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The four aces of hiring: work attitude, willingness, know-how, and personality

To choose the right job candidate, look beyond the hard skills of education and experience and place heaviest emphasis on four soft skills. They are:

  • the performance mindset
  • willingness
  • know-how
  • personality

Miss any of those four, and the hire is going to be a disaster, says business consultant, trainer, and coach Patrick Valtin, author of the book,”No-Fail Hiring.”

It’s lack of these traits that most often causes people to get fired. They are the four aces of hiring. Yet time and again they get left out of an interview.

A mindset of achievement

First is the performance mindset, or how the candidate views good performance.

The successful hire is somebody with a mindset of achievement and results, not somebody who wants to sit at a desk and do rote work like a drone.

“There is a big difference between achieving something and doing something,” says Valtin, but few interviewers take that into account.

The question to ask: “Can you tell me about some great result you achieved in a previous job that you are proud of?”

Suppose the response is “I’ve been a medical receptionist for the past five years and I’ve done a good job. I have the right experience, and I can handle problems.”

That doesn’t answer the question, Valtin says. Following a job description doesn’t make anybody a valuable employee. It’s achievements that make the difference.

Search for more information. Challenge the candidate with, “Thank you, but your answer doesn’t give me a good picture of what you have achieved. Give me an example of an actual achievement you are proud of.”

Anybody who doesn’t understand what’s meant by achievement “doesn’t know what it means to be results-oriented,” Valtin says, and you should say goodbye.

On the other hand, suppose the candidate cites a notable achievement.

Now the job is to find out whether it’s true. It’s not unusual for a job seeker to take credit for something somebody else did.

Valtin’s advice is to keep challenging: “Tell me how you did that. Was anybody else involved?” Anybody who actually did the work will know the details and what the outcome was.

Then go even further: “If I talk to your manager, what will that person say about this accomplishment?”

And now sit back and watch the reaction. Does the candidate squirm? Look away? Get nervous? Try to avoid the question? Does the person backtrack or make adjustments to the story or minimize the significance of the accomplishment? If so, there’s a good chance the story is stretched or is even a lie.

Don’t get put off. If the answer is “My manager doesn’t know I’m talking to you,” keep challenging with “We’d like to talk with your manager at some point before we make you a job offer. Do you have a problem with that?”

Anybody who’s fabricating the story will get defensive, and the more defensive, the greater the fabrication. It’s not even unknown for a candidate to come back with “I don’t know why you’re so pushy about this” and leave the room.

“And that’s what you want,” he says. “Let them run away before they give you trouble.”

Just as important as the answers are the reactions, he notes. And the more challenging the questions, the more telling the reactions.

Willing to do what the job calls for

Next is willingness to do anything the job requires.

Willingness is part of a person’s personality, Valtin says, and it’s the most important of the soft skills. People who have it will work hard and do things outside the job description and keep going under pressure.

Somebody who needs training but is willing to learn and do whatever arises in the job is a far better choice than somebody who has all the background and skills galore but no willingness.

“Employees who lack willingness will suck the manager’s energy,” he explains.

They are also easily dissatisfied. They are the hires who are most apt to leave in the first 90 days.

To find out the level of willingness, ask about it outright: “Show me evidence that you have a strong willingness to do something new or something you aren’t expected to do or that you have never done before. Give me some examples.”

Past performance, he says, is the best indicator of future performance.

A basic knowledge of the work

The third element is know-how, or some practical knowledge of how to do the job.

To evaluate it, Valtin says, give a simple technical test in the basics of the job.

If it’s a bookkeeping position, for example, give the candidate a balance sheet and say “There’s a mistake on this, and I’m going to give you five minutes to tell me where it is.”

If the job is in an area the manager isn’t familiar with, get the head of the department to give the test.

“People know how to talk,” he says. A simple practical test shows if they know what they’re talking about.


The last item is personality, and it counts tremendously, Valtin says. It’s what the manager and staff will be interacting with every day – honesty, happiness, negativity, rudeness, or whatever.

Unfortunately, there’s no specific way to find out what that’s going to be. The best guide is how the candidate reacted to the questions in the first three areas, especially the challenging questions of “give me an example” and “show me evidence” and “what would your manager say?”

“The personality will show up naturally,” Valtin says

A strong caution, however, is not to put a halo on an applicant who makes a good first impression.

The halo may be well deserved. The candidate may be a warm, wonderful person. But the goal of interviewing is not to find somebody the manager likes but somebody who can and will do the job well.

“The halo is a killer,” Valtin says, because it keeps the manager from looking around the good qualities to see if the candidate is the right person for the job.

Also, he says, keep in mind that anybody is prepared to make a good showing in an interview.

Keep in mind too that the words personality and persona come from the Latin word meaning mask. What the manager is looking at during the interview is a mask.

And keep in mind further that the applicant, no matter how good the appearance, is still a stranger to the manager.

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