Hiring for Attitude Q&A with Leadership IQ CEO, Mark Murphy

A Q&A with CEO Mark Murphy

Q: We hear it a lot… company X did a great job hiring a highly skilled worker, only to later discover that the new hire was a terrible fit for the organization. Why do so many interviews fail to assess whether a candidate will be a good fit?

MM: When our research tracked 20,000 new hires, we found that 89% of the time new hires failed, it was for attitudinal reasons, not lack of skill. One of the reasons is that most organizations have no test by which to assess attitude, and many have no concrete idea of what the attitudes they should be hiring for even are. You can train for skills and technical competence; but you can’t train for “attitude.” You have to interview and hire for attitude. 

Q:  Are technical and soft skills less important than attitude?

MM: It’s not that technical skills aren’t important, but they’re much easier to assess. That’s why attitude, not skills, is the top predictor of a new hire’s success or failure. Virtually every job, from neurosurgeon to engineer to cashier, has tests that can assess technical proficiency. But what those tests don’t assess is attitude; whether a candidate is motivated to learn new skills, think innovatively, cope with failure, assimilate feedback and coaching, collaborate with teammates, and so forth.

Soft skills are the capabilities that attitude can enhance or undermine. For example, a newly hired executive may have the intelligence, business experience and financial acumen to fit well in a new role. But if that same executive has an authoritarian, hard-driving style, and they’re being hired into a social culture where happiness and camaraderie are paramount, that combination is unlikely to work. Additionally, many training programs have demonstrated success with increasing and improving skills—especially on the technical side. But these same programs are notoriously weak when it comes to creating attitudinal change.

Q: How has the hiring landscape changed?

MM: Between the labor pool from China and India and the fact that there are so many workers sitting out there unemployed, we can find the skills we need. The lack of sharp wage increases in most job categories is further evidence of the abundant supply of skills. Technical proficiency, once a guarantee of lifetime employment, is a commodity in today’s job market. Attitude is what today’s companies are hiring for. And not just any attitude; companies want attitudes that perfectly match their unique culture.

As the focus on hiring has shifted away from technical proficiency and onto attitude, it’s precipitated a lot of tactical changes in how job interviews are conducted. For example, the new kinds of interview questions being asked are providing real information about attitude instead of the vague or canned answers hiring managers used to get. Smarter companies are less likely to rely on the old standby questions like “Tell me about yourself” and “What are your weaknesses/strengths?” Companies now have answer keys by which to accurately rate candidate’s answers. And today’s interviewers are listening to candidates’ verb tense and other grammar choices to make accurate determinations about their future performance potential.

Q: Where are companies finding candidates with the right attitudes?

MM: According to Leadership IQ’s latest research, the most successful companies are finding their best people in what we call “The Underground Job Market” through employee referrals and networking. Organizations are starting to realize that the high performers they already have fit the attitude they want and that these are the people they should be asking to help find more people just like them.

Given that data, it seems like candidates should be networking in every way possible—including social networking. But too many job seekers are “needworking” and not networking. That is, their approach is: “I need work, or a lead, or an introduction from you.”  Needworking inquiries typically get dodged and for good reason. However, high performing job seekers who are truly networking are saying “Here’s how I can I add value to your organization” and going from there. These are the folks you want to pay attention to.

Q: Attitudes change as workforce dynamics change. What happens in this case?

MM: The attitudes for which organizations should hire are not abstract or based on a theoretical ideal, but rather are the characteristics that separate high and low performers.

For example, Southwest Airlines, Google, Apple, and Four Seasons are all great companies with high-performing employees who live the organization’s key attitudes every day. And low performers, who struggle with those attitudes, are typically rejected by these organizations’ respective cultures. All these companies hire for attitude, and it’s a big part of what makes them so successful. But these companies’ attitudes are very different from each other−they couldn’t successfully emulate each other’s attitudes.

Every company has to discover the attitudes that make their organization unique and special. And even if the company’s attitudes change over the years, those attitudes will always be an organic reflection of their most successful people.

For more on how to recruit for attitude and write job ads that showcase your unique culture, join us for our upcoming webinar Interview to Land the Best Talent.



A professional corporate writer with over 20-years’ experience crafting just the right words for executives to use in challenging situations, Lyn is a passionate and adept qualitative researcher. Her seasoned skills as an interviewer make her quick to identify the unique attitudes and behaviors that define an organization. Lyn’s extensive expertise in public relations and persuasive communications translates strongly in her contributions to Leadership IQ’s custom-training programs.

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