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Hire for Skill or Hire for Passion?


success desire

Warning – this is an opinion piece and is not based on any survey (real or imagined) or other scientifically (or unscientifically) proven information.  This is just something I thought about the other day and figured you all might have a point of view that may help others think this through.

Kris Dunn over at HRCapitalist posted a short thought the other day on his blog entitled “Hiring for Motivational Fit Vs. Hiring for Culture.”  His main point was you should hire for motivational fit because that will deliver true retention over time.  The difference in Mr. Capitalist’s mind was that cultural fit is a 30,000 foot view and motivational fit is more a 10,000 foot view.  I personally think motivational fit is a subset of cultural fit so a great hire is a combo platter.

But I’m not here to dis on Kris’s point of view, but his post got me thinking about the idea of hiring for a specific trait and how that affects your overall employee population.

Skills Vs. Passion

Every company has a job that needs to be done.  And when you need someone to do that job you reach out and hire someone.  First and foremost on your mind is “can that person do the job?”  That is a skill discussion.  Do they have the skills?  Only after you’ve narrowed down your list to the highly skilled do you then worry about whether they have the passion for the job/company/etc – then you worry about whether they are emotionally attached to the company mission.  Most companies approach hiring in this manner.  Skills first – passion second.

The down side may be that if you hire predominantly based on skill set you get a more diverse group of people relative to their level of passion and connection.  You’ll get a few highly passionate people, a few highly nonplussed and a bunch that hover around the mid-point of the curve.  In other words… you get highly skilled people but a very normal distribution of passion. (Think high-end consulting firms and maybe even google or Apple.)

Conversely, if you hire based on passion you’ll have a highly passionate group of people with a more normal distribution of skills – some highly skilled, some woefully unprepared and many, again hovering around the midpoint. (Think non-profits, TOMS Shoes and other “passion-based” industries/companies.)

Which is better?

If you buy my premise that focusing on one element skews your population on that element and normalizes it on the other elements, then the question is this…

Which one do you want in your organization?

Highly skilled but average passion?

Highly emotional and passionate but average skills?

Or is this whole idea a non-starter?

I think I’d take passion over skill any day.


One person with passion is better than forty people merely interested.”

– E. M. Forster,English Novelist

3 Responses to “Hire for Skill or Hire for Passion?”

  1. Sybil Stershic says:

    Great post, Paul. I advocate the passion-first approach, because skills can be taught, but not passion. However, I also recognize that the answer depends on the industry, the specialized/technical skill set needed, AND the availability of qualified candidates in the talent pool.

  2. Twin31s says:

    Paul — I advocate “None of the Above”. Full Disclosure: we sell this.

    In any case, we believe that performance is a factor of 3 inputs: Talent (Skills & Traits: hire for traits, train for skills); Effort (the Motivation piece), and Culture (the Fit piece).

    We recommend finding out first who CAN do the job (starting with traits), then interview the CAN DOers to find out their effort history (motivation), using a structured behavioral interview. Then the interviewers discuss (in a structured way) to make the best judgment of culture fit.

    That way, you’re only bringing people aboard who can do the job, who will do the job, and who will do it all in your culture. This combination of philosophy, process and tools makes good hiring much easier, and bad hiring VERY tough.

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