Hire on Passion or Skill-Sets?

When making a hiring decision, should we focus on the quality of an individual’s skill sets that he\she can offer at this moment (right now!) or do you focus on their intense passion to deliver results?

I’m sure everyone who has been part of any hiring process has gone through this question at least once but unless you’re in a startup or your own business, this question probably doesn’t stand out because in a regular work environment, you would have guidelines and processes to adhere to, tests and analysis to help you better ‘understand’ the individual before the hiring takes place.

But I can personally assure you that knowing the difference between both approaches will be a crucial factor in any business in acquiring great talent.

Let’s look at the two approaches and you can then evaluate which works best.


Skill- Sets

When we hire based on skill sets, we evaluate the individual’s measurable or tangible skills. Measurements vary and can either be in the form of years of experience, past achievement, test/exam results, industry certifications and the list just goes on and on. These are things you would usually be familiar with even if you’re applying for a job.

The emphasis is always on how much the person can contribute as soon as he\she starts work on day one itself. The best thing about this approach is that it fills in any knowledge\skills gap in a fast and predictable manner, minimizing risks as much as possible. So if your current team lacks someone who knows programming in C++, you get out there and interview people with that specific programming language experience, and problem solved!

However, the not so apparent downside to this is that past performance does not guarantee the same results in the future, because multiple factors come into play (i.e. what projects the person was working upon, was it a good year overall for the industry or perhaps maybe it was luck perhaps?). Overall in most cases we come across an impressive resume and experience a good interview and we automatically have the assumption that the individual will perform just as well.

If this aspect of downside in hiring based on skill set is not taken into account, it creates an unrealistic expectation for both yourself and the individual being hired.

In my case, there was a particular memorable bad experience with a programmer that we were hiring. This person had the relevant programming experience, right skill-sets, previously worked in a reputable firm and even has a clear inclination on having programming as a long-term career plan (I always ensure the work fits into an individual’s personal desires and vision as much as possible). She was even interviewed and agreed upon together jointly with my business partner. What we failed to take into account was her lack of passion.

You see, even with the right programming knowledge experience, she previously worked in a large organization where there were very clear boundaries of work and segregation of duties, so when it comes to our firm’s ad-hoc working style and multi-tasking nature, she was not able to fit in. She did a fairly okay job in programming but when it comes to documentation, testing and user interface design, it was very apparent from her work that it lacked passion and felt more like just completing the job for the sake of responsibility. I could name numerous examples but just to give a specific example if there is an error caused by the program you would expect that it would give me a fairly good indication to the end-user on what is wrong (i.e. the value entered has to be a 7 digit serial number) but instead after my personal tests going through it I got something like this “There was an error which occurred. Please try again”. To me, a good programmer takes pride in his\her work because it is a public display of their creation and hence would pay attention to simple and small things like an error message.

I could always sense displeasure and the tendency to give excuses to avoid the responsibilities (luckily I have a technical background and hence would always be able to understand truly what was feasible or not from a programming perspective), it was neither a pleasant experience for both the programmer and the company.

If you’re assuming perhaps the nature of the work wasn’t communicated clearly during the hiring process, trust me, it was specifically mentioned and highlighted in detail during the interviews.



The other approach is to evaluate an individual’s passion. I refer to passion as a person’s interest and attitude towards the role that he will take on in an organization.

In an extreme and exaggerated scenario, you will come across a person who is extremely passionate about their job, they know the ins and outs of the job, they understand the dynamics and trends of the industry and they possess an amazing thirst for knowledge on everything related to the job. BUT they don’t have the relevant qualifications, they have no prior experience or worst they have not even heard or use your product/service (not even once in their lifetime!). This is obviously clear as sky that they won’t deliver, but is it really true?

You can see how difficult it is to hire just based on the ‘BUT’ reasons outline earlier. Fortunately there is a flipside to this ‘passion based approach’.

Usually people with unwavering and fiery passion for what they want to do are a hardy lot. For what they lack, if you find the right people, they make it up in their sheer determination to work things out and their ‘can-do’ positive attitude. I have also observed that because these type of people need to prove themselves that they are as good, if not better than those with necessary qualifications, they work doubly hard and are more willing to learn new things and take on responsibilities.

This can ultimately result in the person doing a better job than those who possess the right qualifications but do be aware that in some cases you do need to give them some time.

I have has good and positive experiences on this approach but one significant experience was the hiring of our second salesperson in the company. This person was made known to me through an acquaintance and I only greed to meet because he gave me a good impression that he was a young, responsible and hardworking lad.

I had a tough time justifying his hiring because he was very young (21 at that time), he only had formal education through high-school and had absolutely no experience in selling enterprise software or our particular CRM product at that time.

BUT, he was very passionate about a sales job. I could see it that he wanted to achieve more and his then organization could not offer any growth prospects due to company policy restrictions based on his level of education. All he wanted was an opportunity to prove himself in his area of expertise; sales. And of course, the chance to move up in life.

It’s been more than a year now that he’s been with us and though he is still learning, he has been very helpful to both me personally and the company itself. He was responsible for breaking the scary cycle of our sales slump in the year he joined (even though it was a small deal, it lifted the team’s spirits). He is also the person who always relentlessly charged through with our cold-calling activities to discover and uncover business opportunities.

Without him, there would definitely be less that I could have accomplished with my limited time and energy. He allowed me to focus on implementing the right strategies for the company and to pursue the larger revenue deals. I am also very sure that he will prove himself very soon in closing a sizeable deal.

Fortunately, so far I have yet to come across a bad personal experience or a hiring that did not work, when hiring based on an individual’s passion. Perhaps it’s due to my insistence that any individual we hire must have passion for the job.


Which Is Better?

So in the end, which approach is better? Skill sets or passion?

I’m sure both way can produce good results depending on the context you’re in; and both have equal potential and risks serving different purposes.

I personally prefer hiring more on potential despite the risk of not getting the right person but it’s always a wager when making a hiring decision and it is my believe that passion will carry an individual further than their experience as it represents the ‘fuel’ of one’s life’s dream and vision. Even with the right skill sets, I don’t think one can rival a person with superb passion because knowledge can always be trained and acquired; but it takes something special to have passion for the things that we do.



Hire on Passion or Skill-Sets?

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