How Do You Hire for Attitude?

heskett hiring attitude


For years, my colleagues and I have advised anyone who would listen to hire for attitude, train for skills. Organizations that get it backward pay a heavy price. One of my favorite quotes is that of Richard Fairbank, CEO of Capital One, who said, “At most companies, people spend 2 percent of their time recruiting and 75 percent managing their recruiting mistakes.” Our research confirms that these are companies that hire for skills and try to do the nearly impossible: train for attitude.

The question I’m asked repeatedly is, “How do you hire for attitude?” My response includes such things as determining a job candidate’s identification with the mission and values of the organization. It may even include assessing comfort with the leadership, the team with which the candidate will be working, the job, and the way work gets done around the place. These all add up to what is often referred to as “fit” with the organization.

There are two other indicators that I observed being put into practice last month during a case-writing trip to a well-known gourmet restaurant in California wine country. This is a restaurant where the tab for a lengthy tasting menu for one person can approach $1,000. Team members describe the experience as a food tasting “journey” and speak of the “magic” they help create. Average team members appear to be in their 20s with a few years of experience. They told me they were attracted to a spirit of knowledge-sharing and cross-training—as opposed to the fiefdoms and management by fear typical of other fine dining establishments—on the job. Nearly all that I spoke with mentioned what they were learning—and in some cases, teaching.

That reminded me once again of the motto that I had printed up and posted throughout Harvard Business School when I was the faculty chair of the MBA program some years ago: We All Learn—We All Teach—For Life. That message was intended for both students and faculty. To the list of other questions we might employ in determining a job candidate’s attitude, perhaps we should add: What have you been learning? What do you want to learn on this job? What do you feel you can teach others on this job?

Of course, every organization is different. Hiring practices have to be customized accordingly. Teaching and learning have to be a part of an organization’s culture for this to have any relevance.

How do you hire for attitude? What do you think?

Share your thoughts in the comments below.


  • Mike McNamee, “Credit Card Revolutionary,” Stanford Business, May 2001.

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