Recruit for Attitude, Train for Skill in Practice

Recruit for Attitude, Train for Skill in Practice

One of Happy’s key principles is “Recruit for Attitude, Train for Skill” – but what does this mean in practice?

You may have seen the TV series The Apprentice, where 12 prospective candidates complete a weekly task to show what skills they have, and each week one candidate is ‘fired’ for not performing.

How many times have you watched a candidate in The Apprentice boast about their amazing sales skills – and then see them fail to sell anything on a sales-based task? (Like “selling machine” Daniel failing to sell that jumper!) Or when Michael claimed he is “a good Jewish boy” – but didn’t know what kosher meat was? Or when Yasmina claimed to be a great businesswoman with a successful restaurant – but didn’t know the difference between turnover, gross profit and net profit?

Each candidate is expected to show their skills and what they are able to achieve in practice – not just talk about it. Often the candidates that end up in the final are not the ones who were the favourites at the very beginning. But, if Lord Alan Sugar had just gone by their CV, he might have hired the ones who were best at ‘talking the talk’ – rather than those who actually could do the job. For example, Claude’s interview with Solomon, where Claude praised Solomon’s CV for being very well-written, without boasts – then saw his terrible two-page business proposal!

Another great example that Henry often uses is to imagine that you are a football manager, and have two candidates in front of you: David Beckham and John Motson. John Motson is a British football commentator, who is great at talking about football but has never played the game at a serious level. David Beckham is one of the best footballers of his generation, but comes across in many interviews (especially in his early days) as shy and not very articulate.

If you watched both John and David play football, clearly there would only be one choice – but if you recruited them purely based on the standard interview process and how well they can talk about something, you would be likely to end up with John Motson as your new star player!

So how does this work in practice, in a real world scenario?

I started at Happy in January 2016 in a brand new role as Digital Marketing Coordinator. Previously, Happy had never had a single dedicated person in charge of marketing, and instead social media and email marketing were delegated to other members of the team who had an interest.

My interview for the role was very intense, and very much reminiscent of The Apprentice TV show. The recruitment process lasted all day! I did have a face-to-face interview, where I talked about myself, my interest in marketing and why I wanted to work for Happy. But this was only half an hour. The rest of the day was focused on what I could do.

For example, I had to write an email marketing campaign to promote one of Happy’s courses and show how I would deal with a complaint on social media. While I had plenty of experience of these things in my previous role, Happy was more interested in whether I could actually do these things than the years of experience I had on paper.

It’s the same when Happy recruits trainers – candidates are each expected to deliver a short 10-minute training session to show their delivery style. Each are sent details of the framework that their session will be assessed against, and a video example of a sample IT training session to show Happy’s learner-focused style. After delivering their session candidates are given feedback on how they did, and then are given the opportunity to deliver a second training session to show how they have taken responded to this feedback.

When recruiting members of our Customer Services team, candidates have a role play over the phone to show their telephone skills, and how they handle difficult situations and thinking ‘on the fly.’ Their previous roles and experience are not taken into account – in fact, each of the current members of the Customer Services team had a complete change of career when they moved to Happy!

Rather than asking for a Maths GCSE, in the interview candidates have their maths skills tested with things they would need to do on the job – such as calculating percentages. It’s very much focused on the skills needed for the job.

Finally, because a key requirement at Happy is that staff are supportive of each other and can work well as a team, all of Happy’s interviews also include group elements. In my interview, at the start we each introduced ourselves to the group, and then had to complete a group card sorting task. For the Customer Service roles, where team working is a crucial part, this group element is much longer and more involved, working together to complete tasks and solve problems as a team. They are evaluated on how they work with others and how much they listen to the members of their team, or if they are dismissive of other people’s and hard to work with.

Other organisations that adapt this approach

But this isn’t a new idea, or one solely used by Happy. Other organisations that use this method successfully include John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, Ocado and Microsoft. Simon Perriton of JustIT, John Housego of WL Gore (makers of Goretex), Dom Monkhouse, Brendan O’Keefe of Epic CIC and Valentina Culatti of UNIT9 have all spoken about how they have used this idea to recruit their staff at our conferences.

From John Housego at Happy Workplaces 2016:

Q: Thinking about what you were saying about IQ and EQ, have you got any tips for recruitment? How do you think about recruitment at Gore? How do you find the right people?

One word: Character. Forget the rest.

Q: So is that just a feeling, or do you measure it?

So what sort of character are they? Are they authentic, are they going to deliver commitments, are they going to do what they say they’re going to do, have they got a track record of doing what they say they’re going to do? Can you prove that? Or are they saying “look I’ve done all this” and their CV is flowered all over the place, and yeah you were involved in the team but you didn’t actually do that did you? It’s about character.

I once hired a guy and had a challenge in the interview because I couldn’t get him to say anything other than “we.” I wanted him to say “I”. At least once. And I couldn’t do it, I spent an hour trying to get him to say “I”. I said “so what did you do?” He said “we did, we did, we did.” And it was just we, we, we, we. He was about the team. It was about what the team delivered, it was not about him, and he was embarrassed to have to have an interview. It’s about character.

From Simon Perriton of JustIT at Happy Workplaces 2016:

I’m used to a small team, and here I’ve got a big team, but I’ve made a commitment to Henry and other people that I was going to follow through the Happy Manifesto. So I consistently celebrated our mistakes, and we continued to work towards recruiting for attitude and training for skills. So we introduced in our second stage interview, two or three hour session where they sit with the department and they get to know the team that they might well work with, and that’s worked very well for us.

What is your current recruitment process? How could you implement ‘recruit for attitude, train for skill’ in your organisation?

Nicky is hosting a Successful Recruitment and Selection workshop on 14th November, which will cover this in more detail. Come along, and learn how to revolutionise your recruitment process through selecting the right candidates, investing interview time in the best way and ultimately improving staff retention.

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