “yes” to BOTH of those questions, a “do not hire” sign needs start flashing above your candidate’s head.  Move them along, wish them well, and bring in your next applicant.
One of the services my company provides is recruiting and screening. Over the past sixteen years I’ve personally interviewed over 2,000 applicants for various companies, and in my professional opinion, these two questions above are by far the best key indicators for success. Applicants with the right attitude can learn whatever skills are required of them.
Other important factors are longevity, previously used methods of problem solving, and references.
The longevity issue is fairly common knowledge, but I think it needs to be stressed.  If people have a track record of changing jobs once a year, chances are they’ll be with you for a year and that’s it.  Be extremely wary of such trends.
Interviewing for how one solves problems can be tricky, but to me it’s vital. We want to hire people who can solve problems so we can focus on leading or managing bigger things. We don’t want to be holding an employee’s hand forever. So what’s the best way to screen for problem-solving skills?
The answer is “it depends.” Some positions have specific problems inherent to the industry (such as engineering or mechanical fields) and applicants can be asked to demonstrate their ability to solve specific problems. If we can give such practical tests, we should by all means use them.
But we should want to know more. We need to know what kind of experience they’ve had.
If we define “experience” as having faced and worked through perilous situations, we should ask applicants to tell us a story about when they faced “X”-kind of problem in the past, how they approached it, and how they solved it.  This gives you real world answers from a real world experience.
The more common but less-effective method is future-oriented questioning: “’IF’ something happened, how would you handle it?” This type of question can be answered with head knowledge, but head knowledge and actual behavior can be two very different things, so it’s better to ask about past behavior.
Lastly I want to stress the importance of checking references. In their book Hiring Top Performers, Bob Adams and Peter Veruni point out that checking references is done only about 30% of the time. Scarrrry.
I’ve heard of people claiming to have Ph.D.’s getting jobs at nuclear sites when in fact they have no such degree—and the employer never bothered to check.  Can you say it with me? Scarrrry.
Granted, you’re probably not hiring a nuclear physicist, but check references all the same.  In addition to checking the standard employment record, ask for at least one personal reference from each of the last three jobs held.  These are not necessarily employers or managers, but “friends” who are willing to vouch for your applicant’s character. Think about it: If nobody will vouch for your applicant, it may be that your applicant “doesn’t play well with others.”
Use your own intelligence when listening to what you’re told, but by all means check references.  Say you don’t have the time?  Look at it this way: Would you rather spend the time interviewing for the position again in three months if this applicant isn’t as he or she seems?
Based on projections, chances are you’ll be doing some hiring this year.  Perhaps these tips can help you identify the best applicants.    

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 Want help finding the best candidates? Leadership Development can coach you through the process, or screen your applicants and even conduct the interviews for you.  (Then all you'd have to do is make the final decision!)  Call toll free and we'll be happy to answer any specific questions you may have: 888-922-6224.  You may also want to take a look at our recruiting, screening,and hiring page.

© 2005 Dan Bobinski / Leadership Development, Inc. You may freely forward this information on condition that you send the text as an integral whole along with complete information about its author, date, and source.
Dan Bobinski is a certified behavioral analyst, the President and CEO of Leadership Development, Inc., and the co-author of Living Toad Free: Overcoming Resistance to Motivation. He can be reached at (208) 375-7606 or by Email at dan@leadershipanswers.
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