Candidates who have the emotional navigational skills to graciously handle the challenges of working on a team, plus the hard skills to do their jobs, make ideal hires. Familiarity with the hard skills that a position requires secures an interview while having a positive attitude and being resilient, resourceful, and flexible are the qualities that suggest fit.
While a new hire can be trained to refine some of the hard skills that a position requires, instilling a positive attitude or a deeper sense of empathy towards students and colleagues can be a bigger challenge.
Kyle Elliott, consultant and career coachadvises candidates: “It can be difficult to teach positivity and optimism. Many employers are willing to teach other skills required to do the job if you demonstrate an open and reachable mindset during the interview. Don’t underestimate the impact of optimism. Your positive attitude can be a deal clincher.”
A Growth Culture
Demonstrating skill fluency is important for any job candidate, as is understanding the client base that an organization serves. Students come to campus to cultivate their intellect and refine their life skills. For many, it’s their introduction to independent adult life. The education that’s fostered on campus is multi-tiered; Students earn their education from an array of professionals in the community.
The mission of many institutions is ambitious — striving to create informed and ethical global citizens. The aim is to cultivate an attitude that lends itself to curiosity, service, and growth. Psychologist Carol Dweck calls this “a growth mindset.” Students are well served by professionals who exhibit this mindset.
Service orientation is an essential competency that jobs on campus require. It impacts both the populations a position serves plus the professional team to which the position plays part.
Fixed vs. Growth Mindsets
Dweck describes a fixed mindset: “I’ve seen so many people with this one consuming goal of proving themselves — in the classroom, in their careers, and in their relationships. Every situation calls for a confirmation of their intelligence, personality, or character. Every situation is evaluated: Will I succeed or fail? Will I look smart or dumb? Will I be accepted or rejected? Will I feel like a winner or a loser?”
The fixed mindset can be a common one on campus where destructive rigidity and egoism run contrary to the institution’s mission.
Conversely, the growth mindset is fluid. Dweck writes: “There’s another mindset in which these traits are not simply a hand you’re dealt and have to live with, always trying to convince yourself and others that you have a royal flush when you’re secretly worried it’s a pair of tens . In this mindset, the hand you’re dealt is just the starting point for development. This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts.”
The growth mindset tends to be consistent with the educational mission many institutions espouse. It’s less about knowing a list of skills and more about knowing how to be versatile. This awareness anchors a positive attitude and it’s difficult to impart through training.
Why Attitude Matters
Incorporating a new personality into a team is a delicate undertaking. Of course, a new hire needs the skill set to contribute to the team’s work. That professional will also succeed and struggle with the team; therefore, that skill set is multidimensional. There’s a rich array of resources for tooling hard skills. Soft skills are more abstract to impart, but they are essential to securing fit and building morale.
Raissa Allaire, executive director at Treehouse Humane Society explains: “Attitude is extremely important. Do they have a growth mindset? Are they solution-oriented and have self-composure when things become difficult? It’s key to build positive teams. I have found that one negative, toxic individual can undermine the morale and health of a team.”
Behavioral interview questions seek to explore examples from candidates’ pasts to help examine how they might behave in future scenarios, and they can be helpful devices for demonstrating a growth mindset.
Consider these behavioral interview questions:
• Tell me about a time you felt defeated at work and how you handled this.
• Tell me about a time you had a conflict at work and how you resolved it.
Consider, first, how the candidate responds to the difficulty of the question. Does the challenge seem to shut the candidate down or open him or her up? Does the candidate seem comfortable discussing a professionally difficult situation? What by-products does the candidate mention that came from the struggle? Does the candidate seem rigid or overly rehearsed, or does he or she seem to truly level with you and share in a way that seems genuine and sincere?
Allaire points out the importance of body language in this assessment: “I look to see if the candidate’s positive words are congruent with his/her body language. Is the candidate smiling, relaxed, making eye contact, and/or attentively listening?”
Keep in mind: as the interviewer, your gut feelings, your emotional intelligence, are activated while you engage in this conversation. You want to see that the interviewee has the wherewithal to endure difficulty, struggle productively, and evolve rather than crumble as a result of challenge. This is the “growth mindset” in action.
Elliot explains: “Attitude is often a huge deciding factor when reviewing candidates. Hiring managers want to hire someone who is positive to work with and fun to be around.”
Interviewing for Attitude
When it comes to pursuing soft skills in an interview, sometimes you have to generate your own measures, especially when it comes to attitude.
Author Carol Gee, formerly of Emory University, explains: “During the interview, I would gauge the candidates by saying something silly to see if they laughed easily or were stiff and unsure how to respond. They also needed to appear flexible, as my professors, who were very creative, often changed ideas about how to do things midstream, so the candidates needed to be able to switch gears quickly as well.”
Finding fit is a delicate practice. While candidates need to have a certain background and experience to be successful, they also need to fit with your team and with those it serves. Decide what qualities you can teach and what you need your new hire to possess coming into the role.
Gee adds this anecdote: “I once hired an administrative assistant who didn’t have the technical skills needed but I loved how she presented herself: she was personable, friendly, sweet, etc. I felt she would fit easily into our group. I found courses for her on campus that brought her skill levels up. She didn’t disappoint.”
It’s hard to instill a growth mindset, and that not only impacts how your team handles the work you do, it impacts how they relate to students, colleagues, and management. Allaire explains: “Skills can be taught, but it’s very difficult to change someone’s attitude and/or their attitude when dealing with problems and conflict.”