How to Hire for Talent and Aptitude


Excerpt from The Culture Question:

At ACHIEVE, we have discovered that ensuring employees find meaning in their work begins at the point of first contact: during the interview process. We have dramatically changed our hiring processes over the years. Through trial and error, and observations in our own personal journeys, we have come to appreciate that a person’s innate talent matters more than their skill set in determining their satisfaction and effectiveness on the job. Work that connects someone’s natural strengths with what they care about allows them to find meaning in the work they do.

Early in our organization’s history, we interviewed in the same way that many organizations do – with the goal of finding the most skilled, educated, and experienced candidate. Using this approach worked for us some of the time, but the results were unpredictable. We learned that this type of hiring process sometimes gave us employees who were technically capable of doing their jobs, but who found their work unsatisfying or did not resonate with the mission of our company.

As a result, we began to tailor our interviews with the goal of discovering each candidate’s innate talent or aptitude while discerning their fit for our culture. It’s not that skills, education, and proven experience don’t matter, but once those basic requirements are met, they become secondary to a candidate’s natural talent and fit.

After shifting the approach of our interviews to assess for innate talent and aptitude, we found that we were much more likely to establish mutually satisfying employment relationships. Innate talent and aptitude helped us determine which candidate would be congruent with the work we needed done.

One of the key questions we ask in interviews is, “What do you do in your current work that gives you a sense of satisfaction?” The answers to this question and others like it tell us what’s important to each candidate and whether they would be a fit for the position.

We recently had an opening in our marketing department. The successful candidate for this position would primarily work independently and not engage with the public. When we asked a very skilled candidate what in his current work gave him satisfaction, his response was, “I love public speaking and being in front of people, sharing ideas.” While this person had all the required skills for the job, it was clear that he would not have been satisfied in his work given his desire to work with the public. Partially as a result of this, we didn’t hire him.

Most of us have likely had jobs that didn’t bring us happiness, or we have worked for organizations whose purpose didn’t resonate with us. Early in my career, I, Eric, lucked into work that suited me: teaching conflict resolution. I was working as a mediator for a community organization when our training coordinator had to unexpectedly leave his position. I was asked to step in, and by the age of 25, I was teaching groups of adults how to mediate. I loved it! It drew on my natural abilities to organize things, to discuss subjects I was passionate about, to teach, and to help others work through conflict.

When I moved to a new city a few years later, I applied for a job in collaborative labor relations. My mediation and training background seemed to make me a great fit for the position – and to some extent, I was. I had skills that transferred from one industry to another. However, I soon realized that I wasn’t entirely happy in my new job. Although I had the right skills, I found that moving from a facilitative role to an advocacy role required a different way of being and thinking.

Over the years I became increasingly uncomfortable and unhappy. So when I had the opportunity to get back into facilitation and training, I jumped at the chance. Now, at ACHIEVE, I get to provide leadership in the field I am passionate about. Once again, I am happy at work and have a great sense of gratification in the work I do. Though it might seem obvious, I’ve now come to realize that even meaningful work must be personally satisfying if it is to bring happiness over the long term.

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Culture Question: How to Create a Workplace Where People Like to WorkThe Authors
This blog is an excerpt from ACHIEVE’s upcoming book, The Culture Question: How to Create a Workplace Where People Like to Work. The authors are four members of ACHIEVE’s leadership team – Randy Grieser, Eric Stutzman, Wendy Loewen, and Michael Labun.  The book is available now.