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I talk with a lot of people who are looking for jobs, trying to find a new project, or frustrated where they are. Frequently, the subject of skills versus attitude comes up. Clearly, project leaders cannot ignore skill deficiencies when they hire or acquire project team members. I’m not going to hire a programmer who has never written code, or a seamstress without sewing skills, or a writer who can’t write.

But sometimes, when hiring project team members, leaders are presented with the choice between a highly skilled but difficult person and a less skilled person with a great attitude.

Remember that you can teach someone who wants to learn how to code, sew, or write, but you cannot teach attitude. In this blog, I will discuss some steps you can take to ensure that you hire people with good attitudes.

In the interview, ask a probing question around prioritization.

Many times, attitude issues revolve around priorities. For example, does the person you’re interviewing prioritize his/her own needs above those of the project team? Ask about a time when the candidate had to choose between a project team need and a personal need.

We all have times when we have to choose between competing needs. It might be a personal need, a housing crisis, or a technology failure that caused the candidate to struggle with completing a project activity. Look for how the candidate prioritized the competing needs. If the candidate has repeatedly prioritized his/her own needs over that of the project, expect that to continue if you hire him or her.

Narcissism is a dangerous trait on project teams. Confidence is one thing, but extreme narcissism can wreak havoc on your team.

Narcissism is a dangerous trait on project teams. Confidence is one thing, but extreme narcissism can wreak havoc on your team. Click To Tweet

In the interview, look at the candidate’s work ethic. 

I’m not talking about the words they put in their cover letter or resume. Everyone puts in verbiage about being hard-working. Don’t necessarily believe that.

Ask them what books they are reading, or about their volunteer commitments, or their favorite TV shows. Are they spending their weekends and evenings as a couch potato, or are they tutoring children, or learning piano? Are they escaping into the world of trash novels, reading the great classics, or honing their skills with books about some new intellectual topic?

Watch how they speak to the people around them.

I recently introduced a housekeeper to a guest and was horrified at the way the guest dismissed her.

Pay attention to whether the candidate is overly friendly to the bosses, and almost ignores the cleaning staff. Pay attention to whether they immediately begin “talking shop” with some on the team and ignore others. You may need to watch for a while. Don’t make a quick judgement. It is normal for two people who have a lot in common to begin talking about those commonalities.

But at some point, the candidate should begin to weave others into the conversation. And don’t forget that the candidate may be a little shy about initiating conversation, so others on the team may need to step in and engage with the candidate. But you should be able to observe whether the candidate is interested in what people are doing or condescending to some.

You want to hire someone who respects everyone, regardless of their position, race, sex, etc. Look for people who genuinely like other people, who find people interesting – particularly when they are a bit different.

Look for trust or anger issues.

Project teams need to be able to trust one another. Some people are better at trust than others. The challenge here is to be able to discern whether you are interviewing someone with trust issues, or someone who has been working with people who were simply not dependable. You can’t blame someone for not trusting a colleague who repeatedly fails to deliver.

But, if the candidate wants to control too much, it may be a trust issue. And that brings anger into the equation. When things haven’t gone the way the candidate had hoped, how did he/she react? What did he/she do? Look at both behaviors and feelings. People are entitled to their feelings. They are not entitled to behave inappropriately.

It is healthy when people can name their emotions and still behave appropriately.

Arrange for others to interview the candidate and pay attention to their observations.

Asking other project team members to interview the candidate is not just done to make others feel empowered. It’s done because you should care what they think. It is the project team that is going to have to absorb this new hire. They may have very insightful opinions.

Are you frequently hiring project team members? Share your suggestions in the comments. And, if you want some more tips, sign up for my newsletter.