Recruit for attitude and aptitude, train for skills

One of the most common topics of conversation in MD2MD peer network meetings is the challenge of recruiting and retaining great people.  Not an easy task at the best of times. Today, when there is near full employment and good people are in great demand, it is even more challenging.

Following discussions in our meetings, a tip which has emerged and is recommended by most members, is: “recruit for attitude and aptitude, train for skills.”

Recruit for Attitude

In a detached, rational discussion, recruiting people with the right attitude sounds like the obvious thing to do.  When you pause and think you realise that attitude is what leads to problems with staff. Whether that is someone with a fundamental ‘attitude problem’ or a more subtle mismatch of expectations.

One problem is that mismatches of expectation can occur despite best intentions.  The individual may be a great person that you, the employer is keen to recruit.  Excellent.  Yet, sometimes you could appear too keen to recruit. You may offer too much money, perhaps to counter a competing offer.

In doing so, you convey the message that the business is desperate for the services of the employee. Not a problem per se, but if the message is conveyed too strongly, sometimes the recruit can sense the situation and consciously or unconsciously take advantage.

That can end in tears.  What do you do as the enthusiastic employer who has championed the great new member of staff when, sensing their power, they behave alongside colleagues as though they deserve special treatment?  Too often the great new recruit is able to ‘get away’ with behaviours that the rest of the team can’t. That never ends well.

So, when recruiting, work hard to understand the recruit and their motivations. Make sure that their reason for joining, and your reason for recruiting them, are balanced, matched and based on a healthy, equal relationship between yourself as employer and them as employee.

Train for skills

Now – the most common mistake. You may be looking for someone to join your company who can already do the job. Someone already doing the same role elsewhere… A perfect fit it seems…

Sadly, that is rarely the case. If the recruit is already doing the job, ask yourself why they are changing role?  There can be many reasons and some are valid – like a family relocation. Many are not.

Do you really want an employee who only wants to carry on doing what they already can do? Someone who is only changing for say, more money?  The answer could be yes.  You need someone happy to ‘just do the job’ and for some reason they are worth more to you than they are to their existing employer.

That said, please explore each part carefully. Too often recruiting the person who’s already doing the same job elsewhere proves to be a mistake.

I would suggest that, most of the time ambitious businesses need ambitious employees. People who are eager to develop by taking on new challenges. So, in most circumstances, my advice would be you will do better by developing someone with potential into the role.

Choose someone with the right broad, basic background, the aptitude to learn and the ambition to do so.  Dependent on whatever level is relevant for the role of course – clearly you can’t expect a school leaver to suddenly acquire masters degree knowledge and skills.

Recruit for Aptitude

Fortunately, this is easier to recognise.  When recruiting, you need someone who has the right fundamental aptitude to be able to develop quickly the skills you need.  So, when you are recruiting, rather than recruiting someone already in an identical role, look for someone who has the right fundamental aptitude and skills. Ordering drugs in an over the counter pharmacy today is easy, but it is important to read the reviews of real customers and check for all the necessary certificates.

If you need someone to write words for your website, don’t just look for someone who is already writing websites.  It may be that a former journalist, or an English graduate who can write good English and is keen to learn web management, is a better bet than an experienced, yet bored web copywriter.

It doesn’t always apply in every role.  Sometimes you need a perfect fit now, in a hurry. If you feel that’s the case, just double check. Why is that the case? How did you end up in this situation? Why, other than money would anyone leave their existing employer and join you? If it is money, why are you paying more than they are prepared to pay someone they know well?

Please just double check. I observe, from working with a few hundred business leaders, that the mantra “Recruited for attitude and aptitude and train for skills” seems to work far more often than trying to recruit the person who appears to fit perfectly immediately. There’s usually an unhelpful reason why they are prepared to leave where they were before and join you.

Written by Bob Bradley, founder of MD2MD

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