How hiring for skill alone can hurt your business.

Apr 10, 2022

The problem is a good one- you are too busy to be able to do handle the workload with the staff you have so you need to hire.  Where to start?


First off, design the position and define how the person would be spending their time to help propel the team and business forwards.  If this is something that you yourself have been doing, tease this out from the other tasks you have found yourself doing.  If you are replacing someone who has departed the team, take a few moments to consider what was working and what wasn’t working in that role regardless of the level of success of the person in that role.


There is a certain amount of baseline skills and/or abilities that are needed to function in the role you have designed.  These are non-negotiable basic things such as clean criminal or motor vehicle record, reliable transportation, being legal to work in the area, and basic experience in the tasks that the role demands.  The pitfall that so many leaders fall into is being enamored by a long resume filled with years and years of experience in exactly the role that needs to be filled.  It is so tempting to focus on these seemingly critical skills to get traction towards a backlog of work or to simply ‘check that box’ of hiring (after all, you have a lot more things to be doing!).  This long list of experience may show a long list of really bad habits that are so well engrained that learning anything new is going to be an immense challenge.


I have seen it happen over and over again that hiring for skill alone though seemingly a profitable and easy decision, can quickly lead to disaster.  2 weeks into employment, this super experienced person has somehow found the ability to upset everyone on the team, the suppliers and affiliates of the company.  In addition, there is now attitude and bad habits that are eroding the culture that you have spent so long building!


So, what do we do as leaders? We need a proper way to screen and filter out the bad seeds to the best of our abilities.  The mantra is: Hire for fit, train skill.  Remember those skills that you listed out when designing the role? This is a road map, not a filter. 


Here are some other ideas which can help:


The absolute most important skill that is key to pretty much any role is the ability and willingness to learn.  There is absolutely no substitute for this.  Close behind this is the interest in caring about what one does and its impact on others.  This is not something that can be taught…they either give a rip or they don’t.  This was either instilled in the applicant by their upbringing or it wasn’t.  Listen for this in conversation and do everything you can to dig this out!


Next is the focus on values and motivations to determine alignment with your business and team.  Consider a values assessment such as ranking top character traits on a scale of 1 to 5.  These are great conversation openers during an interview, for example “I see you have listed timeliness as your #3 value, what is it about timeliness that is important to you?”


I have found that during the initial phone conversation, it can be important to mention this values assessment. For example “We do things a little differently here and hire for fit and not just skill.  I would like you to bring this completed document along with your application to the interview.”  This is a simple request that is not often agreed to.  The applicants who actually refuse to do so filter themselves out pretty quickly.


Next, when looking through the applications and resumes, consider the scrapper.  Education is important, college degrees do have value as this shows a willingness to see commitments through.  Life lessons are learned through the school of hard knocks and can develop strong coping skills and resiliency.  The present day attitude of an applicant who has gone through a major life challenge and holds themselves in a respectable manner might be a better fit than the ivy league grad student who has had everything in life handed to them.  Adversity is a great teacher and resiliency is a fantastic attribute to add to any team.


Above all, trust your gut.  If something strikes you as not right with this applicant, move on and don’t doubt yourself.  Better to keep turning down work than to hire the wrong person- not only can it be an expensive financial mistake, but repairing relationships and team culture can be an immense challenge worth avoiding.


Need a list of character traits or interview questions? Drop an email, we would love to help!