“Hiring for Attitude” – today’s Mantra for tomorrow’s triumph

“When our research tracked 20,000 new hires, 46% of them failed within 18 months. But even more surprising than the failure rate, was that when new hires failed, 89% of the time it was for attitudinal reasons and only 11% of the time for a lack of skill. “

These are the findings shared by Mark Murphy founder & CEO of Leadership IQ, a leading management and employee engagement experts quoted in his book “Hiring for Attitude: A Revolutionary Approach to Recruiting and Selecting People with Both Tremendous Skills and Superb Attitude”.

These and such findings reiterate the need for today’s organizations to hire candidates for a right attitude. While the importance of Technical competency cannot be underplayed, slowly and steadily Soft skills and attitude have acquired a very critical position in firming up hiring decisions. This phenomenon has also been gaining momentum thanks to the myriad of academic papers and Practical Wisdom that has emphasized the significance of the “right attitude in the right body.” Furthermore investing in Training and Development can train employees for technical expertise. However, the same cannot be easily achieved in case of attitudinal restructuring. As Herb Kelleher, former Southwest Airlines CEO used to say, “We can change skill levels through training, but we can’t change attitude.”

Recently an IT solutions based Organization expressed a desire to have a training program designed for their Team and Project Heads on Hiring Skills. While these key people were involved in conducting the technical round interviews, the top management saw a tremendous need to develop a mind-frame for their employees to identify a right hire by looking beyond relevant work experience and technical competency. The reason… of late they have had cases of seemingly right fit that quit or are asked to quit due to an attitudinal misfit.

Attempts to hire for a right attitude may take many forms:

Psychometric testing

The objective of a Psychometric assessment exercise may extend from quantifying innate personality qualities to organizational behavioral characteristics such as citizenship behavior. The findings of the Tata Strategic Management Group study as reported by the Economic Times in February 2014 indicate that “an increasing number of Indian organizations are using psychometric instruments to facilitate objective people decisions. The survey suggests that adoption rate could move from a current 52% to 87% by 2016. The psychometric battery may include time tested instruments such as MBTI, 16 PF test to relatively newer tools such as Thomas Profiling

Behavioral Event Interview (BEI)

Another attempt for right hiring includes Behavioral Event Interview (BEI). Also known as “competency-based interviews” or “targeted selection”, the goal of the BEI is to ask specific instances from the candidates past which could reflect a work-based expression of specific job related competencies. BEI is based on the premise that Past behavior predicts future success. Additionally, BEI provides an opportunity to the interview panels to use a standardized assessment method to measure the responses and qualifications of their prospects. A typical example to assess conflict management could be “What is your typical way of dealing with conflict?  Give me an example.”

Ann Rhoades, PRES and founder of People Ink, an experienced Human Resources expert having served as the Chief People Officer of Southwest Airlines, Promus Hotel Company and JetBlue Airways has been firmly believes in connecting to the person behind the face of the candidates to gauge their attitudinal make up and coachability. Her favorite question is “Tell me about the last time you broke the rules.” Her candid belief is that a long silence or a noncommittal response is an indication that a candidate is trying to figure out what she wants to hear. “The good ones,” she says, “don’t care.”

Targeted Selection

Some organizations also follow the Byham model, wherein companies work to understand their star performers, identify their target behaviors and attitudes, and then develop interview questions to find people with those attributes. Bill Byham, and CEO of Pittsburgh-based Development Dimensions International (DDI) and a pioneer of “Targeted Selection” method of hiring propounds that the best way to select people who’ll thrive in your company is to identify the personal characteristics of people who are already thriving and hire people just like them.


Another modern method of hiring people with a right balance of Knowledge Skill and Attitude (KSA) involves the Simulation methods. Very popular with MNCs such as IBM, Toyota, this exercise comprises of establishing simulation assemblies. Charles Austin, an Atlanta-based consultant with DDI, has helped organizations design such facility. He says “people who don’t have the mental stamina to meet BMW’s “aerobic workplace” requirements don’t get hired.” Similar facilities have been built for other automakers (including Toyota and Subaru). For another simulation built for Cessna single-engine airplane factory, Austin developed an elaborate role-playing exercise for managers that simulate a “day in the life” of a harried executive. A job candidate spends up to 12 hours in an office with a phone, fax, and in-basket stuffed with files and letters. Throughout the day the prospect works through memos and handles problems.

Shadowing current star performers

Certain organizations arrange for short-listed finalists to shadow star performers this becomes a win-win situation, for a good expectation setting for candidates and two to get an unbiased feedback from the current employees in terms of behavioral competencies.

Vetting Applicants’ Social Media Profiles

A modern day phenomenon to check the attitude of the millennial employees is to explore and analyze their presence on the social media. A look at the social networking sites and personal websites presence of a candidate can speak acumen of social behaviors which would otherwise be difficult to gauge.

While there can be a number of techniques aimed at picking the right talent for the organization, interviewers may benefit from keeping five golden rules in mind:

Identify mind-set mine-fields

It is a good practice to start identifying attitude reflectors such as stickiness with previous organizations, educational gaps, sudden exits, career journey, choice of past employers and projects. While it would be just a starting point, it could help the interviewer set certain hypothesis that need to be tested during the course of the interaction.

Move from the bird’s eye to a worm’s eye

Most often organizations are not very clear about what defines a right attitude. Defining key behavioral competencies that are desirable to the given role becomes a good beginning for the search for a right fit. Once such traits and competencies are identified, narrowing down tools and measures to identify the key competencies in the prospective hire becomes a smart way of hiring for the right attitude.

Move from worm’s eye to a bull’s eye

Evaluating an attitude from a resume requires keen observational skills and deep human insight.  Such characteristics can be exhibited through answers to questions which go beyond the traditional interview methods. Going beyond the cliché “Tell me something about yourself” to a more relevant question keeping the business needs and job requirements in mind would help bring out the critical aspects of the candidate’s persona and provide some food for thought for a right people decision.

Use a right mix of Behavioral, situational and value based questions

The interviewer should always aim at knowing the multiple facets of the candidate by presenting pertinent situational questions, keeping in view the job profile. A question such as “ imagine that a customer is giving you last minutes changes in the requirement and expecting them to be incorporated in the solution to be delivered in next 36 hours. How would you handle the situation” would give a good view to the candidates’ analytical, problem solving, conflict management skills as also the ability to innovate and negotiate in real time. Similarly a question such as “A manager asks you to lie to a customer about viability of one product choice as against the other in order to book greater profit, Would you follow their instructions or not?” cannot be categorized as good or bad but can be considered as a measure of core values.

Listen, Listen and further Listen

Finally the key to successful hiring depends on the interviewer’s ability to listen to the said as well as the unsaid. The words and beyond them, the noise as well as the silence that is witnessed during the interaction.

To conclude in the words of Sir Winston Churchill, “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.”

Organizational investment in these little things while making talent and people decisions would lead to big differences in the way of doing Business.

Contributed by Prof. Dipika Dabke (Faculty, IBS Mumbai)

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