How do you really ‘recruit for attitude’? Some practical advice…

After a couple of weak hires, I advised one of my clients to really focus in on ‘hiring for attitude’ – whilst waving my arms about to illustrate the levels of relative importance… attitude first (waves hands up here), then skills (a bit further down) and finally experience (at the bottom). 

You always do that thing with your hands” he said… “and I agree we should do it, but how on earth do we identify a good attitude in the interview process?”

It’s a good point, and something worth getting into. My client’s question highlights that just because we ‘know’ something is a good idea – the practicalities of how to actually do it  are often less clear. 

So, here’s what I would suggest if you’re prioritising hiring for attitude (which I’d really recommend you should be)

1.) Be aware you are being swayed by other things

Most leaders tell me that they are actively trying to hire for attitude, but the reality is that many of us are hugely swayed by the skills, projects, case studies and names on a CV. No judgement here, but it’s worth reminding yourself that almost all great projects are the result of a ‘effort of many’. CV’s are often nuanced, and you’re unlikely to know how much and which part of the projects were led by your candidate. Big names and projects do not necessarily = a great fit. Screen for high level skills, but equally take them with a pinch of salt. 

Once you have your shortlist, set up the first of two meetings:

2.) Separate your meetings with candidates

  • An attitude meeting – or ‘chemistry meeting’ – this meeting is when you can talk about your values / behaviours and ask them to feedback with their own experiences
  • A skills meeting –  a separate meeting with one of your subject matter experts – they will be able to screen more thoroughly for skills and you’ll see how the attitude matches up.

3.) The Chemistry Meeting – talk to your candidate about your company values.

To hire for attitude, you’ll need to know your company values. When you boil it down, your company values are really a set of behaviours you expect from your teams – their ‘attitude’. 

At a previous company I was MD for, our values included ‘make your mum proud’, and ‘celebrate the success of others’. These value – and how a potential recruit aligns and reacts to them – is key to hiring for attitude. 

4.) Share something personal, ask, then shut up. 

During your first screening chat with a candidate, really get into your values. A great way to start talking to a candidate about your values is by sharing a personal example yourself. E.g. ‘One of our values here at XYZ is that we try to do things which would make our mum proud. Last week for example I… [INSERT EXAMPLE], and a member of our team [INSERT EXAMPLE]. Both things are something I know would mum very proud.” 

Then ask them for their own thoughts on that value… “I wondered if you could talk me through something you’ve done that would make your mum proud?”. Be clear you’re not expecting an answer instantly, give them some time to jot some examples down. If they ask whether you want a personal or work-related answer then simply let them know that it’s ‘something that would make your mum proud’. 

Then, and here’s the most important part of the entire process, stop talking and listen… really listen. Get a sense of what they’re sharing – is it something personal or work focused? Does it feel authentic? How do they look when they’re sharing their example? 

Apply the same process to your other values, for example ‘celebrate the success of others’. A good value to gently interrogate them about their involvement in projects, and people who inspired them and why. What qualities do they admire in others? 

The attitude and readiness to appreciate other people will be a key indicator of a good team player. 

To hire for attitude, you’re really listening to find out an individual’s alignment and attitude toward your set of values (behaviours). Always remember that you can teach skills to anyone who has the ‘right’ attitude, without it, you’re likely setting yourself – and the candidate – up to fail. 

I hope this helps put ‘hiring for attitude’ into practice. 



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