Creating Excellence Through People

Hire for Attitude and Teach Skills? Maybe, But Hiring a Life-Long Learner is a Must!

Strengthening the habit of identifying learning opportunities and engaging in the practice of taking action are the foundation of life-long learning.

All the big business and leadership coaches, including Herb Kelleher, Tom Peters, and Simon Sinek, advise hiring candidates based on attitude – because you can teach skills. There is a great deal of logic to this wisdom. Attitude influences behavior and can be one predictor of our capacity to learn new skills. Let’s take a minute to think about how we can expand this approach by putting a spotlight on hiring a life-long learner.

The challenge when you hire for attitude is impression management. We only get one chance to make a first impression. Applicants want to stand out, especially when the job market is competitive. When our attempts to make people perceive us in a specific way turn deceptive, hiring for attitude raises uncertainty. At the same time, not all impression management techniques are deceptive, and attitudes can change for an abundance of reasons. New knowledge and experience can impact our attitude, and not only from a situational sense. We are bombarded each day by attempts of persuasion to change our attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. It is reasonable to conclude there is no guarantee the candidate who is hired will maintain consistency in attitude and accompanying behaviors as displayed during the hiring process.

Years ago, I was promoted within the company I was working for and tasked with interviewing my successor. The interview process consisted of several stages, and I was the final interviewer for a final candidate. The candidate appeared knowledgeable and enthusiastic, and it was a great interview. There were no red flags at the time and none in retrospect. After conferring with my manager, who had a separate yet similar interview experience, an offer was made, and my successor was hired. Within a fairly brief period of time, it was apparent the candidate we hired did not possess the same attitude as the candidate we interviewed. This experience opened my eyes, and over time have come to recognize these conflicting interview encounters are more common than we would like to think.

As for teaching skills, establishing a baseline of current skill level in comparison to the requirements of the position and needs of the organization is key. That does not mean the candidate must possess all the sought-after skills on the front end, but it does mean they have the capacity to build the necessary skill set and genuinely possess the desire to develop.

So, where does this all come together, and what exactly does it mean to be a life-long learner? Beyond formal education, there are opportunities for non-formal and informal learning. Non-formal learning may include taking a continuing ed course or attending a workshop. Informal learning can include collaborating with a mentor, reading a book or watching a video, and other self-study opportunities. The key to building skills and competencies is to recognize and seize opportunities, whether formal, non-formal, or informal. Strengthening the habit of identifying learning opportunities and engaging in the practice of taking action are the foundation of life-long learning.

Three advantages of hiring a life-long learner:

  1. Innovators – Life-long learners tend to be the innovators on the team. Why? Because they can be! They have the knowledge and experience that allows them to think creatively and be open to views from varying perspectives. Not only this, but the life-long learner cultivates confidence when sharing innovative ideas and insight. This increases their level of collaboration and ability to gain buy-in from others.
  2. Coachable – Life-long learners have an increased capacity for coachability. They not only want to learn about the world around them but understand the value of learning more about themselves to support growth and success. The coachable, life-long learner believes they can improve and receives feedback as an opportunity for development instead of critiquing a deficiency.
  3. Resiliency – Life-long learners are resilient. They embrace the wins and remain steady during times of challenge and change. Psychologist and growth mindset pioneer, Carol Dweck, says, “In a growth mindset, challenges are exciting rather than threatening. So rather than thinking, oh, I’m going to reveal my weaknesses, you say, wow, here’s a chance to grow.” Curiosity keeps the life-long learner motivated and first in line to take on a new project or take advantage of opportunities to advance their team, organization, and career.

The ability to sustain an optimistic attitude and willingness to engage in continuous skill development are characteristics of a life-long learner. The next time you conduct an interview, ask the candidate about the last time they learned something new on their own or about a time they experienced failure or constructive feedback and what they learned from it. If the candidate is a life-long learner, they can answer these questions candidly and confirm that you are on the right track to making a great hire with a promising attitude and development potential.


Bourdage, J. S., Roulin, N., & Levashina, J. (2017). Editorial: Impression management and faking in job interviews. Frontiers in Psychology8

Dweck, C. S. (2007). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Ballantine Books.

Indeed Editorial Team. (2022, September 30). What Does It Mean to Be a Lifelong Learner? (With Benefits)

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Terri Cummings

As Owner & Senior Consultant at Level Up Solutions HRD LLC, Terri Cummings is an advocate of lifelong learning who fosters bridging the connection between personal and professional development. Through strategy and proactive development, her aim is to align students, members of the workforce, and employers with continuous growth and opportunity that achieves sustainable success.

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