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The relevance of Attitude and Aptitude in Recruiting

They bring innovation, enthusiasm and left field views to the world of work. Newbies, Rookies, Greenies.

Call them what you like, but entry-level employees also present their own set of thought-provoking challenges to employers.

According to Pay Scale, the number one skill lacking among entry-level candidates is that of problem-solving.

Sixty percent of managers participating in this survey believe these newbies to have below average problem solving and critical thinking abilities.

Not far behind is the challenge of learning agility, which refers to a candidate’s learning ability and willingness (orientation) to learn.

In fact, Google’s most important hiring requirement for entry-level candidate’s is learning agility.

From Worst to Best of Both  “Hire for attitude, train for aptitude” has been the go-to catchphrase promoted by recruitment and HR Managers for many years.

Despite this, Josh Bersin (Deloitte) highlights in his summary of the Mckinsey Education to Employment Study, that only “42% of employers believe newly educated workers are ready for work”. The gap between job requirements and rookie skills seems to be expanding more and more.

The harsh reality of the matter is that you cannot have one and not the other.

Back in the eighties and nineties graduates were employed for aptitude, with attitude a nice to have and the concept of EQ an extraneous subject matter studied by professors in Psychology. Beyond 2000, the focus shifted to attitude-inclined hiring where IQ became a swear word of discrimination, and personality (or rather like ability) was the strongest weighing factor upon which hiring decisions were made.

With 2020 peeking just around the corner we have the Class of Pre-2000 without the required attitude, trying to manage the Class of Beyond-2000 who is lacking in the necessary aptitude.

The only way to bridge this Attitude vs Aptitude divide is to accept the importance of both problem-solving ability and learning agility as fundamental competencies to test for when hiring entry-level employees going forward. Once assessed, competency development plans can be instituted from day one, to improve aspects where a candidate may be lacking in terms of either competency.

Problem Solving “You can never solve a problem on the level on which it was created”, Albert Einstein

Problem-solving requires a combination of creative thinking and sound analytical capabilities. Candidates should be tested on their ability to idea problem definitions, brainstorm alternatives, evaluate and rank available solutions, and then implement their chosen strategy. Typical assessments are cognitive in nature with a focus on problem solving and cognitive reasoning.

Entry-level employees achieving high scores in their problem-solving assessments may turn into valuable human assets for the organisation because:

  • They can identify the root cause (the real problem), not its symptoms
  • They can think of new ideas and contemplate on better ways to improve processes
  • They follow a proactive approach, which gets things done
  • They apply logic reasoning and lateral thinking to solve complex issues
  • They follow through with resilience, tenacity and perseverance, making them trustworthy assets

Learning Agility

Agile learners are open to giving up skills, ideas and perspectives that are no longer relevant, in favor of learning new ones that are.

In measuring learning agility, two components should be tested.

Firstly, the ability to learn determined by fluid intelligence which relates to a capacity to learn new concepts from scratch and then apply that knowledge in a variety of ways. Tools include abstract reasoning and spatial reasoning tests that measure a person’s nimbleness to quickly understand a new concept by identifying logic, patterns and trends.

Secondly, learning orientation may be evaluated by assessing for a willingness or predisposition to learn measured by traits such as consciousness, open-mindedness, drive for mastery and curiosity.

The best entry-level employee would be one with a healthy dose of both ability and intent because:

  • They bring enthusiasm and creativity to areas requiring innovation for example product or system development
  • They prioritize attention to detail and is not phased by complicated, routine tasks requiring continuous focus and concentration for example in compliance, safety and regulatory processes
  • They present a combined value add of sound interpersonal, cognitive and analytical skills for quick but accurate decision making in complex situations with high stakes and unprecedented scenarios

Entry to the Future

Finding, attracting and hiring great entry-level talent provides companies with an opportunity to retain high performers throughout the course of their professional careers.

However, for many organisations, talent acquisition practices specific to entry-level positions are either non-existent or an annoying afterthought.


(An article by Kirsten Halcrow)

Entrepreneur, Co-Founder & Director at Encapsulate Consulting