Decisions 60df27f766e23

One Job, Two Good Candidates—Would You Hire for Attitude or Aptitude?

July 1, 2021
The best person for the job is not always obvious.

It might seem silly to narrow candidates down based on a single ability or trait. Based on decades in the industry, though, I can say very genuinely that the ability to manage one’s attitude is a more valuable asset than aptitude.

You might be saying, “Really? What about digital fluency? Tech skills? Communication?”

I get it. Those things are vital as well. Psychology and manufacturing, meanwhile, may sound as much of a pair as peanut butter and steak. But if it involves a computer, a machine, or a process, it can be trained for with relative ease. Attitude, on the other hand, is notoriously hard to influence—and one of the most important aspects of productivity.

A Personal Lesson on Hiring Adaptable Workers

I’m speaking from direct experience, here. Many years ago, my company was looking to hire a new employee; we found that two candidates fit the role, but in different ways. One was highly qualified for the role: she had the technical skills that mapped everything we wanted; her resume was spotless—flooded with related experience. That doesn’t happen often so, needless to say, my hiring team was impressed.

The other candidate was a young woman with great potential and amazing personal skills. She was able to empathize with others and appeared to navigate the high level of emotional intelligence with ease. Her communication was ideal. No matter who she interviewed with, she was asking the right questions, and even countered our questions with questions of her own — showing she was a critical thinker.

We decided to bring both onto our team. By that time next year, only one remained: the worker with great personal skills.

I wondered why.

In this particular case, the personable worker had proved to be adaptable. Things come up in the workplace all the time. She proved she was able to navigate situations with grace, shifting course as needed. Alternatively, the skilled worker found it harder to adapt to our company’s processes and communication styles in place. Because she’d had so much proven success before working with us, she often found it challenging to adopt our existing processes already in place for the team. She became a challenge to manage and communicate with; a bit hard-wired.

Ultimately, you can teach someone how to operate a piece of machinery if they are willing. But the most highly adaptable people will often thrive, regardless of skill level.

Now, this isn’t to say that this happens in every case. Hiring a skilled worker is not like putting a target on your back. Many skilled workers are intrinsically adaptable and personable, too. However, I’ve found that in many cases when someone’s performance is lacking, it’s not a lack of technical skills. It’s attitude. When someone receives a performance review, they’re given very direct feedback. It’s up to them to internalize the feedback, make changes, and adapt.

Turnover can be very expensive for a company, so hiring the right people in the first place is critical.

What to Look for

How does an employee approach his or her day? What happens when they’re confronted with a problem or conflict? Are they more interested in what they're giving or what they’re getting? Are they open-minded about improving or confident that they’re good enough already?

These differences in attitude are what hiring managers should look for when trying to fill roles in manufacturing, both for today and for the future. After all, most people can be shown how to operate a machine or software program. Few people can impart true benefit to their environment without a degree of self-awareness.

If you’re still finding it hard to marry the ideas of manufacturing and self-awareness, that’s understandable. There was a time when no one saw this coming. Currently, however, globe-spanning think tanks and firms like Deloitte and Pearson are falling over each other to figure out what the future of work will look like, thanks to the speed at which exponential technologies are emerging and changing the landscapes of entire industries.

And what are they finding? That “hard” skills are increasingly transient, and "soft” skills — or “personal habits and traits that shape how you work on your own and with others” — are what’s worth investing in when it comes to human capital. So, while yesteryear’s employees could appreciate such skills, and while they’re a major asset to the workforce of today, they will be an absolute necessity for the talent of tomorrow.

This all goes beyond hiring, too.

Hiring is just the first step in a long journey. Attitude will also determine the altitude of success that employees are able to reach. Even if there was a way to fake a great attitude for an interview, the actual results of their work later on will speak for themselves. That’s the whole point, in fact — humility and perseverance aren’t about impressing anyone, they’re about operating efficiently and productively in a human-centric, team-oriented framework.

Maybe “human-centric” doesn’t seem so reminiscent of the manufacturing sector, but the reality is that workplaces — not just in manufacturing, but especially in manufacturing — are changing at an unprecedented pace. In order to stay relevant as employees and organizations, we have to be able to adapt in an equally fast and flexible manner. A pandemic has given us a taste of that, forcing us to adjust to new routines, processes, and expectations. It’s also given us a great opportunity to practice self-awareness — to view the necessity of change as opportunity rather than hardship.

Once upon a time, learning a key skill for the workplace would ensure our job for two to three decades. Now, we might wake up to find our most technical abilities being automated into irrelevancy. It’s time the word is spread — attitude and self-awareness are the new keys to the kingdom of manufacturing.

Ted Pawela is chief customer officer at Altium. He has extensive knowledge and experience in marketing at a leadership level and a strong technical background with broad functional experience in software companies. Ted has served in the roles of chief operating officer and chief marketing officer.

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