Three or four generations ago, apprenticeships were still widely available. A younger person with the right attitude, aptitude, and fortitude would work for a Master Contractor for several years to learn the trade.

Maybe it’s time to bring that concept back.

– Chuck McKay

Hire for Attitude

A growing number of companies across all industries are focusing less on hard skills like technical training or software familiarity, and are hiring soft skills built around attitude, aptitude, ethics, and coach-ability instead.

  • The Special Care Center, a physicians’ practice in Atlantic City, New Jersey, has stopped recruiting from the healthcare industry. Rushika Fernandopulle notes the healthcare industry trains people to say “no” to patients. He wants patients in his practice to be told “yes.” Yes, you can see the doctor. Yes, you can make an appointment for an ultrasound. Whenever possible, patients at the Special Care Center are told, “Yes, we will help you.”
  • Arkadi Kuhlmann, founder and CEO of ING Direct USA, says he’d rather hire a jazz musician, a dancer, or a captain in the Israeli army than hire someone who has worked for another bank. He claims it’s much harder to untrain bankers’ bad habits than to simply hire someone who already has the right attitude and teach the new hire the necessary banking skills.
  • Mindflash, (now the online training platform, hired a former restaurant manager and taught him the software he’d need to work with them. “He had a winning personality that translated beautifully over the phone,” says Donna Wells, CEO.
  • Southwest Airlines prefers to hire outside the industry for flight attendant and baggage handler openings. According to Sherry Phelps, who designed Southwest’s hiring practices, they prefer to recruit teachers, or waiters, or police officers over industry veterans.

Companies like Specialty Care Center, ING Direct, and Southwest Airlines all understand that you can’t create something special, distinctive, and compelling in the marketplace unless you build something special, distinctive, and compelling in the workplace.

Are you ready to consider hiring for attitude?

Examining That Attitude

Great employers identify and hire individuals who not only share core values with the company, but who also bring new perspectives with them that can help the company grow.

Candidates with these characteristics seldom knock on your door and say, “I have no training or experience in your industry, but I share core values with your company and can bring new perspective to help the company grow. Are you looking to hire someone like me?

You’ll need to proactively go looking for those people.

Many exceptional salespeople have been identified among waitresses at family restaurants. A cheerful disposition and anticipation of customer needs is critical to earning big tips. Many are single parents and highly motivated by opportunities to earn more.

One of my clients found a service technician working behind the counter at a convenience store.

Observe When They Think No One is Watching 

Did your candidate ignore the receptionist or make eye contact, smile, and introduce herself?

Did he hold the door open for someone carrying packages? Did he offer to help?

Is your prospective candidate providing great customer service at her present job? How does she handle difficult customers?

Is he enthusiastic and passionate about the job he’s currently doing? People who love their work often stay with an employer far longer than those who are only working for a paycheck.

Strike up a conversation. How long has she been at his present job? What does she like best about her current work? Would she recommend the company she works for? It’s amazing how much you can learn by watching and asking a few, friendly, open-ended questions.

Give these people your card and invite them to apply to work with your company.

Remember, your objective is to staff up with true brand ambassadors. What the candidate says and does when there is no one to impress will help you to judge the likely “fit” into your organization.

Hire for attitude. Teach skills. You will, of course, have a well-planned training program ready to go when you start such a recruiting effort.

Training Programs Are Becoming Flexible

Stephen Sorenson, HVAC Department Head at Lakeshore Technical College in Cleveland, Wisconsin, says the school created a longer HVAC training program, but no one ever graduated. The students were all hired by local contractors while still in training.

Today the revised program teaches a skill for a month, then those students on the job apply what they’ve learned to real world work experiences before they come back for additional short trainings.

This is known as Competency Based Education. Like a growing number of technical schools, Lakeshore has adopted their program to (15) three-hour modules, which students complete by passing the final exam as soon as they are ready. This means they can test out on the first day of class if they already know the material. Both employers and students appear to love this system. New classes start 8 times per year.

Recruit from High Schools

Help local high school students imagine themselves in your industry. Send your younger successful technicians (‘cause who in high school identifies with old people?) to local high schools to talk about opportunities in the industry, and specifically with your company.

Parents of those students are favorably impressed by offers to pay the tuition for the training they’ll need. All things considered, this is a small investment to recruit the right entry-level techs.

Apprenticeship Programs

If yours is a union shop, most trade unions have a formal apprenticeship program. Some independent shops are banding together to create their own programs.

Many of those programs have the student working for the employer 4 days each week, and attending classes on the 5th day. They get paid for all five days. A typical program runs for 26 weeks each year, for four years, and at the program’s conclusion, these students are qualified to become journeyman technicians.

Growing Your Own

Employees who share values with your company don’t watch the clock or consider customers to be an interruption to their day. These employees contribute to a work environment in which internal friction decreases and productivity increases.

And they become great evangelists for your company, contributing to your reputation at every point of customer contact.

  • Send your younger successful technicians to local high schools to talk about opportunities in the industry, and specifically with your company.
  • Look into local trade schools. Ask about Competency Based Education.
  • See if your trade offers apprenticeship programs. If not, consider starting your own.
  • Your company culture and reputation attracts the very people you need. They reinforce your company culture as your reputation grows.

That brings us full circle, doesn’t it? Your company culture attracts the very people you need, then they reinforce that culture as your reputation grows.


The content for this series of posts was taken from Chuck McKay’s The Personality Prescription for Contractors, available on Amazon.

Links to previous posts in this series:

Part 1 – Stalled Growth

Part 2 – Never Cut Price

Part 3 – You’re Choosing Cheap Ones

Part 4 – Other Homeowners’ Motivations

Part 5 – Let’s Sell Something

Part 6 – Uniqueness

Part 7 – Company Culture

Part 8 – Your Company’s Reputation

Part 9 – Using Your Culture

Part 10 – The Company Spokesperson

Part 11 – You Should be a Celebrity

Part 12 – The Perils of Celebrity

Part 13 – Finding Talent

Part 14 – The Local Labor Pool

Part 15 – Hire Veterans