To Hire or Not to Hire

To Hire or Not to Hire

Guest writer John Dowling writes on the conundrum we face when considering whether to hire or not to hire as he weighs what matters more: skill or attitude.

Herb Kelleher and Simon Sinek have been quoted saying, “You don’t hire for skills; you hire for attitude. You can always teach skills.”  I believe most of us would agree with the above statement. At least in theory, if you are a hiring manager, most of you would like to say that you always hire for attitude and not just skills. The statement sounds great, but is it true in reality? Some jobs require some skills: heavy equipment technician, accountant, and engineer. There are such things as skilled labor, skilled jobs, or skilled trades. We would all agree that a candidate must have certain skills to succeed in a position.


What about experience? We talked about skills and attitude, but what about experience? How does experience weigh in on your decision to hire a candidate? We would all agree there’s a difference between a journeyman technician with 20-plus years of experience and a technician who just graduated from college. I need to get to the point: what should we look for in the candidate in the hiring process? And how important are skills, attitude, or experience? To keep things simple, at least for this blog’s sake, we could include experience under skills. Moving forward, we can discuss how important skills and attitudes are in the hiring process.


As mentioned, many of us would say we do or strive to hire for attitude. If we’re honest, most of us probably hire for skill over attitude. Why would we go against a principle, that is, to hire for attitude over skill, something that we believe to be true? Why do we always, or at least most of the time, hire for skill over attitude? How do I know this to be true? I have been a technician, service manager, branch manager, manufacturer field rep. and director of product support. As I read job descriptions for service managers and after reviewing all their qualifications or skill sets required for the job, I realized according to the job description, I wouldn’t even qualify for the job. Even though I know I’m overqualified and could do the job with my eyes closed. 


Why do we hire skills over attitude? Because we are lazy. Yes, I said it or, better yet, typed it. When we hire for skill over attitude, it is because we do not want to do the hard work of training, mentoring, and coaching. We do not want to do the challenging and demanding task of teaching the skill.


So let me try to tidy this up; a dealership has a couple of branches with service departments performing well and one underperforming. All three branches are in good markets, have new facilities, and have great brands, but the one service department is always lagging behind the others. After some investigation, they discovered they had two all-star service managers and one service manager struggling. Now, it’s easy to see where they could wrongly conclude that the issue is the service manager. Here’s the real issue: there are not enough all-star service managers to go around. That’s when we hire for skill. It would be great if we could hire another all-star service manager and move on. But in most cases, the dealership will terminate the service manager, hire another one, and repeat the cycle repeatedly, eroding employee satisfaction, which correlates to customer satisfaction. The department continues to decline because they cannot find another all-star service manager. 


Have you ever wondered why every professional baseball player does not make the All-Star team? Because only the All-Stars make the All-Star team—only the best of the best. If your business plan or strategy is only to hire all-star players, you will become frustrated and have a bloated payroll. Hiring only all-star employees, be it a service manager, parts manager, or store manager, to solve your performance issues is not a wise or prudent business decision.


Why is it not prudent to hire all-star employees to solve your problems? Because all-star employees don’t last very long. They either get bored with your inefficiency and lack of leadership, or your competitor offers them more money. Or to be frank, they will **** everybody off in your company, and you will be constantly dealing with HR complaints. This is not to say that all-star employees are bad, but rather to highlight the importance of a balanced team and the potential pitfalls of over-reliance on a few individuals.


Here’s another drawback of hiring all-star employees, or we can say hiring for skill instead of attitude. All-star employees will win at all costs. They will always find a way to be successful, even in an inefficient and poorly run business. Highly skilled employees will mask the true issue. For example, with our underperforming service department mentioned above, the issue wasn’t the service manager. The issue was poorly developed processes and procedures. The average service manager is set up to fail, and only high-performing, highly skilled all-star managers are the only ones who would have an opportunity or chance to be successful in that department. Here’s the point: as leaders, we must take the responsibility to develop processes and procedures that allow average to mediocre employees with great attitudes to shine. This gives us a more balanced team and opens a world of untapped potential in all employees, empowering them and making them feel responsible for their success. 

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