Hiring for Attitude, Part 2: How to Catapult Your Success

Hiring for Attitude 2Do your interviews reveal insights on attitude?

In Part 1 of The Recruiting Division’s “Hiring for Attitude” series, we discussed the results of Leadership IQ’s Global Talent Management Survey, specifically how important candidate coachability is in hiring and retention. The survey revealed a low new hire success rate of only 19 percent when hiring managers don’t interview for attitude.

Technical proficiency is no longer the best focus in recruiting and hiring. The difficult economy that glutted the job market with experienced candidates changed the way companies built their workforces. Recruiters and hiring managers are interviewing differently now to find the best fit with their company culture and hire the top performers they need.

When you need to hire your next high-performing employee, be aware of what does and doesn’t work. Following are the keys to catapulting your hiring success rate:

  • Interview for attitude
  • Look for coachability
  • Ask non-leading questions
  • Use an answer key  

HootSuite CEO Ryan Holmes recommends over-preparing for the interview, paying attention to how the candidates treat seemingly lower-ranking employees such as receptionists (he calls it the secretary test), and adding an inconspicuous question to the job application to test attention to detail.

What you don’t do is just as important as what you do in your hiring process. Don’t focus on verifying technical skills to the exclusion of the more important attributes you need, including coachability, culture fit, and attitude.

Interview for Attitude

It’s tempting to spend the interview time discussing the candidate’s technical skills and abilities, looking for a match between the candidate’s experience and the requirements of the position. But you should only spend a small part of the interview verifying if the candidate can do the job, and the majority of the interview on gaining insight into the candidate’s morals, values, and attitude.

The Recruiting Division goes into this in our post “Start Asking Unique Interview Questions,” where we discuss assessing culture fit, personality, leadership qualities, and business acumen with carefully prepared questions.

Fletcher Wimbush, author of “Hiring Talented Team Players: A Guide to Getting It Right” and consulting firm founder of The Hire Talent, recommends focusing interview questions on the candidate’s work history. He urges interviewers to look for attitude by asking in-depth questions about why the candidate worked in previous positions, why he or she left, what former bosses would say about work performance, and what was liked or disliked about the work and company.

Look for openness, sincerity, honest evaluations of their feelings and motivations at work. Wimbush advises interviewers to go even further to get insight into candidates by asking them questions about difficult workplace issues, such as what they would do if a manager asks them to lie to a customer or who is at fault when sensitive information is left within reach of employees to see or read.

Remember to focus the interview on gaining the critical insight you need about all aspects of candidates, not just their technical expertise.

Look for Coachability

Leadership IQ revealed that one of the top reasons that new hires fail is lack of coachability. The most expert, technically skilled candidates won’t last long if they can’t take care of your customers, or get along with their bosses and co-workers.

If you are hiring today, you need to look for coachability in every candidate.

Do this several ways, starting with asking if they are coachable. Ask candidates point blank if they are coachable, if they have been coached, and if they are receptive to coaching.

Ask them to describe their experience with coaching, who their most influential coach is, and if they have an opinion about coaching and coachability.

Look for these signs of coachability:

  • Open to change – Listen for clues that candidates are open to change, including stories about personal change or going through change at work such as organizational change. Being open to change is important to be able to adapt to business needs.
  • Self aware – Check to see if candidates are self aware by asking about what motivates them, how they make decisions, and what they do in stressful situations.
  • Motivation – Ask about candidate motivations, what motivates them, when they lose motivation, and how they maintain motivation when things get difficult.
  • Willingness to learn – Look for willingness to learn in candidates’ work histories in the form of training, certification, and special projects. Ask if they are willing to learn new ways of working, new technologies, and new methods of sales, project management, or whatever line of work they are in.

In “Hiring for Attitude: A Revolutionary Approach to Recruiting Star Performers with Both Tremendous Skills and Super Attitude,” author and Leadership IQ founder and CEO Mark Murphy describes a five-part question series to use in interviews to identify coachability:

1.    What is your current or most recent boss’s name? Please spell the full name for me.

Murphy says this is an important first step in the series and is designed to make the candidate believe the interviewer plans to call the boss. Asking for the spelling of the full name in a formal way gives weight to this perception, and will elicit truthful answers to the following interview questions.

2.    Tell me what this person was like as a boss.

Murphy cautions that many candidates are reluctant to discuss bosses and employers and this step may need further probing questions such as “What’s something you wish your former boss had done differently?” and “What’s something you wish he or she had done less?”

This line of questioning is designed to give the interviewer a good idea of what the candidate wants from a supervisor and work environment. If the candidate indicates that he prefers to work independently and solve problems on his own, and the position is in a collaborative work environment with strong reporting requirements, there is a mismatch.

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If the candidate indicates she prefers regular input and feedback from a supervisor and co-workers, and appreciates how a team can be more productive than a single person working alone, there’s a match not only for a collaborative team environment, but also for coachability.

3.    What could you have done (or done differently) to enhance your working relationship with this boss?

This question is designed to elicit information about the candidate’s personal accountability and willingness to self-evaluate and make changes to improve. The answer will be a good gauge of how the candidate takes ownership in working relationships and how they strive (or don’t) to develop and maintain good working relationships.

4.    When I talk to this former boss, what will he or she tell me are your biggest strengths?

This is a good question to get information about what the candidate feels are important strengths at work and in working relationships. Interviewers should look for a match between their high performers’ strengths and what candidates describe as their strengths.

5.    Everyone has areas where they can improve, so when I talk to this former boss, what will he or she tell me are areas for improvement?

Murphy says this is an important question to reveal coachability or lack of it because it reveals if the candidate recognizes and accepts that there is a need for improvement and is willing (or not) to do something about it. He cautions that candidates who can’t or won’t discuss what a former boss felt they needed to improve upon don’t have an attitude of coachability and it’s a red flag in the hiring process.

Ask Non-Leading Questions

A leading question is one that suggests, or indirectly gives, the answer the interviewer is looking for.

“We have a team environment here. You’ve worked on teams before, right?” is not the type of question that will get an open, honest answer. It directs the candidate to answer yes or no, and cuts off further information.

Non-leading questions are not closed-ended questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” They ask who, what, when, and where.

We touched on non-leading questions in our post “Top Behavioral Interview Questions,” explaining that it’s important to stay away from vague questions and ask candidates about specific situations that occur in your company and in the open position.

How you ask questions during the interview is very important to avoid bias and giving subtle clues to the answers you want. Here are some example of non-leading interview questions:

  • What do you do in your current position?
  • What type of manager do you prefer?
  • Why was that a problem for you?
  • When did you learn Microsoft Office?
  • How do you feel about an open office environment?

Take non-leading questions a step further with probing questions like these:

  • What is the reason you did that?
  • Why did it upset you?
  • Where did you learn that?
  • Who did you work with?

Use an Answer Key

Leadership IQ strongly recommends using an interview answer key or candidate rating form to enable interviewers to accurately and consistently score candidates’ responses and quickly identify which candidates would be risky hires.

(They call top candidate characteristics “Brown Shorts” characteristics because of Southwest Airlines hiring process that includes testing candidates’ attitudes by asking them to change into brown shorts at interviews, but your company’s top candidate characteristics should be based on your company culture and what your top performers are doing best.)

An answer key utilizes the characteristics of current top performers that have been identified before the interview process by evaluating your top and poor performers, and rates candidates on whether they are a poor or great fit for each of the top characteristics.

The top performer characteristics should be tied to company culture and business strategy so that interviewers are precisely evaluating candidates on the most important aspects of business performance.

Overhaul your hiring process today with these four keys to hiring success and you will reduce your new hire fail rate dramatically. Stop focusing on technical skills and start interviewing for attitude, identifying coachability, asking non-leading questions, and using an interview answer key or candidate rating form. This shifts your hiring focus to identifying candidates with the right attitude for your business culture and strategy.

Watch for the third part of The Recruiting Division’s Hiring for Attitude series coming soon: 4 Steps to Skyrocket Hiring Success. We’ll show you how to get your hiring success rate up near 75 to 80 percent and turn your recruiting process into a competitive advantage.

Why New Hires Fail

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