By: Jon Picoult
What do companies like Southwest Airlines, Ritz-Carlton, and Zappos have in common? They hire for attitude and train for skill as part of their hiring process.
It’s a simple mantra, but one that has a profound impact on how to successfully recruit and select new employees.
Prioritizing Soft Skills
During their hiring process, these companies weigh “attitudinal” characteristics very heavily.
These are personal attributes that it’s difficult to train employees on -- such as being a people-person, having an upbeat personality, or possessing a keen ability to learn new things.
While these firms won’t ignore technical skills (Southwest doesn’t put unqualified pilots in the cockpit, no matter how bright and cheery they are) they nonetheless look very carefully at these soft skills -- far more than most employers do.
These companies gain a lot from this hiring strategy. By focusing on attitudinal characteristics that align with their company brand, these companies reinforce their distinctive company culture with each new hire.
And because they’re hiring people whose values align with that culture, the end result is a workforce that’s happier, more engaged and less likely to turn over.
But the benefits of this hiring process don’t stop there. When a workforce embodies the company brand (think how Southwest employees exude “fun”), it differentiates the customer experience where it counts most -- in consumers’ one-on-one interactions with your staff.
If you have any doubt about the power of that dynamic, just consider how Southwest, Ritz-Carlton and Zappos have dominated their respective markets.
Five Steps to Hiring for Attitude
So how should you go about hiring for attitude, seeding your workforce with true brand ambassadors? You could run your applicants through personality tests and behavioral assessments -- but that can be pricey, time-consuming, and onerous for the candidates.
Fortunately, there are other approaches you can employ to put this strategy in practice. Here are five simple, low-cost ways to hire for attitude:
1. Be clear about expectations.
Take advantage of candidate self-selection by clearly broadcasting what qualities you look for when bringing on new staff.
For example, if you tell the world that you’re in the market for extroverts – fewer introverts will apply (and that’s a good outcome for you and them).
By defining what personal qualities you’re searching for up-front, you make it more likely that candidates with those attributes will throw their hats into the ring.
2. Be proactive.
Don’t just wait for people with the right attitude to apply for a job – spot them in the marketplace and make your pitch!
When you see someone who clearly embodies the qualities you want on your team, give them your card and invite them to apply for employment.
As any great recruiter knows, that extremely attentive waiter, remarkably patient sales associate, or well-spoken repairman could be your next great hire.
3. Focus on the person behind the paper.
Gauging attitude from a resume requires insight and vision. Consider how the personal qualities you seek would manifest themselves in a candidate’s resume and background.
For example, individuals who are adept at overcoming adversity may have demonstrated that spirit in how they responded to a layoff. People-oriented extroverts may belong to a variety of business associations and community groups. Skilled communicators will likely design and organize their resume content in exceptional ways.
In addition, your interview questions can also reveal attitudinal characteristics. Looking for someone with customer service in their DNA? Ask about the most over-the-top service they ever delivered (the best service people never forget such stories).
Looking for someone with a sense of humor? Ask them about the time they laughed the hardest.
Whatever attitude you seek to hire, the key is to look beyond the words on the resume and search for more subtle clues about a candidate’s character.
4. Observe applicants when they think no one is watching.
Want to see a candidate’s true colors? Then see how they behave when they think no one is watching.
How did the applicant treat your receptionist? Did he strike up conversation with other applicants in the waiting room? Did he eat alone in the cafeteria or introduce himself to a table of strangers?
What the candidate says and does outside of the hiring manager’s view can give you a glimpse into their true personality (which may differ from how they present in an interview). Use these clues to help judge if the applicant will really be a good fit in the culture you’re cultivating.
5. Enlist today’s stars to spot tomorrow’s standouts.
Toward the end of the hiring process, see if it’s possible to have your job finalists spend some time shadowing existing employees.
This serves two objectives. First, candidates get an unfiltered look at the job they’d be performing, so there’s less chance of unpleasant surprises and post-hire buyers’ remorse.
Second, by pairing these finalists with the best employees (the ones who embody the desired attitude), your existing staff can help identify those applicants who have the right stuff.
Hiring for attitude is about building a distinctive workplace culture and company brand that, unlike skill sets, can’t easily be copied in the market. It’s what gives Southwest Airlines, Ritz-Carlton and Zappos their unique character -- and competitive advantage.
Follow the lead of these legendary firms as you look to recruit great candidates. Don’t just hire for skill; hire for attitude. It makes all the difference.
Jon Picoult is Founder of Watermark Consulting, a firm that helps businesses impress their customers, candidates and employees. Jon is a frequent writer and speaker on workplace issues. Prior to founding Watermark, he held senior executive roles in service, technology, sales and marketing at Fortune 100 companies. Learn more, or read Jon’s blog, at watermarkconsult.net.