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Hire for Fit, Not for Skill

team at a business working well together because they are the right fit

I’ve been talking with a lot of teams lately about hiring. Some of these teams have already hired people and want to know how to put them to use, others are considering a hire and want to know what they should look for. I think the way we traditionally go about hiring people is all wrong-here’s what I mean: Traditionally we put out a job description, page through resumes to find the ones that ‘meet the criteria’ and then meet with the ‘best’ candidates to determine if they are ‘a good fit’. The problem with this approach is three fold:

First, the idea that you will get to know if someone is a good fit from a 30-60 minute interview is misguided-most people are preparing and planning to make a good impression during the interview and will be showing you their “best behavior”.

Second, the approach of hiring someone based on their skills is short sighted-skills are one of the easier things to develop when compared to attitude and instincts (more on this in a minute).

Lastly, we hire and expect people to know what to do from the minute…

Skills, Attitude, or “Fit”- take a moment to mentally rank these in two categories: difficulty of development and importance to job success.

When hiring, remember that skills are more easily built than behaviors! I get a lot of questions from my clients on who they should hire and how they should select their teammates. It’s certainly not a simple answer, but most of my clients make a fatal mistake right out of the box-they focus intently on skills rather than behaviors. What’s the difference and why should you care? Skills are those things that can be taught-you learn the fifty states and their capitols, you learn mathematics, you take the series 7 (and pass), you learn to read, etc. Skills can be taught-that’s why we have schools and why most people make it through with the basics they need to move through the world. Behaviors are a different story-lets break the idea into two parts: instinctive and affective. Affective behaviors are better known as feelings or temperaments-there is debate over whether these are learned or innate but for the sake of this discussion lets focus on that they are most regularly situational-the expression of these temperaments.

Hire for instincts, consider attitude and teach skills.

The most common question I get from clients on the topic of hiring is “what kind of person do I need?” My advice is this: hire for instinct, pay attention to attitude and teach skills. Skills are most often what my clients focus on because they are the easiest to measure. I believe in the importance of skills, and I also believe that they are the easiest of the three (attitude, skill, or instinct) to come by. Most educational systems around the world are set up to teach basic skills-math, reading, writing, etc.-you practice the concept and develop the skill. Yes-some people are more equipped to use the learned skill (think Ted Williams and hitting a baseball) but we can all learn the basics. I’m confident that most if not all the skills that we see on a candidate’s resume are things that can be taught.

Attitude is also important-and most interviews focus on how someone communicates. Are they are outgoing or shy? Easygoing or stubborn? The interview shows if you can ‘get along’ with the candidate-their attitude. The problem with this is that most interviews last no more than an hour-I don’t know about you but even the biggest curmudgeon can put on a happy face for an hour. Considering that no one has the same mood ALL the time, candidate attitude in an interview isn’t the best predictor of job success or ‘fit’ over time.

This brings us to instinct. Instinct is the most innate of the three-its ‘baked in’ when we are born. What is it? It’s the way you take action on something-it’s your “flow state” where things happen naturally-sometimes seemingly effortlessly. It’s how you gather and communicate information, it’s how you organize and structure, it’s how you interact with the physical environment and it’s how you approach new situations. Because its baked in-it is the least changeable of the three and it is what I spend most of my time working on figuring out in an interview.

When you are looking to hire-I suggest that you should have a job in mind-a job that requires certain skills as well as certain instincts. You wouldn’t want to hire an analyst who only looks at the big picture and does not get into the nitty gritty of due diligence. Nor would you want a salesperson who has to follow the same script each time-unable to flex their style and read the audience in the moment. A compliance person who is always looking for shortcuts or ways to get ‘around’ the system is a lawsuit waiting to happen. A person with the wrong instinct for the job is like a square peg through a round hole-increased burnout, absence, frustration and did I mention lower productivity? Someone who lands a job that is not aligned with their instinct may be able to do it for a period of time but with great effort and a higher likelihood of failure-leaving you at square one.

So what is one to do?

  1. Create a job description with both skills and instincts desired (what’s being done and how to do it)

  2. Determine which of the above are “must haves”- reminding yourself that skills are easier to develop than attitude or instinct.

  3. When interviewing, ask questions about what makes the candidate happy, what their best boss did for them and how they solve problems (ask for examples).

  4. Select your hires based on how they solve problems and devote the time to building their skills-you’ll save yourself money, time and productivity in the long run.

Hiring people with this approach will get you closer to that “right fit” you’ve been looking for-a happier employee doing a job that they are instinctively equipped to do well, and a better functioning team.


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