Hiring For Attitude

Lessons from CEDIA Business Xchange
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The next time you bring a job candidate in for an interview, consider this: he or she is probably better trained at being interviewed than you are at conducting interviews.

During last month’s CEDIA Business Xchange conference in San Diego, author Mark Murphy spent day one of the two-day event teaching attendees how to “hire for attitude,” rather than on credentials and gut feeling alone. He not only reminded all of us that we’re probably terrible at conducting job interviews, but that most candidates are even better at the process, having harvested the best tips from educators or online resources. Fortunately, there’s a nearly foolproof way of asking questions to find candidates that match your company’s best qualities.

In his book and accompanying presentation, “Hiring for Attitude,” Murphy uses a story about Southwest Airlines hiring managers asking highly distinguished pilots to demonstrate their fun side. As anyone that has flown the airline knows, Southwest prides itself on having fun, so even when hiring its pilots, it looks to achieve that goal in the most efficient way.

A Southwest executive told Murphy that during its group interviews of potential pilots, an interviewer would ask candidates if they’d like to get more comfortable by changing into “brown shorts” that they had available for them. Understandably, a good number of the pilots were taken aback. The ones that said, “Thanks, but no thanks,” were shown the door and the ones that changed into the shorts were asked to continue through the process.

That story was the basis for Murphy’s charge to other business owners to identify their own company cultural traits that they wanted to build around when hiring new employees and deciding who should stay or go within their organization. The goal, he said, is not to adopt Southwest’s specific culture, but to understand what makes your company unique and to hire for the employee attitude that makes that happen (while also meeting technical and experience qualifications).

You start by identifying a current employee in your organization who really represents your culture and a time when he or she did something that exemplifies the right attitude. Then, hire for that same attitude, reward current employees for it, and train for it.

Build interview questions around your “brown-shorts” characteristics, identifying “differential situations” to flesh out those traits. The key to all of this is creating up to four very open-ended questions that begin with the words, “Could you tell me about a time when…” then insert the situation that you have identified.

For example, if you’re a company that prides itself on managing angry customers, then ask, “Can you tell me about a time when your boss gave you an assignment and you didn’t know what to do?”

Don’t ruin the question. Leave it awkwardly open-ended, so you get a real answer. It takes a lot more effort, but before long, you finally will be better prepared for interviews than your potential employees.