Donald Armstrong: Hire Biomeds for Attitude, Train for Skill

That sounds very simple, but it is also very difficult to do.

As a new manager, I had always wondered what makes one candidate stand out and another not make the grade. They may have the same skills and on paper be well suited for the role, but the unknown intangible is their attitude.

While attitude alone can’t win the day, it certainly makes me want to root for that person throughout the interview and candidate-selection process. The right and appropriate attitude is key to finding and being considered for a role in healthcare technology management.

When considering a candidate, I look for a level of engagement—a big marker of their attitude—from the beginning of the process throughout the selection (even if that person is not selected). However, the formula for picking a candidate changes depending on the position.

For example, If I am looking for an operating room biomed, we would look for a person that is self-driven but team-oriented and who has a love for helping face-to-face. Once we find the person with the right attitude and is a great fit, we can then decide if we could we train this person into the role. It is a blend of attitude and train-ability—but the process all starts with attitude.

Let’s also say that we’re looking to hire an entry-level biomed. In that case, we’re looking for someone who is eager to learn, willing to learn from others, and knows that being an entry level tech may mean lots of bench repairs and preventive maintenance work. If we find that the person understands and embraces that, then we could move on to see if this person is great fit and has the chops to grow into a more senior role. Again, this is almost totally an “attitude hire,” as we will be training this person from day one.

The formula can change a bit depending on the role. If we’re looking to hire a clinical systems engineer, we would be looking for a person with more of a blend of skills and attitude. Attitude still leads the way, but we need this person to hit the ground a bit faster. We’ll still look for a great fit, but this one is more difficult—we would not hire a person who is a “great fit” at the cost of the skills we need.

What you should do changes with the situation—maybe you really need to fill a role quickly (be careful as one bad apple…) or you’re hiring for a specific role that only a few people can fill. But always keep in mind that when hiring you are building a team that you will be going into battle with. You want to be sure that team members will work together and care about one another. It is the only way to achieve the goals we are tasked with.

Finally, don’t forget the great candidates who you didn’t hire. If you really like a candidate, and they do not get the role they applied for, go ahead and contact them. Let them know that they did well in the interview and to please keep their eye on the job posting for the next round of hiring. This has been a wonderful way to stay in contact and keep a great candidate interested. You don’t want to have a great candidate get away! I have hired more than a few people who did not get the position they initially applied for in large part because I was impressed with how they reacted. Those candidates stayed engaged to let the leadership team know that they appreciated the opportunity and would like to be considered in the future.

I am hoping you all find the people you want on your teams! I’m always searching for that “great fit.” Attitude is key, and we will take care of the rest.

Donald Armstrong, CBET, CHTM, is a senior biomedical engineering manager at Stanford Health Care in California and a member of the BI&T Editorial Board.

2 thoughts on “Donald Armstrong: Hire Biomeds for Attitude, Train for Skill

  1. Attitude is the key .. skill is essential. With right fit and opportunity, skill can be acheived. One set of skill in one Organizational setup may not be a perfect fit in another Organization or in another Country but with right attitude, self motivation, willing to learn new, accepting changes as per the new setup, ‘We’ instead of ‘I’ , makes a great difference.
    Informing the candidate ‘why or why not’ will be great step keeping motivated to apply for the next opportunity but it all depends on local, legal, country context etc. Step towards this change is now essential.
    I always remember one proverb ‘ those who talk can sell flour and those who can not talk can’t sell rice’
    If time permits let the hiring authority dig out the hidden potential in candidate before any conclusion.
    Getting right fit and also getting hired is the same side of a coin. With both hands we can clap.

  2. I do agree that there is value in this hiring concept with a couple caveats.
    I recall when this approach first started trickling into mainstream use early in the decade influenced largely I think by Mark Murphy’s 2011 book Hiring for Attitude: A Revolutionary Approach to Recruiting and Selecting People with Both Tremendous Skills and Superb Attitude. At the time I had employees, highly skilled employees, that took offense to the notion that attitude was more important than skill as it seemed to devalue their effort and success of having achieved high skill levels. This frustration continued as our employee evaluation mechanisms also started to favor attitude over technical skill.
    I think in this context it is fair to distinguish between skill and core competency. All job candidates likely need to meet a certain threshold of competency just to be qualified for the job. After meeting this threshold, the priority of attitude over skill or experience comes into play.
    Attitude may also at times become subordinate to “fit”. That is, there are occasions when the ability to fit into the current workgroup and culture may outweigh attitude or skill.
    In his 2012 Forbes article Bill Fischer points out that another situation where attitude may need to take a back seat is in a job that demands innovation where high skill levels become more necessary regardless of attitude. ( https://www.forbes.com/sites/billfischer/2012/01/25/want-innovation-hire-for-skills-not-attitude/#4cf0369f1fd7)
    I suspect that the greatest barrier to successfully hiring for attitude is being able to accurately predict a candidate’s attitude to begin with. While attitude and personality are different they may be closely enough related that personality can be used a s proxy for attitude and there are an increasing number of organizations that utilize both normative and ipsative personality tests / psychometric testing / behavioral assessments in their hiring processes. While the literature is somewhat mixed on how well the test results predict job success I would suggest that most are likely better at predicting success than most of us would do on our own through the typical interview process. For instance, from my exposure to the literature it does seem that Goldberg’s Big Five personality trait of conscientiousness does have a valid positive correlation with overall job performance while the trait of neuroticism does not. It seems then that it would be useful to have this information when accessing a candidate’s likelihood of success.
    Notwithstanding the caveats, challenges, and limitations, I do agree that amongst factors used for hiring, there is value in giving attitude more weight than it may have been given traditionally.
    I would suggest that more important than hiring for attitude is being able to fire for attitude. Most of us who have been in the position of wanting to move someone along in their career based on their attitude have probably discovered how hard this is to do given typical HR policies even if that person is creating a toxic environment.

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