Hiring for Attitude

Hiring for Attitude: A Revolutionary Approach to Recruiting and Selecting People with Both Tremendous Skills and Superb Attitude, Mark Murphy, (New York: McGrawl Hill, 2012).

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Hiring for Attitude Synopsis

In Hiring for Attitude, Mark Murphy distills the research his consulting firm, Leadership IQ, performed across 20,000 new hires to understand what makes high performers. He addresses the common misstep of hiring the most skilled candidates by showcasing the other factors that contribute to new hire failure. Additionally, Murphy makes the case for why attitude is the most important factor to consider when screening candidates. He provides tools for recruiters and hiring managers to create the types of questions that will identify high performers from low performers. The tools also help create questions that will elicit honest answers from candidates rather than rehearsed answers.

Key idea #1 – 5 reasons why new hires fail

According to Murphy, there are five main reasons why new hires fail. They typically lack one or more of the following things:

Coachability – This refers to an employee’s ability to accept, internalize, and implement feedback from different organizational stakeholders. When employees are unreceptive to feedback, they are uncoachable. If they are uncoachable, they are unwilling to adapt to change.

Emotional intelligence – An individual’s ability to read and understand people’s emotions is key to managing their interactions with others. Individuals who cannot understand others will miss important cues and create fraught relationships with their colleagues. This can lead to team members feeling that the employee is difficult to work with.

Motivation – An unmotivated and unengaged employee will simply not stack up against an employee that is. Employees need some form of motivation in order to be successful.

Temperament – The employee’s attitude and personality play a factor in their success. Sometimes, there’s a mismatch between the employee’s personality and the type of personality needed for the role.

Technical competence – The last factor is simply whether the employee possesses the skills to do the job. If they do not and lack the motivation to learn, they will continue to be unsuccessful.

Key idea #2 – Attitude is bigger than skill

In the book, Murphy’s research indicates that 89% of the time an employee is a bad hire is due to attitude. As illustrated in the reasons they fail, technical competence contributes to only 11% of the failures. Everything else points to attitude.

One way of avoiding bad hires is for leaders to make a list of characteristics of their lowest performers. This will help them identify characteristics that contribute to low performance and that are specific to the roles within their organization. Common examples of low performer characteristics include lack of initiative, feeling of entitlement, and resistance to change.

Key idea #3 – Who you shouldn’t hire

Murphy proposes that the two types of people you shouldn’t hire are:

  1. People whose attitudes do not fit the organization’s culture.
  2. People who have problematic attitudes.

Alignment is key in an organization because it allows everyone to focus on the same things. Having employees whose attitudes are not aligned with the organization breeds problems. This is the case even if the individual is incredibly talented.

Murphy also proposes that performance is a function of skills and attitudes. The result of these to factors is four types of individuals: the bless their hearts, talented terrors, low performers, and high performers. Talented terrors and bless their hearts are also individuals that leaders should not hire.

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Key idea #4 – 3-3-3 Exercise

In order to hire high performers, leaders need to be able to identify differential characteristics. These are the attitudes that separate high performers from everyone else. This will help leaders understand, within their organization, what predicts success and what predicts failure.

To do this, Murphy provides readers with the 3-3-3- Exercise. Simply write down the attitudinal characteristics of the 3 best and 3 worst employees within the organization over the past 3 years.

From here, leaders can develop interview questions that help determine whether candidates possess high-performer characteristics.

Key idea #5 – Behavioral interview questions

Murphy equips reads with extensive tools for crafting the right types of interview questions that identify top performers. The book refines the importance of good behavioural questions that elicit honest truths about the candidates rather than canned responses. For example, asking a question like “Tell me about a time when you had to overcome a challenge, what did you to do succeed?” has an obvious tip-off. These questions are useless as they trigger the candidate to respond with rehearsed answers. Instead, interviewers need to ask behavioural questions with no prompts for the candidate.

Key idea #6 – Creating effective interview questions

The book offers four steps for creating strong interview questions. They are:

  1. Pick one of your high-performer characteristics
  2. Identify different situations that can elicit high performer characteristics. High performers will respond differently than low performers in these situations. For example, when asked to learn a new tool, high performers will embrace the opportunity while low performers will resist change. When paired with questions, these scenarios are useful for identifying high performers.
  3. Ask questions such as “Could you tell me about a time you [insert situation identified]”
  4. Leave the question hanging. For example, do not add “and how did you overcome the situation?” to the question. This is an example of leading the candidate on, which will only give managers rehearsed answers.

Key idea #7 – Verifying coachability

In addition to creating strong behavioural interview questions, the book also provides five steps for interviewers to use on a candidate. These questions should be asked to the interviewee in this specific order.

  1. What was your boss’s name? Please spell their full name for me – This question is important and is meant to be a psychological trick. By asking for the spelling of the candidate’s boss’s name, the candidate will believe that the interviewer will in fact speak with their boss. By doing so, the candidate is more likely to provide honest responses rather than rehearsed responses.
  2. Tell me about [boss’s name] as a boss
  3. What is something you could have done to enhance your relationship with [boss’s name]
  4. When I talk to [boss’s name], what will he/she say your strengths are?
  5. We all have areas we can improve. What would [boss’s name] tell me are your weaknesses?

Key takeaways

  • Attitude is the most common reason that someone is a bad hire.
  • The five reasons why new hires fail are their lack of coachability, emotional intelligence, motivation, temperament, and technical competence.
  • Managers need to create interview questions that will help them select high performers by identifying differential characteristics.

Hiring for Attitude author Mark Murphy

Mark Murphy is known as an employee engagement expert. He is the author of numerous best-sellers, including Hundred Percenters: Challenge Your Employees to Give it Their All and They’ll Give You Even More, and The Deadly Sins of Employee Retention. He is also the co-founder and CEO of Leadership IQ, a leadership training and employee survey firm that focuses on mid-sized organizations and the healthcare sector.

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