Hiring for Attitude or Competence? - an interview session

Are you hiring for attitude or competence? This is fancy for asking: would you rather hire for soft skills or hard skills. Before picking a side, shall we consider the pros against the cons? Assumptions are expensive.

Would you hire for Attitude or Competence?

Let’s say you put out an ad for an entry-level role and you invite tons of applicants for interviews. After the rigorous process of screening candidates, you were left with two candidates.

Both have the basic knowledge for the role and the academic qualifications. However, one has more experience and the hard skills required but does not have communication skills. This candidate would rather work alone and not meet deadlines often; you perceive this candidate as not empathetic. On the other hand, the other candidate has no tangible experience; the gauge of the knowledge bank of this candidate reads low, but he has basic soft skills. 

Your company’s financial capacity cannot shoulder two new employees at that moment, so you can only pick one. Who do you employ?

Speaking with three Hiring Managers, if they would be hiring for attitude or competence, we got these opinions:

HR A: Definitely competence. I can work with a bad attitude, so far the person can get the job done.

HR B: I would hire for attitude. I’d rather encourage and motivate an employee to be better. I do not want to put myself in a position where I have to exhaust more time and energy making up for the mistake I hired. (Ouch!)

HR C: Why would I want to employ competence and a knowledge bank who may have a sense of entitlement? That whole baggage is nothing compared to hiring a positive attitude that I can train and teach to be an indispensable asset to the company. Eventually, I’ll be happy to move this hire up the growth ladder.

Should you hire for Attitude or Competence?

Statistics say that 80% of employers look out for attitude; that is, soft skills that any job seeker should possess and be able to use to attract opportunities. These skills are not necessarily learned formally but are acquired as circumstances arise. Candidates with these skills are said to have potentials. On the other hand competence, in this context, refers to the capabilities we can deliver based on what we learned in our professional career.

Whether you offer B2B or B2C services, think about your customers or clients. If your employees have to relate with customers directly, how would you want your company to come off to them? What do you want your customers to sell to potential customers within their space?  “Oh, they are good at what they do, but I don’t like them, they’re grumpy” or “They were a little slow, but I like them, I feel so comfortable around them and I trust them.”

Most of the skills that build up to create potential in individuals include drive, resilience, team spirit, eagerness to learn, finesse, organisation, communication, etc. 

Things to note when it comes to evaluating behaviour while hiring;

“Attitude is like the foundation, a solid one, for competence to sit on”. So employers can build upon it by training their employees. Attitude as a foundation is deeply rooted in the soul, it is innate, it cannot be easily pulled out. So, the thing is, a building without a foundation is just a castle in the air.

This is however not to excuse candidates that have all soft skills and zero hard skills (if they exist); actually, it is almost impossible to have all soft skills and zero hard skills. There should be essential hard skills that every job seeker should possess. Balance is very important in making decisions in this kind of sphere.

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