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Workplace Culture is one of those buzzy phrases that crops up endlessly in modern discussions around recruiting and hiring. Recruiters are purportedly seeking individuals who will successfully fit it, and job seekers purportedly value it above virtually everything but salary. But at the end of the day, isn’t it the work you do—and are capable of doing—that’s most important?

Hire/Train Attitude/Skills

You may be familiar with some variation of the following maxim:

Hire for attitude, train for skills

Or perhaps you’ve heard the opposite? Hire for skills, not attitude? Here’s a fun screenshot for you:


Two articles, same magazine, published only two days apart, polar opposite stances. Now admittedly, these are articles from four years ago, and interestingly enough, if we constrain our search to just the past year, it becomes much, much, much, much harder to find articles that take the “hire for skills” stance. Why would that be?

Skills are quantitative, attitude is qualitative

A provocative answer to this question can be found in an article by Freddy J. Nager, Founder and Creative Strategist, Atomic Tango. The article is entitled LinkedInanity — Dubious Wisdom From The LinkedIn Wall, False Dilemma Edition, and in it, he addresses the above-referenced “hire for attitude” quote (specifically in its Simon Sinek form):

“You don’t hire for skills, you hire for attitude. You can always teach skills.”

Nager writes:

That emphasis on attitude seems to resonate with many people on LinkedIn… maybe because they don’t have skills to sell. Or more likely because the quote has that Pollyanna feel-good Kumbaya vibe that resonates on social media: “Hey, stop discriminating on the basis of actual ability, bro – just be open to teaching…”

But as a teacher who hires people for their skills — writers, designers, programmers, actors, video editors, accountants, lawyers, illustrators, car mechanics — I opt for the third option:


Nager’s post points up something that is pretty critical for modern job-seekers to recognize—fundamentally, hiring agents generally proceed on the idea that skills are quantitative, whereas attitude is qualitative.

Now, why is it important to understand this?

Workplace Culture and The Interview

Let’s go back to where we started, and look at workplace culture. We could cite any one of literally hundreds of studies, but let’s go with Deloitte for this one:

Eighty-two percent of the respondents to the Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends 2016 survey believe that culture is a potential competitive advantage for employers.

In short, companies are thinking about workplace culture when hiring. So if you’re a job-seeker, how do you proceed? Because that’s what it all comes down to—if companies are hiring for culture, then how do you convince them that you’ll fit?

The first answer is surprisingly simple: research. While culture may at heart be qualitative, it can still be researched. And by researching the culture of a company where you’re going to apply, you can effectively transform the intangible into the actionable. This is canonical interview preparation. Identify the qualities important to a company, then be prepared to speak to how you exemplify those qualities. Here is a great article to help you gain an understanding of how companies think about these things: 10 Ways to Create a Corporate Culture for Employee Engagement. And here are two examples of the different ways companies go about expressing their values: Twilio & Rakuten.

Now, as to the second answer, it’s even simpler: don’t be difficult.

All companies, save for perhaps some really odd exceptions, are generally going to prize qualities like honesty, integrity, respect, and positivity. It’s kind of an “All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten” idea, but at the end of the day, you just have to get along with people. And anyhow, no company is going to say they DON’T embrace these qualities, so while there may be nuanced distinctions—this company esteems collaboration, that one favors the self-motivated and individualistic—they’re all going to expect you to get along with everyone.

If you’re starting to sense where this is heading, you’re right. We believe in skills-based hiring.


Hiring for skills

In today’s very technologically advanced world, the hiring landscape looks a great deal different than it did even just a year or two ago. Today, talented individuals have the opportunity to learn skills that companies don’t even know they need yet. If you’re skilled in fields like Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, Predictive Analytics, Progressive Web Application Development, Virtual Reality, DevOps, Self-Driving Car technology, and more, chances are you’re being hired to raise a company’s game, and not the other way around. Hire for attitude, teach for skills? How many companies out there are going to hire you for attitude, and then TEACH you Machine Learning?

If you’ve got your sights set on a job that interests and engages you, and you want to work for a progressive company that continues to strive for excellence and growth, then you’re best served by staying laser-focused on mastering the cutting-edge skills you’ll need to succeed. You can learn about, absorb, and and adapt to workplace culture as you go. Just make sure to do your research into values ahead of time, so you don’t botch the interview! And, don’t be difficult.

p.s. Stay tuned for a future post, in which we show you that attitude is in fact quantifiable as well, but not in the ways you might think! We’re not talking Meyers-Briggs.


Ready to hone your skills and advance your career?

Christopher Watkins
Christopher Watkins
Christopher Watkins is Senior Writer and Chief Words Officer at Udacity. He types on a MacBook or iPad by day, and either an Underwood, Remington, or Royal by night. He carries a Moleskine everywhere.