When I am hiring, attitude is the trait I ask about the most

By Tine Thygesen

Article originally published in finans.dk

What have you done, which was not expected of you? What have you created? Who have you helped, and what have you taught yourself? These questions are perhaps not the first ones you think about in terms of your career, but they are actually excellent indicators of your worth in the workplace, and therefore also your chance of getting your dream job.

In recent years, there has been a shift among business leaders in terms of what we are looking for in the recruitment process. Especially among the modern and innovative companies. While employers used to look primarily at education, nowadays there is a shift towards attention to the internal factors. We are looking for your inner driving force, what motivates you, and how hard you work to achieve your goals. In short; your attitude.

In contrast to your education, your attitude is something you work on your entire life. In Denmark, we almost have a reverent relationship to education, but education cannot stand on its own. A recent graduate with good grades, but poor attitude is not a desirable employee, and finalising a degree should definitely not be the end of your professional development. You can take control of your learning and improve your skills your entire life.

I find the new focus on attitude to be liberating. It gives us all increased control of our lives, knowing that we are able to improve ourselves and influence our job opportunities. We no longer have to wait to receive training granted by our boss, or go back to school which can result in an expensive break from employment. The difference between learning and education is often simply, that there is no diploma associated with learning. But often you do not even need that piece of paper.

The best way to show great attitude is by doing something not expected of you. In school, good grades are expected of students. At work, employees are expected to turn up on time and work to receive their salary. That is why you cannot conclude enough about your inner motivation from school or work. If you, on the other hand, take initiative independently, without getting anything in return, you show that you possess drive and motivation which are fundamental in having great attitude.

You can show great attitude in many ways. You can be a volunteer coach, join the student council, develop an app in your spare time, write a book. These activities all have initiative and perseverance in common.

In my own career in management, I sat across my first board years ago. I had no training in dealing with a board and was very uncertain about my role. Besides reading a lot of books on the subject, I chose to learn by becoming a board member in other companies, free of charge. This gave me ample opportunities to observe how other board members approached their work on the board and I was able to identify weaknesses that I could recognise in myself and thereby make necessary changes. Today, I read a lot of business books and take online courses on sites like Udemy, Masterclass and Udacity, which are priced from 15 USD. As you can see, it does not cost a lot.

When I hire, attitude is the element I ask about the most. That is why most of my employees have great attitude. One of them has developed an open source framework for app development, another was a volunteer at the university newspaper, and a third has been on the national youth hockey team. What they all have in common is their willingness to work hard for the goals they set. And this ability is used daily.

Business leaders focus a lot on attitude, because it is essential to how a person performs. We can teach people skills, but we cannot change their attitude. We have all had a colleague, who finds everything impossible, complains, and is a bottleneck with their slow pace and who drains other colleagues of motivation. These people are poison to job satisfaction. On the other hand, motivation from people with the right attitude is contagious, and they improve the environment around them automatically.   

In addition to it being advantageous for your career to improve your skills, there is a deep personal satisfaction in self-improvement. And it also gives increased self-confidence. Volunteer work and learning on your own initiative, where you do not get anything directly in return, is something we should all do, regardless of what career level we are at.