Hiring for attitude: Top tips from one of Australia’s fastest growing tech companies

Hiring for attitude

When Trent Innes took the helm as managing director of accounting software company Xero Australia four years ago, their team numbered just 40. Now the company has grown to 400 employees and shows no sign of slowing down. For Innes, hiring for the right attitude is critical to the success of the organisation. So, how does he do it?

We asked him for his top tips ahead of his keynote presentation to the 2018 NFP People Conference on 19-20 November.

Finding the right candidate

“Until recently, I interviewed every new starter to ensure they were the right fit for our team,” Innes says.

While the scale of the business means it’s no longer possible for Innes to meet each individual one-on-one as part of the recruitment process, he still makes sure someone in the organisation meets candidates at the end of the hiring process to specifically determine whether or not they are the right culture fit.

It’s not about determining capabilities, Innes says. “By that stage, all the questions around the suitability of the person for the role has been answered.”

This is the time to look hard at a candidate’s attitude and values.

“You can teach skills and develop knowledge but great attitude is either there or it’s not.”

Hiring for attitude

“Attitude, skills and knowledge are all important, but what I look out for most is attitude – you can’t fake, make or develop that,” Innes says.

“You either have a great attitude and work ethic, or you don’t. It’s riskier to hire someone with a bad attitude – they will affect the environment and output of the team around them.”

While Innes acknowledges that you need diversity in terms of skills and knowledge when growing your team, he also believes that each member of the team needs to have genuine passion and a great attitude.  

“If you combine that with being laser focused on a goal – that will be what drives the organisation forward.”

So, what’s the secret to hiring for attitude?

“I have one rule in the business that I like to pull out in interviews, because it helps me identify people who demonstrate the values I look for,” Innes says.

“It’s the ‘wash your own coffee cup’ rule.”

“Washing your own coffee cup is all about ownership. Anyone and everyone is responsible for washing up their own coffee cup; no one is above that. If you have used it, you wash it. It’s not up to your colleagues to look after you, whatever your position. I like to take new candidates out to the kitchen for a chat and see if they will take their glass to the sink to wash it when we are done.”

It’s a great way to get a gauge of a person’s attitude.

Hiring in a time of growth

Innes says organisations should take their time when hiring, even when they are experiencing a time of high growth.

“It can be tempting to rush hires to fill a need and not wait for the right person with the right mix of attitude, values and knowledge,” Innes says. “It’s always better to wait to hire if you’re not sure it’s right.”

Otherwise, he cautions, it can affect the overall output and cohesion of your team.

During periods of high growth and/or change, Innes advises organisations to focus on two things to attract the right type of people:

1. Purpose – what’s the purpose of the organisation? Why will your employees get up on a Monday morning and think, ‘You know what? I really want to go to work today, because I’m actually making a difference’?

“A strong purpose should be your north star,” Innes says. “This can focus your needs when hiring.”

2. Values – make sure you actually understand and define your values. Moreover, Innes says, ensure that you live them a leader.

“I quite often say to people, if I ever push into the coffee queue in the morning – which I wouldn’t do –  tell me to bugger off. If you have great values then you don’t need rules.”

Ask yourself, can you see how this person will make a positive impact in your organisation? If you can’t, it’s always better to wait to hire if you are not sure the candidate is the right fit. “Your next best hire could be that next interview,” Innes says.

Finally Innes suggests you should always aim to hire someone better than yourself. This attitude will lead to growth and opportunities you can only begin to imagine.

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