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Hire for Attitude

Written by Ed Sanow

"Hire for Attitude"

Hire for Attitude
By: Sgt. Ed Sanow         

“We hire them for their abilities and fire them for their attitude.” Anyone involved with any aspect of management knows this is true. We hire based on knowledge, skills and abilities, which are easy to verify and document. Yet, these are also the areas that we can train into officers. The real problem is behavior and attitude. Yet, these areas are both much harder to measure and evaluate, and extremely difficult to change by training.

That makes the book, Hiring for Attitude by Mark Murphy, an absolute must-read for every police supervisor and manager.

Within the first two years, 46 percent of the new hires failed in some way: verbal or written warning; cut at the academy, during field training or probation; or were outright fired. Of those who failed, 89 percent failed for attitude reasons. They were either not coachable, had poor emotional intelligence, lacked motivation, or had the wrong personality or temperament for the job. Just 11 percent failed because they lacked skills or could not be taught those skills.

When a rookie or lateral was wrong for the department, it was due to attitude, not skills. Since it is so difficult to fire someone if he/she has decent skills but a poor attitude, we really need to learn how to hire for attitude.

There are two categories of people that you should not hire: 1) those with problem attitudes and 2) those whose attitudes don’t fit the culture of your department, even if they are a good fit for other departments. Attitude, then, is the top predictor of a new hire’s performance. With a different approach to interviewing, it is easily possible to objectively and legally screen for attitude.

Unlike so many abstract, theoretic, blah-blah management books, Hiring for Attitude is specific, full of real-world examples and is very How-To. There are a number of clearly explained steps but it really comes down to just two strategies. Stop asking all those common and generic questions that do not specifically appraise attitude. Start asking a few simple questions that reveal if the candidate’s attitude is right for your particular department. 

Don’t ask the three most common interview questions: Tell me about yourself. What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? All you get are canned, rehearsed platitudes. Only ask questions whose answers separate and differentiate one candidate from another.

Don’t ask hypothetical questions. All these do is inspire idealized, theoretical answers. There is a big difference between knowing the path and walking the path. Hypothetical questions only test whether the applicant understands the theory and are poor predictors of future performance.

Don’t ask, “Tell me about a time…” questions. They seldom reveal what the strengths and weaknesses really are. We always seem to qualify these questions with, “and what did you do to resolve the situation?” Don’t ask these leading, qualifying questions, i.e., those where you tip off the candidates what answer you want to hear. Let them answer as they will.

Instead, ask questions specific to the attitude you are looking for, or attitudes you want to avoid. You will have to do your homework here. The core of Hiring for Attitude explains exactly what to do. You end up asking, Could you tell me about a time…and insert your question. Leave the question hanging—don’t lead them to the answer you want.

In six or eight questions, you can easily identify problem solvers from problem bringers. High performers actually use very different pronouns, verb tense, voice, emotions, qualifiers and negation than low performers.

The entire book is worth reading just to be able to properly ask a simple, five-part coachability question. Remember, more new hire failures were the result of coachable issues than any other reason. This is the inability or unwillingness to accept and implement feedback from supervisors, instructors and co-workers. This is that strengths-weakness question, but asked in a disarming way that is difficult to bluff or prepare for. After all, spontaneous, truthful answers are the goal to assessing attitude.

Hiring for Attitude contains the keys to selecting clearly better police officers for your department and community.

Published in Law and Order, Dec 2013

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