Don’t Tell Me About Yourself: What You Really Need to Know About Job Candidates

It used to be if you had the skills an employer needed, especially in IT, it didn’t matter if you had the personality of a disgruntled badger. As long as you got the job done, nobody cared what you thought about your job, your company or your coworkers.

But the rules have changed. It used to be that IT skills were practically a guarantee of lifetime employment, but between the global labor market and recent high unemployment rates, the supply of available IT candidates is exceeding demand for almost every job.

Employers aren’t just looking at your skills anymore. In this “buyer’s market,” they’re looking at your attitude, too.

In a Leadership IQ study of 20,000 new hires over a three-year period, 46% failed at their new position within their first 18 months.  Why? 89% of the time, it was because they had the wrong attitude. Technical skills barely made the list.

What do you mean, attitude?
In this case, attitude means how the job candidate approaches their work and how they handle any problems that may arise.

So when you interview, don’t just ask someone to tell you about themselves, or ask what their strengths and weaknesses are. Most candidates will give you the same type of answers,  which won’t help you narrow down the field.

Try behavioral questions instead – but not just any. For example, a typical behavioral question is: “Tell me about a time when you had to adapt to a difficult situation.”

The word “adapt” is going to skew your results. You’re asking to hear about a time the candidate “adapted,” instead of how they solved the problem.

You want to find out if a candidate is a ‘problem bringer’ or a ‘problem solver.’

So how do you hire for attitude?

Here’s how the best companies do it: first, they identify the specific attitudes that will create success in their unique cultures and environments. After all, that disgruntled badger type may do really well in a company that encourages people to work autonomously in small cubicles. Let’s use Southwest Airlines, and their well-known culture that encourages fun on the job, as an example.

A former Southwest executive tells a story about a time Southwest was hiring for new pilots, who tend to dress formally for interviews and come across as very serious.  The Southwest interviewer asked the applicants if they’d like to get comfortable in a pair of Bermuda shorts.

The shorts were part of the Southwest summer uniform, but many of the pilots declined the offer—apparently it seemed too ridiculous. And that told Southwest that these folks may have been perfectly good pilots, but they weren’t going to fit into Southwest’s culture.

Of course, just putting on the shorts was no guarantee of a job, but it was the first step for the hiring manager to determine the applicants’ attitudes.

It probably wouldn’t be appropriate for your company to offer people a pair of shorts. But think about Southwest’s example when you create a list of the key attitudes that define your best and worst people. Then model your interview questions around those attitudes, and it will help you determine, before you make the hire, who will (and won’t) succeed in your organization.

Want to know more about how to find the right employees? Contact Employment Professionals Canada. We’d be happy to share our expertise!