Are You Hiring for Technical Skills or Behavior and Culture Match?

Shaking hand for new employment

Companies often believe they know exactly what they’re looking for when hiring, but as they go through the process and speak to various candidates, they begin to question whether they were seeking the right characteristics all along. In the blue-collar business I was part of, our success depended on teamwork and a willingness to roll up one’s sleeves. We recruited from top engineering schools, but we faced challenges retaining graduates. Our recruits aspired to climb the corporate ladder quickly, often before gaining sufficient experience, and contrary to my previous post on age and work performance, we actually wanted individuals to earn their roles and progress through the levels based on their experience.

I was at a Rutgers University hiring event when an engineering graduate came up to me and asked if he could talk with us.  Surprised, I asked, “why wouldn’t we speak to you?”

He explained that some of the companies at the event wouldn’t consider him, due to the fact he had a lower GPA than other attendees. We were impressed that he rolled up his sleeves and approached us, and eventually we hired him, and he spent over 15 years with the company. He has since moved on to run a competitor, running the  business in New Jersey. 

This experience made me realize that long-term success for the business does not always require high GPAs and rapid corporate advancement. Companies should assess their cultural dynamics and the desired behaviors within the organization, rather than solely focusing on technical attributes. While technical skills can be taught, when a candidate lacks the right behaviors or a cultural mindset, it won’t work out in the long run.

In his book “The Ideal Team Player,” Patrick Lencioni presents a study of a construction business that is looking for a change in leadership. The owner, aiming to retire, wanted to leave the business to his nephew. To maintain their level of success, execute projects effectively, and foster growth, the company realized they needed to add key individuals. 

After finding an accomplished candidate, the management team thought they had the right leader for operations. After several interviews, they began to realize that, despite this person’s successful track record, he didn’t meet the criteria for the culture and behaviors that the business wanted to have. As a result, they ended up promoting a person internally.

They applied the same approach to all positions across the company and set work expectations according to their cultural goals. This led some to leave due to the new requirements. Others recognized the opportunity and worked on personal growth. As they hired new employees, all candidates had to meet the new cultural criteria. 

While technical excellence may be effective for a certain period, once it starts to decline, it’s difficult to regain the same level of performance later on if the cultural fit isn’t there. A number of factors can indicate when this is the case, from other employees refusing to work with an individual to a lack of repeat clients. Developing your culture isn’t an easy process, but with input from every level, you can achieve success.