Why Motivations are more important than Skills when hiring

Why Motivations are more important than Skills when hiring

Yes. You read that right. Motivations are more important than skills when hiring a new employee and in this post I will explain why.

When making a statement like this I would expect to get two reactions. Agreement or strong disagreement. For those in agreement there’s no point arguing why you are right, but for those not in agreement you mirror what is accepted as common sense. By common sense I mean if you need someone to do a job, then it would help if they had the skills to do the job first. That’s just common sense right? Why hire someone to be a plumber if they know nothing about plumbing no matter how motivated they are?

So what is the point I am trying to make then?

As a recruiter the first request I have from any client will concern skills. For example I’ll get an email or call along the lines of “I am looking for a Maintenance Engineer to repair and maintain cardboard box manufacturing equipment and I need them to have experience of maintaining cardboard box manufacturing equipment”. In an ideal world I will already have someone on my books or be able to source them someone with these skills. Many recruiters are setup purely on a search and select skills system and will aim to provide a service offering just that.

Oddly enough when I get a client, and these examples tend to be new clients that I have not previously worked with before, the next question isn’t even about fee’s. Oh no. It’s about our rebate policy. They’ll ask along the lines of “If I hire someone from you and they don’t work out what is your policy”. Why ask that particular question? The answer is simple; they’ve hired people before and they haven’t worked out and have exited the business just as quickly as they had started.

To many companies, and I find this bizarre, this is seen as a common problem and nothing other than a normal part of the hiring process. I personally, and I know of other recruiters alike (I’ll keep their names to myself as I’d be complimenting my competition otherwise), have very low rates of churn when it comes to new starters not working out. Not to blow my own trumpet, but it’s around 1 in every 20. Of distinct frustration to me is that I see this as perfectly normal, as do other good recruiters I know of who hold similar records, but it is seen as otherworldly and thus baloney to numerous fresh clients who ask the question.

Before explaining the reasons how a churn rate of 1 in 20 can be seen as normal to some recruiters and 10 in 20 normal to others I’d like to clarify something to any sceptics out there. A common practice in recruitment is to concentrate your market into one niche discipline. By niche discipline for example there are Recruiters who will spend all day every day covering exclusively the market for Service Engineers for the Materials handling industry based in say Essex. Their modus operandi will be to build relationships and knowledge of every single service engineer in the materials handling industry in that county because when a client asks for someone they will know who is available immediately. In favour of convenience for a client this is ideal and in many cases, if the recruiter is effective and knows their stuff, it can work. The point being for any sceptics is that if you work specifically in one market in which you have minimal competition, an abundance of candidates and it’s a recruiters market rather than a candidates, it is much easier to skew the churn rate to appear more impressive. In a highly competitive market, admittedly it’s going to be tough. To clarify we do not cover just one market – we cover Engineering, IT, Science and Senior Appointments. Under our banner you will have moderate challenge markets and highly challenging one’s and therefore it is an even and level playing field when it comes to churn rates. To conclude this point, it is our competition in this market that can have the churn rates of 10 in 20.

So how do some recruiters have a 1 in 20 churn rate and others 10 in 20 even in the same market?

As discussed earlier it seems that common sense would suggest that if you have a square hole, you need a square peg to fit in it. I.E a plumber to do a plumbers job. The often over-looked issue with this is that people are not pegs and holes. A CV is not a candidate. People can be irrational, unpredictable and dishonest. It doesn’t necessarily make them a bad person, but people will act in self-interest.

If the vision of hiring is robotic, skill based and a tick box measured exercise you will find your churn rate being nearer the 10 in 20 mark. Why? You will judge the preferred candidate on how many boxes they tick on a measured system. But candidates are people, not ticks in boxes. They do not make career decisions based on what they have to offer an employer. People make decisions on what they want and don’t want. For all the AI technology and Machine Learning that exists, conscious thought, sound judgement, experience and human instinct wins through when it comes to being proficient in evaluating a character’s intentions effectively. AI may accelerate the process, but it will not solve a churn rate problem if you are only considering skill matches.

There is an unfathomable metropolis of studies on why people leave jobs. How about considering why people remain in jobs? If you are an employer what is better value for money; a long term employee with vast experience of doing their job already with your company or a new entrant to the business? That new entrant might have direct transferable skills from a competitor, but no two companies are the same. What about whether they fit in? How about whether they get on with their co-workers? How about if their work ethic differs from your expectations? What about if their personality is quite negative and disruptive? What if they bring bad habits and baggage?

Where on a CV will it tell you that? Do you have a tick box section for those in your hiring process?

I mentioned common sense earlier. If someone is looking to leave one job to do the same job with a competitor (this is considered the ideal target candidate), why are they leaving and what is it that they want? Bean bags and flexi time? Maybe your corporate social responsibility policy has interested them and stimulated their moral compass? You can ask them at interview can’t you, but what if they lie? Are they really going to say that they’re just looking for more money, vying for a counter offer or trying to play the field?

At this point it could appear that I am arguing that any skill match candidate is high risk. I am not. Am I then trying to say go with someone who needs all the training over someone with 10 years’ experience? I am not saying that either. What I am saying is that the process of purely placing skills as the most important aspect when hiring is asking for trouble. Yes, you need skills because you can’t not have a plumber doing a plumber’s job.

My point is that if you want a 1 in 20 churn rate rather than a 10 in 20 churn rate your first questions should be what are the plumbers motivations rather than whether they hold a qualification in U bends. Why are they looking to leave? What is it that they want? And if need be it is very often a wiser decision to take the motivational match candidate who really wants the job and needs a little training here and there even though they’re only a 7/10 skill match over the 10/10 skilled candidate with the chip on their shoulder and the ego problem.

I have personally experienced it on countless occasions that when I have spoken to some great skill match candidate for a job, interviewed them thoroughly and recognised that that individuals’ intentions are underhand and have therefore rejected them, that another agency has got them in for interview the following week. Surprise, surprise – an offer goes in for that candidate and they either turn it down, delay on a decision awaiting other better paid opportunities or take a counter offer. Sadly, and all too often for my liking a dishonest or, equally concerning, inept recruiter has persuaded them in, prepped them to say the right things to the client and deciphered their way out of the pandemonium caused after. This is what gives recruiters a bad name.

The irony of this is often, considering that a noble intentions relationship has previously been forged between the two parties, that this is accepted as something that just happens and it’s not the recruiter’s fault. And it is true as this does happen sometimes, and the odd unscrupulous candidate could simply have pulled the wool over both the client and the recruiters’ eyes. Yet when a client is asking about rebate policies as an equal priority to fees, something is very wrong.

I speak to many great candidates daily who are in the 7/10 skills group area as well as some 10/10 candidates who have very legitimate reasons for moving on and pertaining to what they now want in their careers. The problem in my mind when trying to forge new relationships with clients can often be that certain other recruiters have over-promised and under-delivered on skill matches in order to get buy in for their services. This has resulted in the client understandably being cautious, distrusting and uncertain on who and what to believe.

In my mind despite huge competition in the recruitment market place there is actually a limited number of recruiters who actually know their stuff and have genuine intentions at the same time. This equation, if you like, is mirrored in most industries where competition exists. Sales, Marketing, Advertising, IT Support Services, the list goes on and on. In a competitive industry there are those that recognise that it is easier to get results via shortcuts than following values and moral conclusions. The difference is that the recruitment industry is often completely misunderstood from anyone without experience of working within it. I am yet to meet anyone, and include myself wholeheartedly in this, that upon joining the industry and then spending time in it that has not felt the same way.

For example, I presumed the job of a recruitment consultant was to get a client, get a vacancy to work, advertise it, interview some candidates and send some CV’s. How hard is that? Consider that 90% of all of the work you do in this job results in failure. 100 cold calls a day and not getting anywhere. Staying optimistic when people’s other priorities take preference over the hard graft (14 hour days) you’ve put in. Accepting that people will lie to you etc.

Consider that recruitment has one of the highest turnovers of staff in any industry and it goes a way to explain just how hard the job is. For right or wrong, I can empathise therefore why some recruiters take the easy road to get results, but it doesn’t make it right.


For those recruiters who believe in doing the job properly (have the right motivations) and that know what they are doing (have the right skills) it makes sense to want to convey that philosophy to new clients.

I have written a previous post relating to this: https://revorec.com/hiring-managers-guide-using-recruiters/

To conclude this post, it is all very well having someone who has the skills to do the job and if possible the 10/10 skill match really is best, but it should not take precedence over a person’s motivations. Sure, have a skim read of a CV to make sure that they at least meet a 7/10 skillset for example or whatever the realistic minimum grade is, but ranking a candidate’s suitability for interview or offer purely on skill as a priority is misguided. After all who will hold more value and benefit to your business – the best person on day 1 or the best person from day 101 onwards?


Agree or Disagree?

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