Hiring Wisdom: Just Because They Can Do the Job Doesn’t Mean They Will

Illustration by istockphoto.com
Illustration by istockphoto.com

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, over 87 percent of employees fail not because they cannot do the job, but because they will not.

In other words, these employees had attitude problems. Perhaps they couldn’t be counted on to show up on time or they simply refused to do some part of the job they disliked. No matter how their particular attitude problem showed up, they cost their employers plenty in terms of time, money, and grief.

One of the reasons we end up with people who can do but won’t do the job, is because we think it only makes sense to save ourselves time and money by hiring someone with experience. The problem is the time spent gaining that experience may simply have allowed them to become skilled at avoiding their responsibilities.

4 ways to separate out those who won’t

This is why I’m always saying: “Hire for attitude, train for skills.” It is by far easier to teach a new hire best practice skills and procedures than it is to teach anyone to care about your customers when they just don’t.

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So, attitude problems are best discovered before they’re hired. Here are a few interview questions that will quickly separate those who can do, but won’t do, from those who will:

  1. Have you ever felt you were treated unfairly in a work situation? Why? What did you do about it? “Life isn’t fair” is the theme song of many attitude-impaired employees.
  2. Why are you looking for a new job? Watch for people who bad-mouth their current or former employer. They may be operating on the assumption that everyone bad-mouths others all the time. You don’t need someone who spreads dissatisfaction among your employees.
  3. What is the most frustrating situation you’ve ever faced at work? What caused it? How did you deal with it? Look for people who take responsibility, at least in part, and tackled resolving it in a proactive way.
  4. It seems you’ve been fairly successful in your (career or jobs) so far. Why haven’t you been even more successful? Responsible people with good attitudes will not blame circumstances or others. They will give you straightforward answer like: “I turned down a promotion because I prefer to be responsible only for myself rather than for the results of others as well,” or “Life/work balance is important to me and my family.”

This was originally published in the October 2012 Humetrics Hiring Hints newsletter.

Mel Kleiman, CSP, is an internationally-known authority on recruiting, selecting, and hiring hourly employees. He has been the president of Humetrics since 1976 and has over 30 years of practical experience, research, consulting and professional speaking work to his credit. Contact him at mkleiman@humetrics.com.


3 Comments on “Hiring Wisdom: Just Because They Can Do the Job Doesn’t Mean They Will

  1. Seasoned, hard-working, willing employees over the age of 45 are often targeted for dismissal regardless of effort, positive attitude and strong work ethic.  At the risk of sounding ‘ageist’, I have seen more slacking, poor work habits/time management skills in younger workers.  Just because someone does not agree to be a 24/7 Blackberry slave, doesn’t mean they are oppositional or underperforming.  At-will employment goes both ways so if a person isn’t happy in their work situation, it is encumbent upon them to find a better fit.  Money isn’t always the first priority – work/life balance matters too.

  2. Nice post that gets to the heart of employee engagement – managers cannot motivate their employees but they can provide an environment that encourages employee motivation.  The interview questions you shared are a great first step in helping to identify intrinsically motivated high-performers.  Once hired, it’s essential to create an environment that perpetuates employee drive and motivation. Research has found that true motivation derives from the satisfaction of three psychological needs shared by all – autonomy, relatedness and competence. An employer has a unique role in helping employees explore and satisfy these needs. By realizing talent, giving needs-based feedback and offering appropriate rewards and recognition, employers can help employees find and hone internal motivation, helping to make sure they do the job they were hired for.

    1. Nice piece Sharon.
      Attraction and recruitment processes are just the tip of the iceberg. As a ‘leader’ one needs to take responsibility for creating an environment that will stimulate and motivate engagement and a ‘want to, will do’ attitude.

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