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Updated Mar 13, 2023

Hiring for Attitude Over Experience: What the Numbers Show

Although skills and experience are important, studies show that employers should prioritize a candidate's attitude during the hiring process.

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Skye Schooley, Senior Lead Analyst & Expert on Business Operations
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The hiring process can be tedious, often requiring quite a bit of legwork from your human resources team. For example, you must create an accurate job description, post it on applicable job boards, filter resumes, screen and interview job applicants, and then ultimately select the best candidate for the job. But how do you determine who the best candidate is? While many employers place high importance on an employee’s skill set and experience, experts find that this may not always be the best way to evaluate and compare job candidates.

Instead, employers often find better success in hiring for attitude over experience – that is, looking for a candidate that exemplifies your ideal employee and fits in well with your company culture. A candidate with a good attitude and a desire for learning and growth can be a great hire if you are looking for a long-term employee. 

The history of hiring for attitude vs. aptitude

A debate about hiring for attitude versus aptitude has developed over the years. Nearly every job posting includes the type of experience an employer is seeking, which makes sense considering that companies want to locate applicants who have already demonstrated a certain level of skill in that particular industry or role. 

However, many of those same ads reference “soft skills” that have little or nothing to do with experience, such as being a team player or being willing to learn. Both the experience (hard skills) and the attitude (soft skills) are given high priority in the initial job opening ads.

The debate comes to light during the interview and hiring process.

Although the initial ads highlight soft skills and personality traits as important parts of the job applicant’s qualifications, during interviews, many hiring managers focus on hard skills and experience because they are easier to discuss and judge. As a result, many applicants end up being hired based exclusively on their experience rather than on their attitude.

The importance of hiring for attitude over skills

Although some positions may require a very specific set of skills or experience, prioritizing job candidates’ attitudes is also important for several reasons.

Employees with good attitudes see long-term success.

Studies show that skilled and experienced employees with rotten attitudes fail quickly while employees with excellent attitudes succeed in the long run regardless of prior experience. This finding has been demonstrated across a wide range of industries, positions and salaries.

Here are a few eye-opening statistics on employee success, from LeadershipIQ:

  • 46% of new hires fail within 18 months.
  • Only 19% of new hires succeed over the long term.
  • Of new hires who don’t last, nearly 90% lose their jobs due to something involving their attitude or personality (e.g., lack of coachability, poor emotional intelligence, low motivation or a bad temperament).
  • Only 11% of new-hire failures lose their jobs due to technical incompetence.
FYIDid you know
Long-term employee retention is essential to your bottom line. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, a bad hire can cost you 30% of that employee's first-year earnings, and other HR agencies report this number to be much higher.

Skills can be taught, but attitude cannot.

Through professional training and development, you can teach employees new techniques and skills, allowing them to grow within your organization. However, attitude is hard – if not impossible – to teach. It can be difficult to fix an employee’s bad attitude, especially if they don’t want to change it. Those with good attitudes, on the other hand, are more receptive to learning and growth, which is what you want in a long-term employee.

Employees represent your company to your customers and clients.

When you’re hiring someone who will interact with customers or clients on a routine basis, it’s crucial to hire for attitude. Employees are the face of your company, and they represent your organization when speaking with your customers or clients. An employee with a bad attitude can quickly give your organization a bad reputation or result in negative online reviews, which can be hard to recover from. [Are people saying bad things about your business or products online? See why it’s important to respond to negative reviews.]

Employee attitudes affect your company culture.

In the current job market, many job seekers are prioritizing company culture, so it’s important for employers to place a high priority on hiring employees who fit well with the company culture. Employers can do this by carefully evaluating employee attitude during the hiring process.

FYIDid you know
Company culture can affect employee recruitment, engagement and retention. Learn how to improve your company culture with these 10 steps.

How to hire for attitude

You can take certain measures to evaluate job applicants’ attitudes during the hiring process:

  1. Establish what type of attitude is needed for the job. Different attitudes are better suited for particular roles and teams, so it’s important to clearly identify what type of employee attitude is needed for the specific position you are hiring for. For example, when hiring for a sales role, you might want an employee who is charismatic and doesn’t take no for an answer. However, this type of attitude may not be necessary for a graphic design role.
  2. Ask them questions that reveal their attitude. It can be helpful to ask questions like, “Can you tell me about a time you failed?” But instead of focusing on the specific details of their failure, listen to how they frame their response. Do they take ownership of the failure and show a growth mentality, or do they blame others and speak bitterly?
  3. Enlist help from your team. You can get a more holistic view of someone’s attitude by having multiple people assess it. For example, how did they treat the receptionist when they checked in? You can also give the candidate a tour of your office so they can meet other employees, or have select employees sit in on an interview, to assess whether the candidate is a good fit for the company culture.
  4. Favor internal promotions and employee referrals. It is easier to understand an employee’s attitude if they already work for you. Instead of taking a risk on a new hire, it may be helpful to promote from within your company. Employee referrals are also a great way to gather insight on candidates’ attitudes.

Determining whether to hire for attitude or experience

Although it’s clear that attitude should play a major role in your hiring process, there may be some instances when skills and experience really are of utmost importance. In that case, you may want to consider hiring freelancers to design websites, create content or code for you, for example. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself when determining whether attitude or skill set should rank higher:

  • Will this be a long-term employee, or is it a short-term project?
  • Will this worker interact with other employees, customers or clients?
  • Do you have time to train the employee, or does this specific project or role require an immediate skill set or expertise?

Although this isn’t a comprehensive list, these questions can help you determine what to evaluate during the hiring process.

Adam Toren contributed to the writing and reporting in this article.

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Skye Schooley, Senior Lead Analyst & Expert on Business Operations
Skye Schooley is a dedicated business professional who is especially passionate about human resources and digital marketing. For more than a decade, she has helped clients navigate the employee recruitment and customer acquisition processes, ensuring small business owners have the knowledge they need to succeed and grow their companies. In recent years, Schooley has enjoyed evaluating and comparing HR software and other human resources solutions to help businesses find the tools and services that best suit their needs. With a degree in business communications, she excels at simplifying complicated subjects and interviewing business vendors and entrepreneurs to gain new insights. Her guidance spans various formats, including newsletters, long-form videos and YouTube Shorts, reflecting her commitment to providing valuable expertise in accessible ways.
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