Book Review of Hiring for Attitude by Mark Murphy


As a Human Resources Director, I do a lot of hiring.  That explains why I originally picked up an audio copy of this book.  Usually I listen to audio books during my commute to and from work, but because I wanted to be able to take notes, I made it a point to listen to this book while I was sitting comfortably at a desk, with a writing pad and a pen at hand.

I only realized afterward, when I was thinking of books I thought would be useful to my readers for me to review, that this book would be incredibly useful for anyone further along in designing their lifestyles. Anyone who has developed a small business may want to hire someone to do some of the leg work. Or maybe you want to go on vacation and have the business run while you’re away.

Given that, I thought it would be downright silly not to review this one for my readers. Especially since it contains such great information.

Before we jump into the contents, note that the author has his own consulting company. This book is obviously promotional material for him.  That’s not to say there isn’t good information in the book. Au contraire, my friends, the book is really good. But you can tell there is some information he deliberately left out in the hopes that you’ll call on his company to come help with the finer points of determining your company’s values and how to apply the principles.

What’s in the Book

There is some valuable information in this book about hiring people who will be successful for the position you’re trying to fill.

The premise of the book is to get away from only hiring for hard skills. Rather, the author wants you to find the people who have the attitudes you need to meet your organization’s goals.  We’ve all worked at companies that hired in really talented people who had really terrible attitudes. Those people made the lives of everyone around them miserable. This book hopes to help organizations find people who are a joy to work with and who are able to learn to fill in any gaps in training or experience.

I am a strong believer in hiring for character when possible, because skills can be learned in many situations.  This book speaks to the importance of hiring people with the right character traits.

The Importance of Values

Murphy starts off by walking you through the reasons why it’s important to define your organizational values. He then asks you to find the attitudes (character traits) that are the common thread among people who are already successful in the role for which you are hiring.  Nailing those down first helps you determine which questions to ask. Then it helps you determine how to evaluate a candidate’s answers.

Useless Questions

Not surprisingly, he then launches into the types of questions that are useless during the interview process. These include icebreaker questions, pseudo-psychological questions (thank you—nobody cares what kind of nut you’d be), and behavioral interview questions when they have leaders attached to them.

I admit, I am completely guilty of this last type of question.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with behavioral interview questions, these are the questions that begin with “Tell me about a time . . . “ and then ask a question that invokes a story from the candidate. The premise of these questions is that the key indicator of future behavior is prior behavior.

An example of a behavioral question with a leader would be, “Tell me about a time you had an irate customer on the line.  How did you calm the customer and resolve their issue?”  The leader is that part of the question I’ve emphasized.

The problem with leaders is that they tip the candidate off to explaining a time that they actually resolved the issue.  Let’s say we leave the question at, “Tell me about a time you had an irate customer.” Well, that leaves the candidate to tell you whatever they’d like about the situation. They’ll tell the story from their point of view.  You’ll get a wider range of answers and can look for the character traits that you’ve identified as the ones that will make the candidate successful.

Proper Training for Hiring Managers

Once you’ve defined the questions, you need to provide lots of great sample answers as examples of good answers and poor answers.

Murphy presents some research that suggests that we learn best when we have both positive and negative examples of whatever it is you’re training on.  I have long felt the same way.  When presenting training at work I provide lots of examples, because I feel like they really illustrate what you’re saying.  The key point that Murphy is trying to make here, though, is that you must provide both positive and negative examples for the best instruction.

Training your hiring managers on your new process is critical. When everyone in the hiring process is on the same page, you have clarity. More importantly, everyone understands what traits they should be looking for, and what it looks like when they find them. He didn’t say that last bit, exactly, but it’s true.

Other Indicators

Murphy will walk you through some other indicators of low performers in relation to large samples of interview responses they have analyzed.  They’ve made determinations about the kinds of grammar that low performers use versus the grammar high performers use.

For example, high performers use more first person pronouns (I, we). Meanwhile, low performers use more second and third person pronouns (he, they, you). High performers tend to use more active voice , while low performers tend use more passive voice.

There were many other types of grammar indicators they mentioned, but these are the two that stuck out to me the most.

I happen to have a reputation as a grammar pedant, so I geeked out a little at this part of the book. But I wouldn’t rely on these indicators as much as the actual answers being presented to me.

Follow up with Performance Reviews

The best way to see if your hiring choices are getting better is to use a similar process for performance reviews.  I don’t want to go into the details here, because I think this plays second-fiddle to the primary purpose of the book. But if you have the resources and organizational size to accommodate a formal review process, I think his reasoning is sound.

The idea is to develop a review that ranks the new hire on the same values you interviewed for. It should include well-defined values and examples of the types of behaviors exhibited by various levels of performance.

All in all, a good way to round off the book.

Should You Read This Book?

I would recommend this book to anyone in Human Resources as a way to tighten up your hiring practices. It would also make a great read for anyone in the second zag of their business’s zig-zag process.

Those interested in having their business passively earn income for them will need to bring in resources at some point—and resources often mean human resources.  For those people, this book is invaluable, and it ties in quite neatly with the fundamentals taught in the first few chapters of The Zig Zag Principle.

If you own your own business and you don’t have any HR professionals on staff, then I doubly recommend this book, especially if you’re new to hiring.

Finally, I think this is an excellent read for real estate investors looking to put together a team. If you’re ready to hire a property manager or accountant, give this a listen.

But the biggest application will be to businesses who plan to hire more than one of each role, or plan to fill a role multiple times.

Four out of five stars.

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