Should enthusiasm be considered more valuable than skills and experience?

Posted by Georgia Bennett | October 17, 2017

Nearly one in four people in 2016 were looking to leave their jobs due to managers failing to engage and retain their staff.(1) I would suspect that with such dramatic changes in recruitment, employment and employee welfare etc. this figure has gone up (whilst companies figure out what works).

This made me wonder whether there was more that could be done in the first place to prevent staff disengagement and such.

So, it is a wonder whether interviewers probe enough to find out whether the candidate actually has a legitimate desire (or not) to do the job the organisation is going to pay them to do. It's no secret many people apply for and even embark on careers they’re not truly interested in. Many things can motivate someone (money, security, ease and location of the job), but unfortunately this is not always passion or care for a sector or organisation.

It would be foolish to assume that there is or should be a definite yes or no answer to the title question. One could easily argue that just because an applicant cares doesn’t mean they’re any good at the job; certain skills are needed to give you a good start.

However, ‘a good start’ is where this argument could be questioned. A company will always need to teach any new job holder the way they work, so surely previous skills are to a certain extent, only a good start? Most people want to develop their skills - that’s one reason people move organisations and jobs. As a result, surely significance should lie in the applicants’ potential capability and their ability and desire to learn? Looking for potential is essentially what graduate schemes do, because they acknowledge a lack of formal experience. This concept has merit and instead opts to select someone fresh and not strictly by-the-competency-framework (or person specification). Not to mention that it clearly works as companies seem to strive more than ever to hire young graduates through ‘graduate schemes’. This then poses the question, why do companies jump on the graduate scheme bandwagon, yet fail to apply the same successful concept elsewhere in their recruitment?

So, regarding a candidate's 'experience' and 'skills', it could be argued that one would still have to learn the new companies’ working practices and job specifics, regardless of past experience.

Whereas, you cannot teach passion.

Passion could be a powerful driving factor for learning and progression. It is logical that an engaged, interested and enthusiastic employee with true care towards their role and progressing the organisation is also going to to do their job better than someone who merely has experience and skills. What are skills and experience worth if the person possessing them doesn’t care how or why they are using them?

Prior to an interview, research into the company shows the candidate knows, cares about and is interested in the organisation. A recent interview I attended begun with a long explanation about what the organisation does. I feel like there was a perfect opportunity to have tested and judged my passion. For example, changing that introduction into a question: ‘So would you like to tell me about your understanding of our organisation and what you believe we do?’ Maybe interviewers could benefit from not only including competency questions but also a few well put together questions that allow the applicant to naturally and genuinely discuss their motivation and passion (and of course some do). ‘Naturally discuss' being the essential point here – anyone can do research, but a candidate that is interested and curious can have a fluent and stimulating conversation about the company. With ‘conversation' being another important word; change up the question and answer routine. Participate.

The need for skills over passion and vice versa will always be situational (a merely passionate person could not perform heart surgery off the cuff). Yet, we could at least dwell on the split between experience, knowledge and skills vs. passion, care and motivation. This means that, case by case (personalisation is essential), how much experience does the candidate have and are their skills transferable and useful. Even if their skills are not evidenced in situations you recognise or specifically asked for, have they still made an effort to show they are there? How does their passion sit amongst their skills on paper? Which is stronger? Which is most important for the role? Do you want a ‘robot' who could hit the ground running, or someone who may need more support gaining experience but that really wants to learn because they care and they’re potentially capable?

I would say it's vital to look at a potential employee holistically. If you're going to have to train the employee up to company standard anyway, it could be beneficial to bear in mind those who are seriously passionate yet coachable.

'Hire for attitude, train for skill'.

Keep a look out for those that really do care – they could be your next best employee.


About the contributors

Photo of Helen Bennett

Helen Bennett

Helen is the Baby Boomer founder of Human Reality and Bennett's Business Bash. She has strong views on... well, just about everything! Her blog will cover a range of subjects and aims to give an opinion. She is forthright, no nonsense, sometimes controversial and often seeing the humorous side to working in business.

Photo of Georgia Bennett

Georgia Bennett

Georgia Bennett is the Millennial daughter of Helen. She too has strong views on just about everything! Often they agree but sometimes they don't. Having a degree in Classical Civilisation, Georgia takes the intellectual and often younger generation's perspective on things.