Recruiting and Search
Kiss Skills And Experience Goodbye!
Read in 9 min. In a world where finding talented people is hard enough and retaining them is even more difficult, employee engagement is more important than ever before. And here's the key: engaging employees is easy when you have the right people working for you.
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Recruiting people who have a higher chance of being engaged has become absolutely critical in organisations around the world. And the biggest mistake managers are making is that they're hiring based upon the applicant's resume; their hiring decision is often determined by someone's skills and experience. They're so focused on getting people with the "right" qualifications, the "right" number of years in the industry, and the "right" capabilities, that they neglect the number one most important factor when hiring someone new - attitude.
Skills can be taught, experience can be gained, and qualifications can be obtained. But a manager can't teach someone to have the right attitude. That requires a total metamorphosis of an individual's personality and character traits, and who has the time for that? It would be like getting Santa Claus to wear a dress. It's just not going to happen!
And yet hundreds of interview guides that managers are using all have a common theme. Almost all of the questions are centred on the candidate's previous skills and experience, and often there aren't any questions at all that ascertain whether someone has the right attitude. Instead, managers rely on their gut instinct, a hunch, or an intuition, to judge whether someone has that special something. And often, because there are such wonderful actors out there, that judgement can be misguided.
A model called The LMNOP Attitude Rainbow helps to determine attitude beautifully. Each letter of the rainbow represents one of the five key elements of attitude: learn, motivate, natural, optimistic, and proactive. Simply implementing just one question during the interview process that addresses each one of these elements will dramatically increase the chances of recruiting someone with the right attitude.
Learn: A candidate with the right attitude has a hunger to learn, embraces the learning process, wants development, actively seeks it, and enthusiastically participates in training activities. If you'd like to avoid hiring employees that fall asleep during training sessions, don't take on board feedback from coaching sessions, and think that learning is something that stops when you finish school, then a great question to use in an interview may be: "Give me an example of a time when you had to absorb complex information and run me through the steps you took to learn it."
When asking difficult questions, especially unexpected ones, you'll often get back a long silence, a glazed look, and then perhaps even a stuttering and mumbled response. Let the silence linger, give the candidate time to think of a response, and then if after a short while you feel you're getting nothing back, prod them a little. Not with a stick, but with a few words of encouragement, such as, "maybe think of a time when you were brand new to a role". When they finally respond, look for an answer that shows the learning was in fact complex, that they actually enjoyed the learning process, and look at the method they used to absorb this learning. For example, did they ask questions, seek guidance, get a mentor, read a book, go on a course - or conversely, and inappropriately, have the learning forced upon them by their supervisor's initiatives?
Motivate: Candidates with this element are easy to motivate and are often able to motivate themselves as well as others. If you'd like to avoid recruiting people that call in sick every Monday, cry every time a customer raises his voice, and spend more time in the tea room than they do on the job at hand, then a question you may use could be: "Tell me about a time when you worked on a task that was structured or repetitive. How did you maintain your focus and enthusiasm"?
Be careful in this instance that people don't answer with what they would do in that situation - they need to respond with what they have done previously. Evidence of prior behaviour is more reliable than a hypothetical response. The best response to this question would be one where the candidate was able to motivate others as well as him/her. But there are people out there who can lie through their teeth, and lie well, so how can you tell if the candidate is pulling your leg? Ask probing questions. Write down what they say and quiz their referees to make sure it's true. Oh, and sometimes difficult group activities can also give you a good indication as to how bothered someone can be in a stressful, high-pressured, organisation environment.
Natural: Employees need to be genuine, warm, and friendly. They need to be able to get along with a diverse group of people. If you've got a habit of hiring people that yell, scream, and threaten to stab their colleagues, perhaps try a question like this during the interview: "Give me an example of a time when you went out of your way to help a colleague."
The key words in this question are "out of your way". If the candidate gives you some lame story about a time her supervisor asked her to look after a new recruit, or proudly boasts that colleagues always ask her questions and seek her feedback, that's not going out of your way. Look for an answer that shows the candidate saw someone in need and offered her help. Look for an answer that shows the candidate feels as strongly about the team's performance as she does about her own. And look for an answer that shows the candidate sees assisting her colleagues as part of her job, not as a nuisance.
Optimistic: Every manager has had an employee that's been opposed to everything, been against change, and generally pessimistic in nature. To avoid hiring these people, as well as others who feel that their lives are about to end just because there's a systems upgrade, this is a great interview question to ask: "Tell me about a time when you were in an environment that was overly negative and everything around you was going wrong. How did you get through it"?
Look for specific actions to this response. For example, let's say the candidate replies with something like "I just kept on working through it" or "I ignored what was happening around me", then that's not good enough. You need to see that the candidate actually did things to stop the negativity. Things like using positive language, encouraging his peers to see the good side of what was happening, or talking to his manager about ideas on how to make it a better place to work. Vagueness in a response to this question can be a strong indicator that the candidate had a part to play in the negativity.
Proactive: The best people in any business are those that go the extra mile for their employer, their customers, their peers, and for themselves. And it's always people with an excellent attitude that do this. A question that addresses this area, and which could potentially stop you from recruiting people who feel that the parameters of their role is to just show up for work, could be: "Outline a few occasions where you've done more than what's required."
Emphasis on the word more - analyse what this candidate's definition of "more" is and you'll get a very good indicator as to how proactive he is. Is more to this person defined as how much more money he can squeeze out of the organisation, or is "more" defined to this candidate as a time when he pioneered a change in a process that made things easier for lots of customers. Ask for a few examples, not just one, because the level of a person's pro-activeness is one of the strongest signs of their attitude.
Once your interview is complete, you'll have responses to two lots of questions: attitude questions, and then "the others". ("The others" consist of questions that ascertain a candidate's skills, experience, and qualifications). What do you do with all this information? Use a grading system so that you give the attitude responses an overall rating of A, B, or C, and do the same with "the others". An "A" for the attitude questions is a must if you'd like to recruit someone with a better attitude. This is non-negotiable. However, with "the others", a B is fine. Why? Because you can train someone on skills, they'll eventually get the experience they need, and you can even get them to obtain the qualifications they require. But attitude, well, attitude is ingrained.
The actual questions that are asked don't matter, so long as there is at least one question that delves into each element of the LMNOP Attitude Rainbow. It's easy to coach and develop someone when it comes to blocking any skilling gaps, but it's almost impossible to train someone out of having a bad attitude and even harder to fix all the damage a bad attitude problem can make to your organisation.
Building an engaged organisation is easy when you have the right people in place.
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