Hiring for Aptitude and Attitude

I believe a key factor in hiring the right person for the job is to have the proper mix of  interviewers to be able to assess an applicant from different perspectives .  Just recently, our department (technology service provider for Student Affairs) went through a hiring process for a database developer.  We were looking to fill a position to provide support for our developers in setting up and managing databases. In my role as the head of the unit consisting of developers,  I was assessing the applicant from the customers’ perspective.  Joining me in the interview committee were other co-workers who were more technical in nature (server admin, database manager).  To be consistent with all applicants, we have a set of questions we ask each candidates. These questions consist of technical and behavioral questions.

After one of the first interview sessions, I wasn’t fully satisfied with the applicant in terms of his attitude towards working with other developers who he will be providing service for. I felt like I did not get enough information about how he would approach certain situations, specifically how we would react when there’s a conflict between he and a developer. As I reviewed the set of questions, I noticed that there were only about 3 behavioral questions within the approximately 15-20 questions we asked, as all the other questions were technical (e.g. database optimization, security, database design models).  I offered the suggestion that we should add more behavioral questions to get a better understanding of how the applicants in terms of his customer service attitude. Interestingly, one of my co-workers who is member of the interview committee (server admin) said this “Anyone with half a brain can fake an answer to a behavioral question”, essentially dismissing the value of behavioral questions.  I disagreed of course. At the same time, I realized that he was assessing the applicant from a perspective he was comfortable with and feels essential for the job. In a sense we were  both right in that the applicant had to have the technical competence but also the customer-service driven attitude, although we were both emphasizing one over the other.

From personal experience, I have worked with very technically competent co-workers but not-so-good customer service attitude. Unfortunately, working with these individuals have proven to be very difficult and in some cases demoralizing.  Given a choice, while technical competence has to be considered, I would rather take someone who has the right attitude. In my opinion, technical skills are easier to teach, bad attitude is harder to fix.