Steve Pham

In an industry not known for customer service, Southwest Airlines is a true standout. A quick Google search reveals story after story of how Southwest employees went above and beyond to make their customers’ travel experiences better — from little things such as peppering safety announcements with humorous comments to holding a plane for a passenger heading to see a dying loved one. Its employees are dedicated, fun-loving and empowered to make decisions on the company’s behalf. Its unofficial motto seems to be “people first, profit second.” What’s their secret sauce? They hire for attitude.

Business owners in the pool and spa industry also have caught on to this. A couple of years ago, we asked the CEOs of our Top 50 Builders to share their best business decisions of the past two years. Tony Schiavone of Clarksburg, N.J.-based Seasonal World said, “We always look to hire and develop ‘good’ people. For us, this means those who have a positive, can-do attitude, no matter what the day brings or the challenges they face. These types of people have a positive impact to the morale of the organization.”

Ron Gibbons of Gibbons Pools in Islandia, N.Y. follows the same approach. “We hire for attitude. With the right positive attitude, employees start their first day with the customer in mind. In the end, that’s all that matters. Hiring for attitude has been a proven success for us.”

But how does one hire for attitude?

There are a few ways to do this. Here are my top three.

1. During the interview, ask questions that are behavior-based, rather than focusing only on skills. For example, “Tell me about a time when you lacked the knowledge or skills to perform a given assignment.” Or ask about how they reacted to having to adapt quickly to change. Another: “What management style brings out your best work?” These types of questions will give you some insight on how they might behave at your company.

2. Give candidates a problem and listen closely to how they solve it. Some companies like to present a real-life customer-service problem and ask how the candidate would handle it. You’re not looking for an exact match to how your firm handled the problem, but rather that the candidate’s answer aligns with your company’s values.

3. Hold peer interviews. Once a candidate has passed an initial screening, many companies will conduct a team interview, where the candidate has a chance to meet with the employees they would be working with. This serves two excellent purposes: It gives you an opportunity to see if the individual would be a good fit for the staff, and it gives your team a voice in the hiring process, validating their opinions. Some companies choose to put the candidate right in the middle of a typical working session, while others will have the team conduct a traditional sit-down interview. Another possibility is to invite the candidate to a more casual social get-together. The point is to give the team and the individual some time to get to know each other.

If your company largely hires for attitude, what do you do specifically that’s worked well? Drop me a line, I’d love to hear about it.