How to design recruiting and hire for attitude

So the bad news is, hiring sales people entails filling, driving and closing one more funnel besides sales – your recruiting funnel. The good news is, the same principles apply as for sales, so you can repurpose a lot of the available sales material for recruiting.

Let’s take one step back and be(come) realistic. As an early stage startup, you will most likely not find and hire your dream sales candidate due to a lack of funds, attractiveness on leadership and job insecurity since your startup might go out of business.

Let’s therefore inspect and then prioritise the areas you are hiring for:

  • Functional Expertise: “Classic” sales experience, knowledge and acumen such as generating & qualifying leads, following a structured sales process and closing deals.
  • Domain Expertise: Intelligence, experience and network in your field of business such as compliance solutions for large financial service companies.
  • Technical Expertise: Deep understanding of your technology and its ecosystem such as machine learning for unstructured regulatory & compliance documentation.

Candidates can typically ramp up quickly on the above areas with the right assets and processes in place. If the candidate is able and willing to learn them that is. So assessing candidates against these criteria is useful, but not sufficient to make a hiring decision. 

A Leadership IQ study tracked 20’000 new hires over 3 years and saw 46% of them fail within 18 months. Only 11% were due to the above 3 areas. 89% of them failed due to a lack of coachability, emotional intelligence, motivation and temperament – so in short Attitude. But it is much harder to change people’s attitude than to train them in hard skills, independently if you hire an intern or your Chief Sales Officer.

Let’s therefore dive deeper into a few insights on hiring for attitude from a book with the identical name. All of the below concepts have a proven psychological and social background. But I will spare you the details here and point you to the highly recommended read of the book.

Self-Assessment: Your startup and therefore the attitude that works best for you is unique. You therefore need to be(come) very specific what you are looking for in candidates. A simple yet powerful exercise here is writing down specifically what you appreciate most in your top employees and where you see the biggest attitude issues in your company.

Interview Questions: Standard job interviews often do not assess attitude. They only ask questions on general topics such as “What are your weaknesses?” or hypothetical ones such as “What would you do to build up a sales funnel in our company?”

So you need to define questions that are assessing a candidate’s attitude fit with your startup’s attitude. Pick one specific characteristic and identify a differential situation. Then frame a question by asking “Could you tell me about a time you…“, insert the identified situation, but leave the question hanging. A few examples of such questions:

  • Could you tell me about a time you tried to fix or improve something, but it just did not work?
  • Could you tell me about a customer you found particularly difficult to work with?
  • Could you tell me about a situation where your boss gave you an assignment that seemed doom to fail?
  • Could you tell me about a case where you struggled to meet a commitment you had made to a customer or colleague?

The Coachability Question: Startups are fast-paced environments. Your new hire does not need to know everything on Day 1. But she needs to be able to consistently learn as quickly as possible. (The lack of) coachability is proven to be the single biggest reason that new hires fail. So a deep-dive to assess coachability seems to make sense, for which you can use this five-part Coachability Question.

  1. What was your boss’ name? Please spell the full name for me.
  2. Tell me about <name> as a boss.
  3. What is something that you (could) have done differently to improve your working relationship with <name>?
  4. When I talk to <name>, what will she tell me your strengths are?
  5. Now all people have areas where they can improve, so when I talk to <name>, what will she tell me about your weaknesses?

Interview Answers: Define quantified answer guidelines to evaluate candidate responses, including the language they use. Using a seven-point scale with only 1 and 7 labeled e.g. with “Never” and “Always” seems to be most effective in combination with a textual analysis. I will leave the survey design to your individual situation. But here a few insights on textual analysis on how low performers compare to high performers: They use about

  • 400% more 2nd person pronouns (you, your), 90% more 3rd person pronouns (he, she, they) and 70% more neuter pronouns (it, itself) than those of high performers
  • 120% more present and 70% more past tense than those of high performers
  • 130% more negation (no, neither), 100% more absolutes (never, always), 90% more negative emotions, 40-50% more passive voice and 40% more adverbs (very, almost) and waffling (could be, potentially)

Selling the sales position: Now you defined what you expect from great candidates to make a positive hiring decisions.

But attracting great talent for your position requires you to sell your position to this talent. Yes, sell it, just in winning new customers. Because high performers will only apply if they feel attracted by your organization feel an urgency to change their current situation and trust you enough to apply for the open position. Not going into further details here as you can and should again apply the same principles as in sales…

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