Recruit for Attitude, Train for Skill in Practice

In: BlogDate: Oct 12, 2017By: Claire Lickman

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

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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.

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Claire Lickman

Claire is Head of Marketing at Happy. She has worked at Happy since 2016, and is responsible for Happy's marketing strategy, website, social media and more. Claire first heard about Happy in 2012 when she attended a mix of IT and personal development courses. These courses were life-changing and she has been a fan of Happy ever since. She has a personal blog at

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