Employee Attitudes
More Important Than Skills?

Question: “I have often heard it said that employee attitudes are more important than skills or experience when hiring new recruits. Is this true?”

In Technical Positions

For a highly technical position, skills and experience are paramount. If you need someone who has attained a high degree of skill in a narrow, specialised area, attitude may have to take second place.

If highly experienced applicants are scarce, but you absolutely have to have someone with their skills, you may have to live with some minor attitude quirks.

If the choice is between leaving the position vacant, or employing someone you have to manage more closely, you may be stuck with the latter.

For other positions, however, employee attitudes are certainly a major deciding factor.

What is Attitude?

It includes such things as:

  • Interested in the job.
  • Does not need constant supervision.
  • Can think ahead of the game.
  • Takes a positive view of things and wants to contribute.

Some of these things can be measured or estimated during the hiring process.

Assessing the Attitude of Candidates

To assess the employee attitudes of your candidates:

  • Look at their previous performance record.
  • Ask them questions about what they achieved and how they made it happen.
  • Look in their resume for the results they achieved – ignore all the PR statements about how good they say they are.

A person with a good attitude has lots of ideas about their job. They are constantly seeking new ways to improve things.

Ask them how they improved their performance in the past. Good attitude people get a kick out of producing the results of their work. They will show a high degree of pride in what they created, or how they managed to improve their performance.

Ask Their Referees

  • Did the candidate need constant supervision?
  • How much time did their previous manager have to spend keeping the candidate focused on the job?
  • Did the wheels fall off if they turned their backs?

Ask the candidate where they think the job they are applying for is heading.

This may be a tough question, as they have not yet started the job, but a person with a good attitude can think ahead. They can envisage the end results. If they can answer this one, you won’t need to keep redirecting their efforts to keep them on track.

Ask their previous managers how often the candidate came to them with problems they could not solve. If they were constantly baulked by minor barriers and only had negative things to say about their situation, their attitude is wrong.

Watch out for lots of excuses. A person with the right attitude looks at barriers as the fun part of the job and enjoys the challenge of overcoming them.

Not All is Lost

Even if you finish up with employees who have a “bad attitude”, there is still some hope. If you make the basic ideas of their function very clear to them and help to remove the barriers that impede them, their attitude will improve.

  • Above all, if you make the results expected of them crystal clear, they will eventually get the message.
  • Take time to spell it out so they really do see where their job fits into the overall scheme of things.
  • And acknowledge them for their achievements.


See Employee Attitude: That Elusive Something! for more detail on the question of "attitude".


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