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Select the best -- avoid the rest

Do you consider yourself a connoisseur of talent? Do you always select class “A” candidates? What do I mean by “A” candidates? Candidates who can bring success to the table, you need to select the best, and avoid the rest.

There are three “A’s” to consider when hiring a candidate: Attitude, Alignment, and Aptitude. Without a good match in each, a candidate will be a disappointment or maybe even a costly hiring mistake.

Attitude is probably the most important of the three “A’s” and here is a short story about why.  Years ago, before I began my quest to create a system, I was given a task of hiring 1,000 people in six months.

It didn’t take long before I started getting managers stopping me saying that so-and-so I hired was technically good but had a bad attitude.  I’d ask them to elaborate and whether the issue was that they didn’t pay attention to details, work well with others, follow instructions, fulfill commitments or a host of other “attitude” issues. I began to get a better picture of what my managers needed.

The “attitudes” we are really talking about are made up of Behavioral Competencies and the smaller subset of Emotional Intelligence Competencies, which are even more important for executive selection. 

You’ve seen the leader:

  • who lacked decisiveness and frustrated their boss, peers, and employees.
  • that struggled with collaboration and preferred the “my way or the highway” approach.
  • that ruled with an iron fist, that no one liked working for, and generated high turnover.
  • that had a “not invented here” approach and closed to new ideas.
  • who lacked the trust of their peers or subordinates.
  • who lacked the ability to interact with all levels of the organization effectively.

I’m sure you could create your own list as well.

Here is the rub. There is no single set of interview questions that fits every job and effectively helps you make great hiring decisions. Every position requires a different set of Behavioral Competencies for success. The top six or eight competencies necessary for a successful Chief Operating Officer are going to be different than those for the Chief Financial Officer or the VP of Human Resources.


    Having identified the criteria for assessing Attitude we are now able to assess for Alignment and Aptitude.

Alignment – In my training programs I ask leaders if their organization has a culture. They always answer yes.  Then I ask how important is it to hire people who will fit their culture. The answer is that it is very important. This is where interviewers need focus.

For instance, take two different organizations. The first has a collegial non-confrontational culture. The second is an autocratic, confrontational culture. Let’s say you were interviewing candidates for a project management role and asked them for an example of how they got projects done. The candidate says they would get buy-in from Sam, Sue, Peter, and Rebecca and get things moving forward. That candidate would probably be successful at the first hospital and a failure at the second.

If the second candidate barked orders to Sam, Sue, Peter, and Rebecca, then held their feet to the fire, took names and kicked tail. They would probably succeed at the second hospital and fail at the first.

Both project managers can be very successful in the right situations and a flop in the wrong situation. The key question to ask: “Is this the way I would want this kind of situation handled here?” Interviewer focus on fit is so important, fit is just as important as skill.

Watch for part two including two often over looked keys Aptitude and Action

Aptitude – has to do with the ability to learn. Here is the rub. You can teach the technical skills and competencies far easier than you can teach the behavioral competencies.

Which of the following would you rather try to teach and effect positive change? How to read a spreadsheet or integrity? I would rather teach someone to read a spreadsheet than teach someone that lacks integrity.

To me, trying to teach someone to act with integrity, to maintain self-control, to deal with ambiguity, to be dependable, etc. is futile.

Yet in the interview process we can learn whether or not the candidate has demonstrated the aptitude for learning, growing, and changing in the past, in a way that will help us predict their ability to move forward.

I was talking with an executive coach that observed all too often organizations call in coaches to try and help individuals that are on the verge of failing. A lot of resources and time are expended usually with little result in return. So do it right in the first place by hiring the best and avoiding the rest.

Yet when good performers, with the aptitude for learning, are provided with coaching, huge gains are made by both the individual and the organization, for a lot fewer resources and time than the person that was failing.

Let me share a story

Not long ago, I was working with a CEO wanting to hire a new COO. The process started with an hour long one-on-one telephone Strategy Session. The second step was to conduct an hour long session with the selection team identifying the key behavioral and technical competencies for the position. We then created a structured interview for the next step.

A few weeks later the CEO lined up three candidates and we scheduled an onsite interview for the first candidate. On the day of the interview, we conducted an executive briefing in the morning on how the process would work. That afternoon I sat with the interview team and coached them through a live interview with their first candidate. Finally when the interview was completed, we debriefed the interview and rated the candidate’s level of competence for each competency and to determine Attitude, Aptitude, and Alignment.

One of the three candidates was a standout. The CEO took the top two candidates to the board for their approval. The Board asked that the candidates be assessed by an organizational psychologist. The reports came back and the psychologist mentioned that only about one percent of the candidates he has assessed, have what he calls the leadership “IT” factor, and the candidate I had said was a standout, had that leadership “IT” factor.


Most leaders want to hire class “A” candidates, candidates that can bring success to the organization. Great leaders recognize the importance of hiring the best and avoiding the rest. Plus, hiring mistakes at the executive level often have far greater consequences because of error than hiring at any other level. I’ve seen executive hiring mistakes cost organizations millions.

The typical interview that most people use has a reliability of about 15 percent in predicting a candidate’s potential for success. Those are pretty dismal odds. Yet, there is a solution. Following a structured process that assesses Attitude, Alignment, and Aptitude could raise your odds to about 90 percent. Which odds would you prefer?

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Stephen Moulton

Stephen Moulton is the Chief Insight Officer of Action Insight and Hire-STARS, he is also the author of the CEO’s Advantage, 7 Keys for Hiring Extraordinary Leaders and the forthoming book Engage - Leadership and Building an Engaged Team.  He can be reached at 303-439-2001 or stephen@actioninsight.com.

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