Hire for attitude

Would the new approach to recruitment which is ‘hire for attitude’ be an easy fix to helping women through the talent pipeline?


We’ve all seen the meme adapted from Herb Kelleher quote “Hire for attitude, not aptitude. You can always teach skills ” but when have you actually seen that happen? This new approach to recruitment would be an easy fix to helping women through the talent pipeline right?

Not necessarily.

Hiring for attitude involves risk-taking and long onboarding with potentially a delay to tangible and measurable success. Research from Florida State University found that experience doesn’t predict a new hire’s success. They found no significant correlation between an employee’s prior work experience and their success in a new organization. In a review of over 80 studies they observed that when people had completed tasks, held roles, or worked in functions or industries relevant to their current ones, it did not translate into better performance.


Is it time to re-evaluate how we measure, value and assess candidate experience in the hiring process?

What we need to look at

What is clear is the following are no longer reliable metrics:

1. Time is not a measure of experience

Time is not always a measure of experience. You can get one year’s worth of experience in a month. We have certainly seen this in the pandemic when whole sectors pivoted at speed. Time passes it is true, but a lot depends on what a person does with that measure of time, so it can be a flawed way of assessing potential. Candidates with specific knowledge gained intensively over a short period can have a higher level of skill than a person with more miles on their tires.  Yet we continue to ask for 5 years, 10 years experience in job profiles which may have zero relevance in today’s markets.

We should especially stop asking entry-level candidates for previous experience. That is the whole point of being entry-level. It’s all about aptitude and potential. We should also stop factoring in biases around career gaps, which will help women and “job-hopping.”  This has no relevance in today’s job market.

2. Neither is previous role and education

Workplaces, industries, and whole sectors are changing at speed.  Knowledge and educational qualifications gained even five years ago might already be out of date. Yet we still insist on certain types of qualification and even that they are achieved in a certain order. A client with a strong background in cybersecurity, was discouraged from applying for a similar but more senior role in a large public body. Although they had a Masters qualification in the relevant sphere of interest, they did not have a Batchelor degree.

It’s time to assess our hiring requirements to avoid losing top talent.

3. Same sector

Very often organisations focus on same industry experience although this is loosening I think. I see more companies willing to include candidates from with out of sector backgrounds.

hire for attitude


Way forward

Mira Culic Griffiths, Coach, in a recent LinkedIn discussion posed the question on this topic “What concerns me also is that many people know that and still do the same old thing. What is stopping them to make changes and start hiring differently? Is it insecurity, fear of getting it wrong, being criticised, fear of change or something else.

My response is it’s all of the above. Hiring someone like you or similar is easier, quite often faster if an organisation uses a referral system and time is money. Time to hire is used quite often as a key metric in many companies to evaluate their hiring processes and in-house recruiters, rather than the success of the person in the role.  This means there is less enthusiasm to recruit diversely because it tends to take more time. Clone candidates are potentially also easier to manage if the hiring manager thinks they will  “fit into the team.”  We hire for cultural fit not cultural value. I have never heard of someone receiving an offer when no one liked them. Ever.

Source and retain the best candidates with our specialist services for Executive Search and Diversity Recruitment.

Change metrics

Instead we need to replace these short cut benchmarks based on experience and even education with:

  • knowledge
  • skills
  • traits

This means that Talent Development has to work more closely with Talent Acquisition to bring about a change to an organisation’s hiring culture to make hiring for attitude or potential a key criteria. Debra Feldman, Confidential Executive Search said  “How may hiring authorities know how to assess this talent AND are willing to take a chance on a candidate whose qualifications don’t match the original job requirements? A great leader is a visionary, is what makes them an exceptional leader.”  

That will help women?

Nope not necessarily

Women and leadership potential

Research from the University of Kent (2019) “Overlooked Leadership Potential: The Preference for Leadership Potential in Job Candidates Who Are Men vs. Women” led by psychologist Georgina Randsley de Moura found a consistent pattern. “When participants ranked male candidates, there was a preference for potential, whereas leadership potential was overlooked when they ranked female candidates.”

The research also reported that “Male candidates that demonstrated higher potential were perceived to have a more impressive resume, and were expected to perform better in the future than male candidates who demonstrated higher performance,  with the opposite being true for female candidates.”

The result of this unconscious bias in the recruitment process is that even when female candidates’ past performance matches that of their male competitors, they are held to higher standards in the selection process because their leadership potential is seen to be less likely to be recognized than men’s. Women will still be required to demonstrate leadership performance over leadership potential.

So even if the system is re-engineered to hire for attitude we still need to pay attention to the bias that may be shown against women.


Check out 3Plus Corporate Programs to create bias conscious cultures

Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she supports organizations to achieve business success via gender balance, diversity and inclusion. She is CIPD qualified, and a certified coach and trainer including digital learning.
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