Do you hire for APTitude or ATTitude?

Attitude or Aptitude

By Ken Schmitt and Vicky Willenberg

I met our first recruiter hire through a mutual friend. Not only was she a dynamic person with strong networking and interpersonal skills, she was a recruiting wiz. Her resume read like a recruiting guru and her track record for making successful placements was exceptional. Driving this decision to hire a dedicated recruiter was the continued expansion of our business. I could no longer run the operation, handle the recruiting, and take on all of the business development and marketing. Therefore, it was imperative that I find an experienced recruiter who could jump right in with little ramp up time and minimal training requirements – someone who really knew the industry, someone with the proven Aptitude to do the job.

Fortunately, our firm continued its expansion and we hired a second recruiter in mid-2013. Once again, we needed someone who knew the industry, understood what it takes to be a successful recruiter, and someone who could work independently, given our virtual business model.

Earlier in 2014, we came to the conclusion that some additional talent was needed. The success of my first two hires afforded me the time to invest in the training and development of our newest team members – a third recruiter and our first ever Client Relations Manager. It was clear when we met that although neither of them possessed the industry experience or recruiting/business development background, I now had the time to work closely with them in order to get them up to speed. At this point in our business, attitude, drive and personality fit were more important than hiring strictly for aptitude, and I finally had the time to train.

Timing is everything

There is no shortage of opinions on the best basis for hiring: Aptitude vs Attitude. Although industry knowledge, education, certifications and technical skills are important, there’s a lot to be said for a candidate’s proven ability to get things done. His or her natural propensity to work well in a fast paced and chaotic culture are extremely valuable assets, sometimes even more important than having already worked in the same position with a competitor. It is often our knee-jerk reaction to hire the same type of person that previously held the role we are looking to fill. There is also a tendency to hire people “like us” to get the job done. It is important to remember that in most cases the position, deliverables, departmental dynamic, reporting structure, technology and culture has changed since making the previous hire. Naturally, our hiring strategies must change as well.
In my experience both as a business owner and recruiting professional, I don’t believe there is one single deciding factor when it comes to relying on Aptitude or Attitude to make a hire. However, I always consider – and I encourage my clients to consider – the following 3 criteria when bringing on new talent.

1. Reason for the hire: Am I looking to fill a recently vacated position or am I creating a new one? Do I have the luxury of waiting to find the perfect fit from within the industry, or do I need someone sooner, perhaps from an ancillary industry?

2. Current make-up of the company or department: What broader skills – technical or soft – is the team lacking? Could we benefit from the addition of a different professional perspective or some innovative ideas from another industry? Do we have anyone in the department that hails from our target customers who can provide some unique insights?

3. Amount of time available for training: If you are focusing more on attitude than aptitude, you must allocate more time for training. Are you available to provide that training? Does your current onboarding program include hands on, industry professionals to mentor and develop the new hire? Does your 30/60/90/180 day onboarding plan allow for a longer ramp up time? Will your current infrastructure (including staff) allow you to step back from your day to day role, in order to focus your attention on bringing your new hire up to speed?

The worst possible situation is hiring for Attitude, while applying an “aptitude-based” onboarding strategy. There is no quicker way to frustrate your new hire than to expect them to know everything, while providing them with nothing.

There is no question that the best candidates possess extensive aptitude as well as a professional and “easy to work with” attitude. In an ideal situation, we can hire for both. It is up to us hiring managers to determine whether we have the time to invest in our attitude-based hires, or whether our sense of urgency and availability requires an aptitude-based approach.


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