Hire for Attitude, Not Just Skills

By Rebecca R. Hastings, SPHR Jun 25, 2012

ATLANTA—Unstructured interviews often lead to hiring decisions based on gut feelings, said Carol Quinn, CEO of Hire Authority, during a June 24 session on motivation-based interviewing at the Society for Human Resource Management's 2012 Annual Conference and Expositiion held in Atlanta through June 27, 2012. Yet gut feelings, and even behavioral interviews, can lead hiring managers to miss a critical element that separates high and low performers: attitude.

Motivation-based interviewing (MBI) is a concept that has been around for more than 15 years, Quinn said. “It closes the holes that exist in behavior-based interviewing that allow marginal job performers to be mistaken as good hires.”

Quinn, author of Don't Hire Anyone Without Me! (Career Press, 2002), said the goal of an effective interviewing process is to select high achievers—those who are able to achieve above-average results on a consistent basis. High achievers have three characteristics:

Attitude: “I can figure out a way to achieve this!”

Passion: “I love doing this!”

Skill: “I have the skill to do this!”

“It’s not just skill that helps people achieve above average results,” Quinn noted, even though qualifications and skills are often the focus of many job interviews.

The attitude of high achievers is apparent when such individuals are confronted with assignments or goals. Some might take an “I can’t” attitude right away if they believe a goal is too challenging, while others might expect success at first, until they are confronted with an obstacle.

The difference between low and high performers, according to Quinn, is that low performers think the high performers achieve results because they have fewer obstacles, “and that will be the reason they give for their substandard performance.”

Only the optimistic “I can” attitude activates the problem-solving part of the brain located in the frontal lobe, Quinn explained. “Problem-solving effort is required to conquer obstacles.”

During the session Quinn showed a video in which a boss gave two managers a week to solve the same business challenge. One manager had a positive attitude about the challenge and worked closely with her team to identify a solution that exceeded the expected result. The other had a negative attitude and failed to meet the boss’s expectation.

MBI involves the assessment of attitude, passion and skill through the use of a structured interview format. Interviewing questions are written to present applicants with an obstacle situation, the action taken and the end results. For example, “Tell me a specific time when you had to deal with an irate customer. What action did you take? What was the end result?”

Hiring for attitude is essential, she noted, because “you are not going to change anybody else’s attitude. You are not going to get into anyone else’s head and re-program them.”

Participants left the session with an MBI interview guide template that included five questions which can be used to assess career fit, including likes, dislikes, strengths, weaknesses and career goals.

HR people are often not the ones doing the interviewing, so they need a process they can use to teach others, Quinn told SHRMConference Daily. “If you have a complex interviewing process, managers won’t use it.”

Rebecca R. Hastings, SPHR, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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