Hire for Attitude, Train for Skills

Team celebrating business success

“Experience,” the top job requirement on nearly every job posting, isn’t always an absolute necessity. In fact, “Experience Required” could actually be a barrier to landing great employees.

At Inspire Results, we coach clients to “hire for attitude, train for skills.” Skills can transfer from one industry to another but character aspects—like work ethic, values, and attitude—come with the human package and are typically not trainable.

Whether your company does CNC machining to elevator installation or manufacturing to marketing and IT services, you can respond to skilled labor shortages by seeking first things like ‘being a team player,’ ‘has a positive outlook,’ and ‘takes accountability.’

Derek and Erin Hammer are long-time clients of Inspire Results and have demonstrated this beautifully. The Hammers, who own US-based Hammer MetalWerks, take this advice to heart and are reaping the rewards of an attitude-first hiring approach.

“Our laser operator and brake press operator had never used those machines in their life before working here. But they were intelligent, familiar with computer systems, and had a positive attitude to learning, so we hired them based on that,” said Derek, President.

Derek and Erin, Vice-President who also functions as HR Director, have found that you can train and upskill an employee who has a good attitude… and that benefits the employee as well as the company.

How to Hire for Attitude, Train for Skills

You may be asking how to hire for attitude and train for skills when many of the qualities are hard to measure. How do you know if someone has them?

The answer is “Behavioral Interviewing.” Instead of traditional interview questions like, “What are your strengths?” or “Would you say you hold yourself accountable?” use ‘Behavioral Interviewing’ techniques. Behavioral interviewing is based on the premise that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior, so you ask candidates to tell you about specific situations they’ve encountered and how they navigated them.

Say you want everyone in your company to have a strong sense of Accountability. The behavioral question you could ask in the job interview is—“Tell me about a time when the boss was nowhere to be found and the work came to a halt. What did you do?”  If the candidate says, “I waited for the boss to show up and told her we were at a standstill and I asked her what we should do next,” then, you know this person isn’t going to fit in your culture. But if he says, “I was pretty sure I knew what the boss would want us to do next so I took a chance and started doing it,” it’s a pretty sure bet you’ve got someone who’s a self-starter. Here’s another example of a question to uncover whether someone has a sense of Accountability—“Tell me about a time when things didn’t go well on a prior job or project and you stepped up and admitted your part in the ownership of the problem. What was the situation, what did you say and do, and what was the result?”

To phrase your questions, use the STAR approach—ask the candidate to tell about the Situation, the Tasks involved, the Actions they took, and the end Results. The more detailed their descriptions, the more helpful they are… and the more likely they are to be true.

In a behavioral interview, unless you’ve got a real talker, Be prepared to ask follow up questions so that you get all the STAR details, like—

    • So that was the situation; what did you say or do?
    • What else did you do?
    • How did it work out in the end?
    • What was the final result?
Sample Questions You Can Ask to Hire for Attitude

To hire for attitude and train for skills, think of your mission, vision, and values… which characteristics are most important in the job you’re hiring for? Here are a few examples along with possible behavioral questions you can use—

Being a team player

    • Think of a time when you worked with a difficult co-worker. How did you handle it?
    • Describe a time you worked with a team that didn’t get along well. What was the situation, what did you say and do, and how did it work out?

Organizing skills

    • Tell me about a time you had multiple tasks that had to be done quickly. How did you manage it and what was the outcome?
    • Describe a time when you were given a task to complete but the previous work was a mess or there were few resources and you had to straighten it out before you could complete the task. What was the task, the mess, and what actions did you take?


    • Describe a situation where you made an error. How did it happen and what did you say and do?


    • Tell me about a time you made a mistake that cost the company money. What was the error and how did you handle it?
    • Think of a time when you knew a co-worker was doing something untruthful. What were they doing and what did you do? How did it impact your relationship?


    • Talk about a time you had to go ‘above and beyond’ to get the job done right. What was the task, what actions did you have to take, and how did it turn out?
    • Tell me about a career goal you set and made. What obstacles did you encounter and how did you finally accomplish it?

And here’s a unique value along with the behavioral question… a restaurant owner the other day said he can find people but they all seem to love drama. Now, one of his values is ‘no drama’ and he finds people who aren’t interested in spending time and energy stirring the pot by asking, “Describe a situation where you got pulled into office gossip. What did you say to the person sharing the gossip, what was their reaction, and what happened in the end?”

Next time you need to hire, instead of saying “Experience required,” try “Positive attitude and strong sense of accountability required; will train for skills.”

Derek and Erin Hammer are reaping the rewards of a “Hire for attitude; train for skills” approach.

Call one of our business coaches today for more details on how your company can implement a hire for attitude; train for skills approach for your specific job needs.


Brian Kemple, Business Coach

With 30 years of experience across all areas of business in the Automotive, Industrial, and Life Sciences, Brian has led his clients through a multitude of challenges and opportunities in organizational turnarounds, downsizing and combining organizations, as well as the construction of new facilities. To book a complimentary business analysis, go here , or email  Brian@InspireResults.com.


Inspire Results Business Coaching

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