Is Resume Or Personality More Important?

When looking to hire new members of your team, are you focused on technical competency? Or on attitude, personality and growth potential?

Help wanted

Wastewater operator. We need a qualified operator to join the team at our wastewater treatment plant. We require an associate’s degree in water or wastewater technology, five years of experience in an activated sludge facility larger than 5 mgd, and thorough knowledge of SCADA systems, maintenance software and laboratory information systems. Apply to Mary Smith, Director of Human Resources, Anycity Water, 1234 Main Street, Anycity, Yourstate.

Help wanted

Wastewater operator. We need a smart, energetic operator to help take our award-winning clean-water plant to a new level. We seek a team-oriented self-starter with a passion for water quality and environment and an appetite for constant learning. A license in wastewater treatment is a plus, as is knowledge of process automation and software. Apply to Kelly Jones, Director of Human Resources, Anycity Water, 1234 Main Street, Anycity, Yourstate.    

Back in my journalism days, I applied for a job at a daily newspaper after several years working on weeklies. The editor just brushed me off because I had “no daily experience.” He wasn’t interested in the quality of my writing and reporting, only in whether I could step seamlessly into the rhythm of a daily newsroom.

Seriously, how long would it have taken me to adapt? For all he knew, I could have been, within months, the best reporter on his staff. But alas, to him, “no daily experience” was a deal breaker.

I won’t insist it was a mistake for him not to hire me. I will argue strongly, though, that his approach to hiring was badly flawed and also very common. It’s the mistake of hiring the experience — the resume — and not the person.

Consider the two want ads above. One is looking for an employee to come in and essentially be able to push all the right buttons without much training. The other seeks a go-getter with the right attitude and character, maybe not as qualified immediately, but with a huge upside. Who’s going to get the better operator? I know which way I’m betting.

Hiring for attributes

The traditional way to hire is to screen for job-specific skills and experience, and maybe for a certain education pedigree. More recent thinking holds that hiring for those qualities alone can be a recipe for mediocrity. Organizations have found that it’s certain traits — not specific job experience — that can separate star performers from the average. These traits go by various names: soft skills, emotional IQ and others. They can’t be taught; they are part of the employee’s personality.

It’s fairly easy, for example, to teach a new operator how to run a belt press or monitor an aeration process. But trying to turn an introvert into an extrovert, a lone wolf into a team player, or an order-taker into a self-starter can be an exercise in futility. Evidence increasingly suggests that organizations able to hire people with sound technical skills and the right personal attributes have the best chance to excel.

It’s not really accurate to label these attributes as “intangibles.” For one thing, the label tends to relegate them to second-class status. For another, these attributes can in fact be measured, screened for, discussed with references and elicited in interviews.

For example, an interviewer looking to evaluate a prospect’s team orientation might say, “Tell me about a time when you contributed to solving a problem as a member of a team. How did you fit within the team concept and how did you facilitate the team’s success?”

Hiring the hungry

If you want an example of how hiring for passion, attitude and personality can bring success, look at coaching in professional sports. The ranks are full of head coaches who move from team to team without ever distinguishing themselves. They have experience. They know the X’s and O’s. They know the mechanics of running a team. They just don’t know how to win.

Often — certainly not always — the best candidates for a vacant head coaching job come from the ranks of excellent assistants. To cite an example, none of the three coaches who took my Green Bay Packers to Super Bowl victories came with professional head coaching experience. Vince Lombardi, Mike Holmgren and Mike McCarthy were all assistant coaches before coming to Green Bay. They had the right stuff, and someone clearly had the wisdom to see it.

Now, what kind of person will you be looking for next time you hire an operator or other member of your team? What will your next want ad say?


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