In the early eighties, I applied to Marks and Spencer for a job as a middle manager in the IT department. I had had four years’ experience as a systems analyst working for the Post Office, then a nationalised business.
I trotted along to the IT department, having prepared myself for the interview. I was, however, surprised as it progressed that the personnel manager (no “human resources” in those days!) seemed not to be making any effort to establish that I had the skills I said I had or the experience I claimed to have had. Nevertheless, I was invited to a second interview.
Once again, I trotted along, this time to head office in Baker street, London to be interviewed by a more senior personnel manager. Once more, this manager seemed not to be making any effort to establish that I had the skills I said I had or the experience I claimed.
However, I was delighted to be offered the job and I felt it would be churlish to decline.
Some time later, I bumped into the first personnel manager and I challenged her on this.
“You didn’t seem to be making any effort to establish that I had either the skills or the experience I claimed”, I said.
She thought for a moment, and then said, “I suppose you’re right. What we were doing is finding out if you were an M&S person.”
Worth emphasising this—it’s so important.
And the moral of this story is…
Sensible businesses recruit for attitude, not ability. One can always train abilities. It’s a lot harder—and requires the intervention of people like me—to shift someone’s attitude.
As a rather unkind postscript (given the poor results announced today, 8 July 2014), I should point out that M&S in the eighties was a far more successful business than it is now.
Might there be a connection?