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    Hiring for attitude, training for skill – getting the right balance

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        Hiring for attitude, training for skill. It’s the buzz phrase that’s been doing the rounds on the recruitment circuit for quite some time now. But just how viable an approach is it? And what is the correct balance when it comes to your staff?

        This week’s blog takes a look at skills versus attitude and how to achieve the perfect mix.


        When you hire for skill, you’re looking for a candidate who can deliver high standards when it comes to practical and technical ability. Whilst hiring a candidate for their ‘can do’ attitude is all well and good, there’s no denying the fact that sometimes, it’s skills and experience that your company needs. For example, if you need a truck driver, a driving licence is a great place to start. If you’re after an accountant, the ability to add up is probably going to feature heavily on your list of requirements. Sometimes, skills are non-negotiable.

        In the opinion of Forbes contributor Bill Fischer, a candidates attitude can and will, only get you so far. His view is that when it comes to innovation and raising the bar, you don’t just need solid skills, you need them in abundance. To add credence to this idea, a recent poll by leadership IQ found that 30% of companies were actually outsourcing certain positions because the staff they hired were not skilled enough. Recruitment is a worthwhile and important investment, you shouldn’t have to plug avoidable gaps

        Because of the drive to hire candidates based on a good cultural fit, more and more employers are discovering that skilled employees are in short supply. For many industries, this is nothing short of disastrous. It’s not just here in the UK that this is a problem. In the US, the Career Advisory Board’s Job Preparedness Research Indicator found that a meagre 17% of 516 hiring managers felt that today’s job seekers have the skills their organisation is looking for.

        When hiring for skill, the trick is to keep the faith. Hire the talent and to give them room to run. Let them use their skills in such a way to propel your business forward. As Steve jobs said, “it doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do”.


        If you’re hiring for attitude, you’re employing someone on the basis of what they feel about something and how they deal with it. It’s a great approach. Get it right and your office will be full of happy, fulfilled and enthusiastic people who motivate and inspire one another. But it only takes the hire of one person with a bad attitude to drain the morale of your whole team, and destroy the company culture you’ve worked so hard to build.

        The other benefit of hiring for attitude is improved retention rates. A highly skilled candidate is all well and good, but their practical abilities will never immerse them into the ethos of your company in the same way as an enthusiastic attitude. To put it into hard facts, research has shown that 80% of new hires who fail within 18 months do so because they’re just not the right fit for the company.


        It’s clear that today’s employers need to find a ‘happy medium”. A perfect blend of skills, experience and the right attitude to the task in hand. For us, the key lies in a sterling recruitment process. At Headway, we focus on achieving the perfect balance through a number of different measures. For example, psychometric profiling is a key part of what we do. It’s not enough to take candidates at face value, we target the right personality in the same way you’d target a particular skill. We then match this to the requirements of our clients and the available roles.

        TOP TIPS

        If you’re currently struggling with the skills v attitude dilemma, here are our top tips for achieving the right balance:

        • Get your job descriptions right. Be clear about the post and where it fits into your business. Don’t be afraid to talk about your company culture. Let candidates know what kind of person you’re looking for as well as the skills they need to possess to do the job. This will go some way to getting the right people to apply.
        • Look at what it is your company needs. Is it a skills shortage, or a lack of personality? Then, hire accordingly.
        • Who are your star players? What attributes do they have in terms of skills, experience and attitude? Use them as a benchmark when hiring new starters.
        • If the candidate has the right approach but falls short on skills, do they have the desire and ability to learn? Make sure that a good attitude is backed up with a commitment to learning and development.

        At the end of the day, If you focus solely on attitude, you risk losing out on a whole section of highly skilled individuals who can deliver exactly what your business needs. If you hire simply for skill, you risk a workforce that is unconnected with your company vision and low retention rates.

        The bottom line, is that the recruitment process affects your bottom line, one way or the other. We like the philosophy of industrial psychologist Alan Davidson who said that “the overarching idea is that you hire hard and then manage easy”. As recruitment plans go, that’s not a bad one to have.

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