Why now is the time to hire for attitude, not skill

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Mining companies often say they want to hire someone with the right attitude, but they often end up hiring based on skill. Here’s why it’s time that changed.

Mining companies know how much a bad hire can cost them.

It’s why, when managers and human resources teams call recruiters like MPI, we often hear the words “we need someone who’s got the right attitude.”

Those mining companies recognise that the right employee will have more than just the right mix of skills and abilities; they’ll have a positive outlook, boundless enthusiasm, a willingness to learn and upskill, and a can-do attitude.

So, it’s perhaps surprising to learn that, when presented with such a remarkable candidate, many companies still end up choosing the person who has the right skills over the person with the right attitude.

A disconnect on attitude

MPI Principal Consultant for Professional and Technical Tony Turton said while any mining company would, ideally, want a candidate that had both the attitude and the perfect skill set, when it comes to choosing between one or the other, the skill set generally wins out.

“A lot of companies say they’re after someone with the right attitude that they can provide training and get up to speed with all the appropriate skills, but then when you come to present candidates to them, it generally becomes all about skills,” he said.

And that means mining companies could well be missing out on the best candidate, Tony said.

Why you should hire for attitude over skills

Tony warned that in the current market conditions there is a particular risk for mining companies stepping back from that early commitment to recruit based on attitude.

Before we get to that, let’s take a look at some of the reasons recruiting for attitude is absolutely the right approach for any mining company today.

You’ll open up a wider pool of candidates

Recruiting for attitude gets you away from the check box list of criteria, which can easily exclude a great candidate who is eager to upskill and brings plenty of enthusiasm.

Your team will be more productive

Bringing on someone with a positive attitude who is focused on their job helps lift the productivity of the whole team. Someone with the perfect skill set who has a bad attitude or is a negative gossip is going to be a counterproductive employee.

They take feedback well

If you’ve ever had an employee who mopes and downs tools for a day or two after receiving even the most constructive of feedback, you’ll understand the virtue in having an employee who takes the advice onboard, makes the changes, and moves on with a smile.

Your team is more likely to reach goals

A positive person with a can-do attitude who is driven to meet goals is a great motivator for the whole team. They know to celebrate successes (even the small ones) and can get things back on track when things go wrong.

Positive people make great leaders

As a starting point for identifying future leadership, you could do much worse than hiring for a great attitude.

A quick note on negative attitudes

On the flip side to all this, it’s worth briefly noting the potential impact of hiring someone with a negative attitude.

In 2021 The Australian Financial Review reported a study of 300 hiring managers had found the cost of a hiring mistake was between 15 and 21 per cent more than the employee’s salary. The figure was based on lost revenue, lost productivity and additional performance management and training resources.

In a Fast Company survey of 6000 business leaders in 2014, 62% said a negative attitude was a top quality employers should identify before recruiting a new employee. It was right up there with a failure to produce the proper quality of work, and a failure to work well with other employees — both named by 63% of survey respondents.

Here’s what the survey found:

  • 41% said a bad hire had cost them at least US$25,000
  • 25% said a bad hire had cost them at least US$50,000
  • 41% said bad hires had cost worker productivity
  • 40% said they’d lost time recruiting and training another worker
  • 36% said the bad hire had a negative impact on employee morale.

How did these bad hires happen? The reasons given will all sound very familiar to anyone who has been involved in recruitment for any length of time:

  • 38% said the company needed to fill the position quickly
  • 21% said the company didn’t test the employee’s skills well enough
  • 11% said the company didn’t perform adequate reference checks.

Why miners should be hiring for attitude right now

So, why should mining companies stick by their early intention to hire based on attitude over skill set right now, in 2023 and 2024? It’s all to do with the ongoing skills shortage facing mining in Australia.

“What I see now, as this shortage of skilled people becomes protracted, people are allowing their business to have these roles vacant for extended periods of time, whilst they search desperately for people with the right skills,” Tony said.

“There’s no shortage of people who have got pretty reasonable skills and have the right attitude, but they don’t get a look in.

“It means the mining companies don’t get their business needs met for the duration that it takes to actually find a properly skilled person, versus someone who’s got the right attitude and who is probably more available.”

The opportunity, though, is clear. Those mining companies that act now and hire based on attitude, and hire employee candidates who are really motivated to join their business, will be the winners — not just in the short term, but potentially in the long term, too.

MPI has almost 30 years’ specialist experience helping mining companies find the best candidates across every job category. Find out more here or get in touch today.


Dan Hatch
Mining People International