One of the most overused cliché’s in the main stream is “when building a team, hire for attitudes and train for skills”.  Articles from Harvard Business, Forbes, and other well known places all seem to support this mantra.  In Mark Murphy’s book Hiring for Attitude, he stated that 46% of newly hired employees will fail within 18 months, mostly attributed to non-technical or non-skill related items.

Although I do not completely disagree with this premise, I believe that the statistics are flawed.   It is certainly true that most employees are fired for non-skill related items,  however this in itself does not prove that attitude is more important than skill, only that attitude should be looked at equal to skill.

Take for example the story of Rudy Ruettiger as told in the motion picture ‘Rudy”.   As the story goes, Rudy had a dream to play for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team, despite being 5’6” and 165 pounds – scrawny compared to successful football players at that level.  After his 4th try getting into Notre Dame, Rudy was admitted and eventually earned a spot on the college’s scout team – a practice squad that helps the varsity team practice for games.

Obviously Rudy showed the right attitude just to get on the scout team.  His pure focus and dedication, even with a lack of skill, was admirable and recognized.  That being said, would Rudy ever be considered an ‘A’ player for the team? Doubtful.  Should the Notre Dame coaching staff make Rudy the star player of the team because of his attitude?  Doubtful.  Is attitude really more important than skill?  NO!

So the question is why the statistics show that most people are hired for skill and are fired for attitude?  Simple – most recruiters and hiring managers focus on skills because they really don’t know how to deal with attitude.   Their process and questions focus on skills and leave attitude off the table.  Sure, we have behavioral based interview questions, however most interviewers inadvertently misuse these questions.

What this points out to me is that skills and attitudes must be treated similarly – both have immense value – yet our comfort zone is on skills.  Understanding how to get the bottom of a candidate’s attitude should take as much time, if not more than, testing them for skills and accomplishments.

The problem is that recruiters generally are conditioned to focus on identifying skills and not attitudes.  Our most common sourcing tools are skills based.  Most hiring managers focus on the skills evident on the resume. Job descriptions are primarily skills based.

Recently I asked 13 recruiters and hiring execs how they identify “initiative” in the candidates that they interview.  Although this ‘soft-skill’ was listed throughout their job descriptions, and used time and time again in their verbal descriptions of the ideal candidate, none could quantify how they identify this attitude.

2013 should not be year of focusing entirely on attitude as the book Hiring for Attitude describes.  The real focus should be on providing recruiters and hiring execs the tools and training they need to identify the skills AND the attitudes that will increase the probability of a candidate’s success.  It’s time to get away from these crazy ideas on one over the other, and focus on getting to the real solution – the right candidate with the right basic skills, that has the right attitude.

Come back soon for the 5 steps to making this happen!