January 17, 2017

What Matters Most in Job Candidates: Experience or Attitude?


What matters most when hiring employees — experience or attitude?

According to a survey by Futurestep, it’s neither.

The poll asked executives what the most important factors are when hiring employees.

  • 16 percent say a job candidate’s attitude (such as confidence or assertiveness) matters most.
  • 24 percent say prior work experience matters most.
  • 27 percent say a job candidate’s skills matter most.
  • 33 percent say a candidate’s motivations and drivers matter most.

What exactly do respondents mean by “motivations and drivers?”

For instance, the study notes, some employees might be motivated by power, such as the drive to achieve greater responsibility, influence and status on the job. If your workplace is competitive, that motivation would be great for new employees to have, since it would help them succeed.

On the other hand, if your workplace is more collaborative and relaxed, a power-motivated employee probably wouldn’t be a good fit and would not do well.

How can you uncover a job candidate’s motivations?

This typically isn’t something you consider when interviewing employees, and finding out the answer will require a little more probing than the common questions you probably ask. While you can learn about a person’s experience and skills from their resume or job application, finding out what drives them to do what they do is a little more complex.

Here are some suggestions to do that:

Tap Into Your Network

The survey found that more than half of employers turn to their professional network of contacts first when looking to fill open positions. Part of your search can be asking your contacts to explain a bit more about what they think motivates the candidates they recommend. Especially if they’ve worked with the person before, your contacts will probably have some good insights into whether this person is driven by money, recognition, status, collaboration, socially responsible actions or other combination of factors.

Monitor Their Social Media Persona

LinkedIn is the number-two place where employers in the survey look for job candidates. LinkedIn and other social networks can be a great resource for recruiting and also getting insight into a potential candidate’s motivators and drivers. Consider:

  • Does he or she constantly share useful information with others? This person might be driven by the desire to be helpful (collaborative), or they might want to be perceived as an expert (status-driven).
  • Does he or she tend to post mostly about his or her own accomplishments? The person might be highly competitive, but also a little tone-deaf to social interactions.
  • Does he or she often reach out to answer questions or guide others? The person might be very collaborative and a “people person.”
  • Does he or she display curiosity about new trends, innovations or developments in the industry? The person might be an innovator and motivated by the desire to learn.

Watching people on social media can also be a good way to uncover “passive job seekers” — those who aren’t actively searching for new jobs, but could be recruited if offered the right opportunity. Almost one-third of survey respondents said that passive job seekers tend to be the best candidates.

Ask the Right Questions

During an interview, you’ll need to probe deeper to uncover motivations. Asking the following questions can help:

  • What motivated you to leave your prior job/s?
  • What was most rewarding for you about [an accomplishment they achieved]?
  • What makes you happiest in a job?
  • What do you look for in a work environment?
  • Why did you want to [acquire a skill they learned, such as a certification]?

People may say they took an action because they were unfulfilled, wanted to move up faster, were curious about something, wanted to increase their salaries or wanted more opportunities. By digging deeper into answers with follow-up questions, you’ll be able to form a picture of what motivates the individual when hiring employees.

As a manager, I’ve found understanding motivations and drivers comes naturally when you work with people for a while, and this knowledge is very useful when you’re developing and retaining employees. For instance, if you know someone is motivated by status, offering them a promotion can keep them from leaving, but if they’re motivated by money, a raise would be more important.

I’ve never thought before about using motivation as part of hiring. It isn’t the only factor you should consider when hiring, of course — but it’s definitely something that should be part of the package.

Job Interview Photo via Shutterstock

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Rieva Lesonsky


Rieva Lesonsky Rieva Lesonsky is a Columnist for Small Business Trends covering employment, retail trends and women in business. She is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Follow her on Google+ and visit her blog, SmallBizDaily, to get the scoop on business trends and free TrendCast reports.

One Reaction

  1. Aira Bongco

    I think that it has to be both. Experience is essential if you need someone who you don’t need to train. But attitude will count ultimately because the social aspect plays a vital role in results.

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