Attitude or experience? Making the right hires for your business

Updated: Nov 13, 2019

Last week I was onsite with a great client of mine – taking their leadership team through a workshop on having challenging conversations. Through our conversations of handling topics of under performance – one Manager identified she felt she had team members who didn’t have the capability to do their role – which led her to question, were we setting TM up for failure? Would they never meet the expectations because they simply couldn’t do the job?

Like most small businesses who are looking to grow – you might find it challenging to find talent with the experience you think you need. Perhaps you are not quite at the stage of being able to offer a competitive salary that matches said experience. Of course we have all heard of the growing skills shortage, and yes there is a big war on talent right now – but is focusing on experience alone the biggest mistake you can make when hiring?

When I was 19 years old – I was managing a Flagship store that turned over in excess of $120,000 every week. I had a team of 50, two levels to manage, a brand who specialised in volume apparel. In short it was a massive role to undertake. When I was 22, I was an Area Manager – looking after 8 stores and travelling the upper north island of NZ regularly, at 25 I was the National Manager of 24 stores and a small head office. My point is not to brag about all of my achievements at a young age – but to point out that I was a true example of attitude over capability. I was totally and 100% engaged in this companies’ values and mission and totally committed to being the best I could be.

Was I the best Store/Area/National Manager – no! Was I doing roles that were beyond my capability at that time? Absolutely! And did I have the experience to do those roles – definitely not! But I truly believed in what we were trying to achieve, and this company so heavily invested in my development that any issues were able to be addressed constructively and rectified. It wasn’t all smooth sailing by any means but for 8 years I was totally committed to my journey and making this company successful in NZ.

The companies that have the most success with their employees in my opinion are those that:

  • Look for potential and attitude first and then look at experience

  • Are strong communicators that can clearly identify what success looks like in their business

  • Are able to have challenging conversations around performance

  • Understand that the majority of the time – under performance is down to how the Manager has handled and not communicated the situation clearly!

  • Understand how to interview candidates to identify if they have the right attitude for the business

When you hire for attitude – you recognise that experience doesn’t guarantee success, and that identifying candidates who can grow within your business is a great strategy for encouraging trust and loyalty by investing in developing candidates, developing potential leaders, and people who will positively impact and grow within your business.

Sounds great – but how do you hire for attitude? Or as the Manager above said – how do I know someone is going to go over and above at the interview stage to get the skills they need?

Look for the personal attributes:

Going through your job description or dream list of experience and attributes a candidate will bring to the role – ask yourself honestly next to each one – is that trainable? If the answer is yes then depending on where you are at with your business that may be a negotiable for what a candidate brings to the table. Remember you can’t train character – so if for your business the need to collaborate is essential then hiring someone who openly identifies as preferring to work alone but has spot on experience may cause some issues down the line.

Has the candidate been promoted/moved into another role or noted any developmental programs they have gone through? These are all insights that a candidate is willing to learn and is motivated to grow.

What can be transferred?

The idea that someone will have worked with all the same programs as your business is probably not realistic. However if a candidate shows proficiency with a similar program – it can mean they will be quick to pick up programs that you use.

Or if you need someone that has experience negotiating on cost price, what other roles may include that skillset? What product is similar that could work for you also? When you start looking outside the square of what that perfect candidate looks like – you will find a plethora of candidates ready to kill it in your business.

Ask competency-based questions during the interview

We all know not to ask closed questions during an interview but you will be surprised how many DO – or the question is asked in such a leading way that the candidate starts to answer based on the prompt not actually on their experience or opinion! Before the interview, you should know what you want to ask – and have a series of situational based questions that ask the candidate to draw on a time they displayed X attribute.

Make sure you ask the questions that answer any concerns you have and be up front about what you are concerned about – this allows the candidate to alleviate these or just be aware the expectation will be to develop in this area.


More and more companies are using a form of personality or psychometric testing to give them insights as to how a candidate might react in a normal situation vs a high pressure/stress one.

These are great value to the hiring process but should be taken with a grain of salt unless you are trained in analysing the results! And they shouldn’t be used in isolation to determine the firing outcome.

I would love to hear from you about some great hires you have made when you chose attitude over experience!

If you identify with any of the people issues outlined above – we should talk, as a Culture and Leadership Coach we can work with you to identify what culture success looks like for you!