Considering the years of research undertaken regarding the importance of cultural fit, the number of high-profile, business-leading advocates of cultural fit and everything else we know about the crippling costs of cultural misfits, why are there so many companies still using outdated hiring practices? While skills and experience matter, time and again research and anecdotes have both proven that a person’s attitude is the quality that will ensure the success of the role’s function within your company and of that person in their life.attitude is the quality that will ensure the success of the role’s function within your company and of that person in their life.

A person’s attitude is an expression of their EQ and typically a lifelong constant whereas skills learning is (well, at least should be), a progressive feast. The former is behavioural and notoriously hard to alter; the latter is teachable.

Aside from being the hallmark of a natural leader, a good attitude is infectious and acts as a natural antidote to negativity, complacency and stagnation.

We’d go as far as to say great company culture is a net result of having individuals with great attitudes on your team. The more people with the right attitude in your ranks the better the benchmark for future hires. Who wouldn’t want to work in a supportive and progressive environment?

It’a about more than the ‘warm fuzzies’ of being around a good attitude, hiring for attitude over skills gives you the chance to custom build their knowledge-base. You’ll also find there are less ingrained poor-learnings to undo. And, if you’re doing it right, your team’s technical development will be ongoing, which keeps everyone consistently performing at their best and moving forward united.

Soft skills and hard stats.

“A cheap approach to hiring that leads to poor hires is one of the worst decisions one could possibly make given all the possible costs associated with making a bad hire and all the benefits of good hires.” Peter Capelli, Harvard Business Review.

The importance of good hiring techniques is about your bottom line. A recent study from UC Berkeley in the US estimates that the associated costs of new recruits can reach as high as 150% of their annual salary. Obviously it’s in your interests to get them to stick around.

Pair this knowledge with research from LeadershipIQ, which shows that of the 46% of new recruits that failed during the first 18 months, 89% of them failed due to attitudinal reasons. Only 11% failed for skills related issues. Read back over that paragraph and let that sink in. Then let this next bit settle on you.

Harvard scholar and CEO of Good Think, Shawn Achor, posited in his famous May 2011 TEDTalk that only 25% of job success is predicted by I.Q., 75% comes from attitude. (For the record, this TEDTalk is dangerously entertaining and well worth watching).

Great attitude for cross-pollination

Once upon a time, you had a skill set and you worked in your sector trudging upward until someone gave you a gold watch and nudged you outward. In a post-GFC economy, with innovation and disruption holding sway, those days of tenure are long gone. In tenure’s place is an employment market full of flexible and ambitious professionals with multiple, transferable skills. In turn, we are seeing quicker inter-industry movement and even more tellingly, we are seeing more cross-sector movement.

“The most succesful traits of cross-sector professionals are great attitudes, fresh thinking, enthusiasm and commitment.” Simon Meyer, CEO FutureYou.

These are the same attributes leading the surge in professional contracting work. But as far as hiring full-time professionals from other sectors into yours – if the attitude is right and the skill set is workable, you would be misguided not to consider talent from across the way.

The best questions to ask

Tell me about yourself? What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses?

If you are still asking these questions, stop, immediately. Step away from the candidate.

On the surface they might seem reasonable but they are not; they are asinine at best, insulting at worst. Everyone knows how to fudge these answers to appear adequately humble and sufficiently skilled. Their answers are not telling you anything and worse still, if you have attracted a great candidate and you drop antiquated and pointless questions on them, you run a high risk of turning them off.

You’ll get a far more indicative response as to who they really are if you ask questions that reveal a person’s true nature and their attitude toward life. Many notable business leaders ask about previous failures and some ask about childhood dreams.

  • César Melgoza, Founder and CEO of Geoscape asks which magazine they’ve recently read – he’s interested in knowing how they invest in themselves.
  • Lars Dalgaard, former CEO of SuccessFactors wants to know how human his candidates are ready to be with him by asking, “What did you learn from your mum?”
  • Yasmin Green, head of R&D at Google can tell how people think on their feet by asking how they’d make money from an ice-cream stand in Central Park.

More insight can be gained by observing them. Watch how they treat others; the security guard, a waiter, the taxi driver… The behaviours of a person ‘unobserved’ will indicate the sort of person you’re really dealing with.

Putting it all together

Naturally, your hiring checklist should feature skills and experience, but it should also feature culture fit, beliefs, life experiences, their inclination toward learning, resilience, tenacity, perseverance and critical thinking. So, once you’re satisfied with your skills-based shortlist, give attitude the majority stake in your final decision. That’s where you’ll find your future leaders.

For more on the importance of culture in the workplace, follow us on LinkedIn