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.

2 thoughts on “Hiring for Aptitude and Attitude

  1. Tim Flood


    Another great post! Usually you can teach technical skill development. But that’s not so easy when it comes to attitude. Attitudes are not skills — they’re personal traits or characteristics. An attitude is not so easy to turn on or off. I think we pay far too little attention to the importance of attitude in a service organization. Thank you for this contribution.

    Tim Flood
    Stanford University

    1. Joe Sabado Post author

      Thanks Tim! In past interviews, I was asked this question – “Would you have issues working with folks that are more technical superior than you?” My answer was, “if I was the most technically knowledgeable person in our organization, then we’ll be in trouble.” My point is that as a manager, I definitely love surrounding myself with folks who are smarter than I am. What I didn’t say at that interview was that it’s not so much that I have issues with more technically talented folks working with me, it’s the “i’m special” attitude that I have trouble with. Oftentimes, technically savvy employees are excused in their behaviors because their skills are valuable.

      However, at the end of the day, I still want a team-oriented and customer-service driven person working with me.


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