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Hire for Attitude, Not Skills

High employee turnover continues to be a top concern for car dealers, and a strong economy with low unemployment rates doesn’t help.


High employee turnover continues to be a top concern for car dealers, and a strong economy with low unemployment rates doesn’t help.

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If you’re having trouble finding experienced salespeople, you have no choice but to hire candidates without experience. What’s the best way to tell if a candidate will succeed as a salesperson?

Imagine two candidates for a sales position. One has a great attitude and great people skills, but no sales experience. The other candidate could sell snow to an Eskimo, but is clearly a prima donna. Who would you hire?

Hopefully you would hire candidate number one. Herb Kelleher, former CEO of Southwest Airlines, once said, “You don’t hire for skills, you hire for attitude. You can always teach skills.” It’s possible and even fairly easy to teach sales skills and a sales process. It’s nearly impossible to change someone’s personality.


Now imagine that you have a top-producing salesperson who sells an average of 20 to 30 cars every month. He sure can produce, but he’s also difficult to work with. He expects everyone else in the dealership to be working to support him and his goals because he’s the top producer. He knows it all.

As a result, the turnover in your sales department (except for him) is incredibly high. Nobody wants to work with him, and nobody feels they have a chance to succeed while he is top dog. Would you fire this person?


Unfortunately, many dealers would not. What I would argue is that if you let this person go, your sales department will produce the same, if not better results. Customers are coming in the door whether or not that person is on staff, and when you let that person go, morale among the rest of your sales team will improve. More than likely, you’ll have one or two other salespeople instantly step up to produce the same sales volume. It’s hard for flowers to bloom when they’re kept in the shade.

How to Hire for Attitude

To find and hire people with a great attitude, the first step is to define your dealership culture. Is it fast paced or leisurely? Family oriented or urban hip? Formal or casual?


Take a look at your all-time best employees; those who performed well and had great attitudes. Did they possess common personality traits? Common values? If so, write them down and then create interview questions designed to find out if job candidates possess these same traits and values.

For instance, if your dealership is focused on providing the best customer service, you probably want to hire people who are other centered. Ask candidates if they have ever volunteered for an organization or if they participate in community events for good causes. If a candidate has not, they’re probably not going to be a good culture fit, no matter how great they seem to be in the interview.


I highly recommend testing for personality and skills. Even a poor job record doesn’t necessarily reflect poor skills. The situation in the candidate’s previous job may have been counter-productive or the person never received adequate training.

In order to succeed at sales, a person needs good people skills, good communications skills and they must know how to manage their time. Also, decades of research now point to emotional intelligence as a critical factor that sets star performers apart.

Low-cost assessment tests can be used to identify personality traits and necessary skills. These specialized tests are surprisingly accurate screening tools that can and should be used by every company. Examples include:
CRI Achiever Assessment (Personality) – criw.com
Talent Gear (Skills) – talentgear.com
Myers Briggs Type Indicator (Personality) – myersbriggs.org
Brainbench (Skills) – brainbench.com
eSkill (Skills) – eskill.com
Book: Emotional Intelligence 2.0 (includes do-it-yourself EQ tests)


Of course, hiring for attitude is just the first step in improving employee turnover. It’s also important to provide training, mentorship, a career path with a purpose and a workplace environment that employees love.

Click here to view more solutions from Mike Esposito and Auto/Mate.

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