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Hiring for Attitude: Why 81% of New Hires Will Fail

Hello. Goodbye.

This is a painfully expensive problem. Actually, it’s an epidemic.

According to Leadership IQ’s Global Talent Management Survey, a shockingly low percentage of new hires succeed in their new positions. The study assessed thousands of companies across a range of topics, including leadership, engagement, retention, recruiting, and culture.

Leadership IQ’s three year study involved more than 5,000 hiring managers and found while hiring managers often focus interviews on skills, a lack of technical skills accounts for only 11 percent of new hire failures. The study revealed that only 19 percent of new hires go on to achieve success.


Technical competency is the wrong focus

Busy hiring managers and recruiters often fixate on verifying technical skills. Leadership IQ’s study claims this is a formula for failure.  More than 80 percent of new hires have the technical skills, but fail.

Technical skills are easy to evaluate. There are many tests hiring managers use, including asking candidates to actually perform the work of the position to make evaluations on the spot. But the research makes it clear technical skills are not the most important skills employers need to assess.

Top reasons new hires fail

Leadership IQ reviewed hiring tactics, new hires’ performance, personality, and potential, and compiled the reasons new hires fail (terminated, leaving under pressure, receiving disciplinary action, or getting negative performance reviews).

New hires failed for these reasons:

Coachability – Coachability is the number one reason new hires fail. 26 percent of new hire fail due to their inability to accept feedback from those they work with, including bosses, colleagues, and customers.

Emotional intelligence – A close second to lack of coachability is lack of emotional intelligence. 23 percent of new hires fail due to their inability to understand their emotions, and those of others.

Motivation – 17 percent of new hires fail due to lack of motivation. They lack the drive to succeed and excel in the job.

Temperament – 15 percent of new hires fail because their  attitudes and personalities are unsuited to the functions and tasks of the job and conditions of the work environment.

Ineffective interview tactics are to blame

Forget about interview clichés like “Tell me about yourself” and “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” If you are scripting your interview questions from books like “101Great Answers to the Toughest Interview Questions,” you need to stop.

Don’t rely on gimmicky questions such as, “If you were a tree, what type of tree would you be?” or leading questions like “We have a team environment here. You’ve worked on teams before, right?

These are not going to reveal if the candidate is coachable, has emotional intelligence, and is motivated to succeed in the position with your company.

To develop the interview questions that are going to be effective in getting the valuable insight into candidates you need, start by looking at your current employees.

Define the high-performer attitudes you want.

Look at your best employees, the ones with outstanding performance and great attitudes. Make a list of up to 10 things that make them high-performers in your organization, such as being collaborative, meeting commitments, or any other traits that make them valuable.

Define the low-performance attitude.

Look at your current employees again, but this time look for the ones who are “difficult” or “troublemakers,” or have some other negative association. List the top things that make them low-performers or less than desirable as employees and co-workers, such as being inflexible, always arguing, or avoiding responsibility.

Your list should provide a valuable framework from which to craft effective interview questions designed to reveal the types of candidates you want to hire—or not.

How to spot coachability

Do you know how to spot coachability in a candidate?

Look for candidates who are open to input and constructive criticism from bosses, peers, and workgroups. These people can make appropriate adjustments in their attitudes and work habits for the good of the company as well as their own careers.

Coachability is an important trait in candidates and employees because it indicates the ability to be flexible and adaptable to your business needs and the requirements of the job. It also indicates a willingness to learn, take advice, and control emotions.

Derek Lauber of Lightbox Leadership suggests asking candidates if they have been coached, what  their experience with coaching has been, and what they think about it.

Leadership IQ suggests a good way to reveal candidate coachability or lack of it is to ask candidates to describe their former boss, as well as what their former boss would say are their strengths and weaknesses.

Open answers from a candidate reveal an ability to accept and appreciate input, while negative or non-answers such as “I don’t really know what my former boss would say are my weaknesses,” indicate some inflexibility and warrant further questions.

Hire for attitude

The key to reducing high hire failure rate is to revisit your processes and focus on hiring for attitude. This doesn’t mean you don’t pay attention to technical skills. Just don’t make technical skills you main focus.

How do you know if that candidate in the conference room has the “right attitude?

In “Hundred Percenters: Challenge Your Employees to Give it Their All, and They’ll Give You Even More,” Mark Murphy says unless you have a very well-defined corporate culture like Southwest Airlines (whose culture is “fun”), you’ll have to do research to figure out what the “right attitude” is for your company.

Southwest airlines candidatesSouthwest Airlines takes it to the extreme. They test candidates for attitude and adaptability to their culture by asking them to change into brown shorts or clown suits when they come in for interviews.

Murphy suggests surveying your frontline employees about high and low performer traits you identified. He recommends asking employees and management about high-performer and low-performer issues, situations, and consequences to provide valuable insight and a foundation for developing attitude-focused interview questions.

What to ask when you’re hiring for attitude

If you want to get to the heart of candidates’ attitudes and how they compare to the high-performers, you need to ask questions related to how your high-performers act.

For example, if your top-flight salespeople consistently keep in touch with your best customers by phone, email, and in person, ask sales candidates how they build relationships with customers. If they say they send an email when there hasn’t been an order in a couple of months, they don’t have the same attitude toward customers as your top performers.

If your best engineers are collaborative idea generators, ask candidates how they work on teams, share information, and get new ideas for projects. If they describe working collaboratively within a diverse team to exchange ideas and research what others are doing in similar areas, they may be a good fit.

Murphy advises leaving questions open to get better insight. Ask the candidate, “Tell me about a time you”:

  • Worked on a team to achieve a goal
  • You got feedback
  • Faced competing priorities
  • Lacked the skills or knowledge to complete a job

You could develop something like Southwest Airlines’ “Coat of Arms.” Used during the selection process, Southwest’s questionnaire is focused on assessing attitude.

Peter Carbonara, writing for Fast Company, describes companies who hire for attitude and train for skills.

  • Silicon Graphics looks for people’s passion and fun sides in the selection process.
  • Doubletree Hotels asks candidates “Tell me about the last time you broke the rules” to reveal who will fit within their culture of freedom, informality, and flexibility.
  • Nucor Steel, hire for attitude not with questions, but with observations from monitoring construction sites, hiring the plumbers and electricians with the best work habits and practices.

However you do it, start hiring for attitude. Your new hire fail rate will drop and your hiring success rate will increase. Most importantly, you’ll build the passionate and engaged workforce your company needs to grow and compete.

Learn how to take your hiring success rate to new heights by asking the right questions.
> Read part two of our “Hiring for Attitude” series now.

Why New Hires Fail

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