Tip #585: Which is More Important for New Hires, Knowledge or Attitude?

“Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.” Lou Holtz

I recently read an article about why it is important for training to be designed to focus on attitude, then skill development, and only then on knowledge. This would certainly be a departure from common wisdom in training. However, it is worth considering both from a training perspective and from a human resource perspective when screening job applicants.

Knowledge and skills are concrete and can be measured. Years ago, when I was a human resources professional writing job descriptions and designing screening examinations for job applicants, it was important to identify the job duties and the knowledge and skill (KS) sets required to perform those duties. Only the job applicants with the prerequisite knowledge and skills would survive the screening and be certified as potential hires.

We did not screen job applicants for their attitudes because it was so subjective we had no idea how to measure it. However, ability could be measured. We could screen job applicants on their ability to show, by word or deed, that they were competent to apply the requisite knowledge and skills. So, in the human resources world, KSA means Knowledge, Skill and Ability.

Today, the prevailing thought is that it is much more important to hire people who have good interpersonal skills and then train them in the knowledge and skills they need to perform their jobs.

We learned through sad experience that it was relatively easy to give a new employee the knowledge to handle calls in a call center. It was less easy to ensure that the new employee had the skill to apply that knowledge.

And it was very difficult to teach that person to have the proper attitude. We needed them to enjoy helping others- by being kind, considerate, a good listener and an effective problem solver. If the new hire did not have the proper attitude, there was not a lot that we could do, either as supervisors or as trainers, to change that attitude.

As a result, many companies now screen potential employees for their (A) attitudes. Common interview questions include:

“Describe a time when your work was criticized and how you handled it;” “Do you prefer working in a team or alone?;” “Give a specific example of a time when you had to conform to a policy with which you did not agree;” and “Describe a time when you faced a difficult situation with a co-worker.”

The job applicants’ answers to these questions will reflect their attitude toward criticism, teamwork, compliance and conflict. This gives a good idea of the applicants’ potential success on the job and in the organizational culture.

May your learning be sweet.


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