Hire for attitude | Louise Gapp


Stephen Hawking knows a thing or two, doesn’t he?

I’ve not seen his CV so I’m not sure he’s cut out for procurement but I wouldn’t hesitate to have him on the Cedar pub quiz team.

When Hawking wrote that “Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change”, he could have been describing the modern job economy. It’s widely accepted that most of us working today will work in more roles than our parents and in many cases, in more than one career – perhaps as many as six according to some estimates.

Last month, PwC estimated that 10m British workers are at risk of being replaced by robots in the next 15 years. And although we’ve all had a retail experience where a robot would be an upgrade, finding 10m jobs in a challenging economy is no laughing matter.

Imagine a field like taxi-driving where automation and AI may make 300,000 people redundant in pretty short order. Suddenly moving 300,000 from gainful employment into dole offices or retirement would be painful for all of us – not just those directly affected by a robot rover replacing them. Re-training for new careers will become a fact of life for those affected.

The reason I bring this up is because a number of candidates have recently asked me whether the ‘hire for attitude, train for skill’ maxim which came to the fore in recruitment five or six years ago is still as relevant in today’s businesses.

The theory behind the words is pretty straightforward – that you can develop skills in people but it is much harder (some would say impossible) to get people to change their mindsets and attitudes.

Because we’ve all worked with people who were decent at their job but impossible to get along with in the office, the theory gained a lot of traction, very quickly. The idea became a consensus – that we should be looking for people who can fit in, as much as people who can just get on with it.

In actual fact, this was a bit of misconception. As the originator of the idea, Mark Murphy, says, “It’s not that technical skills aren’t important, but they’re much easier to assess.”

So the hiring process today is often skewed towards assessing the attitude of candidates instead – is the candidate motivated, can they think innovatively, are they collaborative, can they cope with feedback well? And because training programmes can be very effective at teaching technical skills but are less proven at changing attitudes, recruiters are very keen to ensure that they have found the right cultural fit.

Murphy also makes the point that one company’s idea of a good fit is not another’s. This bears my experience out. I can work for two different companies looking to fill a similar role at the same time but a candidate who I think will work with one may not be suitable for the other. Put another way, the Aztecs and the Apache both have strong cultures but that’s not to say you’d fix them up on a blind date.

Because technical skills and experience can often be assessed on paper, through previous experience and qualifications, it is often at interview stage where attitude becomes a focus. Sophisticated companies will listen for everything from grammar choice to verb tenses.

My advice is not to worry too much about this – better to be yourself, let the recruiter see the real you and allow them make their own assessment. Displaying an openness to learn and adapt will serve you much better than presenting yourself as cookie-cutter version of what you think your prospective new bosses want. No surprises that Stephen Hawking was right about intelligence all along…

About the author

Louise Gapp, Partner, Head of Procurement Practice, at Cedar

Louise GappLouise has over 12 years’ experience in the procurement and supply chain industry and holds an executive personal network spanning multiple categories and industries. Her specialisms include tailored relationship management, bespoke sourcing solutions and matching best of breed talent with like-minded clients. Louise’s integrity has built long standing and trusted relationships with both clients and candidates whom she works closely with as a preferred delivery partner. Louise is passionate about the industry having gained significant achievements across multiple sectors and brings a wealth of knowledge to Cedar.

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