We Have Skills And Our Mindset, Nothing Else

by Omer Molad, Co-founder and CEO of Vervoe

In the world of work, and particularly hiring, companies talk about things like attitude, culture, hard skills, soft skills, personality and many other, often obscure, terms used to figure out how people will contribute. Sadly, sometimes these terms are used interchangeably and many people find them confusing. I’m not going to try to explain them all. Instead, I’m going to offer you an alternative way of looking things, one that makes all those terms unnecessary.

When we talk about skills we mean something that can be learned. That’s what’s so beautiful about skills. They can be acquired and improved over time. Whether it’s doing something very practical, like painting or selling umbrellas, or something less tangible, like receiving feedback. The latter is usually referred to as a soft skill, and too often mistaken as a personality trait. But it’s a skill nonetheless. The difference between skills and personality traits is that our skills change while our personality traits generally do not.

Personality is not a relevant factor in hiring. First, of the Big Five personality traits, only conscientiousness is highly correlated with job performance. Second, and more importantly, two people with very different personalities can excel at the same job.

As a rule of thumb, unless it’s a personality trait, which shouldn’t be relevant in hiring, then it’s a skill. Most things we do at work, and in our lives, utilize our skills.

So does that mean people with great skills are always high performers? Of course not, and here’s why. At different times in my life the quality of my performance – in the same job – has varied. Did my skills deteriorate? Did I forget them? Did someone take them away from me? No.

There is another big variable in how we perform, and that’s the extent to which we make the most of our skills. And that is determined by our mindset. I have deliberately chosen the word mindset instead of attitude because I find the following distinction helpful:

How we see the world changes from time to time, and that impacts our ability to get the best out of ourselves. When we’re sad, we’re unlikely to perform as well. If if feel negatively towards the people around us, we’re less likely to perform. It’s true that our attitude directly impacts how we work with others, and that’s critically important. But our attitude is an outcome of our mindset. And our mindset determines both our attitude towards others and how we work alone. It impacts everything we do. Understanding someone’s attitude is necessary, but not always sufficient.

Using this simple framework we can break our evaluation into two categories – skills and mindset. Or put another way, the things we can do today, and how likely we are to do those things to the best of our ability most of the time. And here’s a further lens through which we can view this. If we think about hiring through the perspective of learning, people learn skills and their mindset represents their willingness to learn. If someone has an outstanding mindset, the only thing holding them back is time because they will do whatever it takes to acquire skills and perform.

Bringing this back to the practicalities of hiring, it’s a balancing act. For senior roles more weight should be attributed to proven skills, while for early-career roles mindset plays a bigger role. Anyone who is strong in both will be unstoppable in their career.