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Choosing Your Hiring Priorities – Skill vs. Attitude

Wade Johannes

Choosing Your Hiring Priorities

Scenario: You’re a manager trying to fill an open position. You’ve narrowed the field of candidates down to the final two:

Candidate 1 has 10 years of experience in this area and knows how to do all of the tasks listed on the job description. Past performance has been okay – but not stellar.

Candidate 2 has three years of experience, but not in this line of work. They have a great attitude and are of high character. Past performance in a non-related field was exceptional.

“Who should you hire?”

If you go with Candidate 1, you’re likely to have a much quicker return on investment (ROI). They probably won’t require as much “hand holding” to get up to speed, and they may teach their coworkers new ways of doing things based on their previous experience. After several interviews, you believe Candidate 1 can do the job. However, you’re also pretty sure they won’t ever be promoted to an area of greater responsibility.

If you hire Candidate 2, your work – as their manager – has just begun. You will need to not only teach them WHAT to do and WHEN, but also WHY this needs to be done and with WHOM. All of this means that you will invest more time up front in hopes of a greater long-term return. Based on the conversations you have had with Candidate 2, you’ve learned that – if given the chance – this would not be the first time that they would learn how to succeed in a new industry. This gives you confidence that they will not only succeed in this role, but will have several opportunities to assume greater responsibility in a number of different areas within the company long into the future.

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So, what should you do? How should you go about choosing your hiring priorities? Should you go with existing competencies and skill? Or focus on leveraging a positive attitude and character?

Easy: You should hire Candidate 2.

Now, the fact that I’m writing about this topic likely gives away my own personal bias as to why Candidate 2 is clearly the best option. But if you’re really up against this struggle, here’s some justification as to why this person is the best option:

1. You can teach skills and competencies, but changing attitude is much, much more difficult. 

The rate of change in the world today is faster than it was 10+ years ago, and it’s not slowing down any time soon. In fact, it’s picking up speed. We may not have flying cars like they did in The Jetsons, but we do have autonomous tractors. When this technological advancement reaches the masses (as all technologies eventually do), the skills required to be in agriculture will change significantly. Instead of “hiring someone who can operate and work on machinery”, we may need to hire someone who can manage a fleet of driverless “army worms”. This takes a much different skillset, so having a great “can do” attitude will be the key to success for anyone in production ag or ag retail.

2. Your customers will appreciate your decision.

“No man can climb out beyond the limitations of his/(her) own character” – John Morley. When you ask customers what they want most out of their company representative, the #1 answer is by far TO BE TRUSTWORTHY. They may not have the expertise today, but you know you will not have to worry about them when you are not looking. I like to think of this as someone you would not only let borrow your car, but who you would let stay at your house when you aren’t there. You would even trust them with your own hard-earned money. These people are out there. Do they work for you?

3. Your employees will appreciate it, too.

In the short-term, working with Candidate 2 may require more of them in terms of training, coaching, and mentoring. In the long run, however, they will be proud of the talent they work alongside. I have seen this firsthand. They may even be challenged to produce more once your new hire begins to challenge them! 

4. You can learn from their outside perspective.

One of my favorite stories is about a man who owned a construction company and hired a new employee. On his first day on the job, the owner asked if the new hire would join him for a walk. After a few minutes of small talk, the owner asked what he thought of his new job so far. “Fine, I guess,” the new hire replied. The owner then asked if he saw anything that made him feel uncomfortable in terms of safety or culture? This conversation went on for about 20 minutes before the new hire asked why the owner of a construction company with 30 years of experience would be asking him for feedback on these things? “Simple. Everyone here knows something that I don’t. My job is to learn what that is and to find ways to apply it.” Just think what could happen if we all took this view of the people around us.

5. Your company will be stronger long-term.

It amazes me how many agricultural companies have spent next to no time on legacy plans. Not only does this scare the heck out of me, but it is yet another indicator that managers are spending too much time focused on “making budget,” rather than the long-term stewardship of their company. The other reality that I have seen is that the legacy plans that are in place have one option for each position of leadership. ONE. While that is better than having no one identified internally, it puts the future hopes for a critical position in one proverbial basket. Consider this – if the potential candidate to fill a specific role is not interested (e.g., they decide they do not want more responsibility due to family or health reasons), you will be forced to restart your search outside the company. While hiring externally is not the end of the world, it does reveal leadership’s lack of an ability to develop others. No company/organization has ever had too much talent. Period.

Short-term vs. Long-term

A common counter argument is that it is better to take “the sure thing” rather than risk a swing and a miss. “What if you train them for two years and then they leave?” Yes, that stings. But it can also be an opportunity. When this happens, my advice comes back to the owner of the construction company. Of the exit interview process, he says – “Ask questions of them, learn from their answers, and figure out ways to apply them for the benefit of others.” Your company’s future depends on it.   

For other ways to challenge and retain your “best, young talent” check out the
Millennial Mastermind for Agribusiness.

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