Hire for Attitude and Train for Skills

By Arte Nathan President & Chief Executive Officer, Strategic Development Worldwide | March 06, 2016

I spent more than 30 years practicing Human Resources, most of it as Chief Human Resources Officer for Golden Nugget and its successor companies, Mirage Resorts and Wynn Resorts. I still get asked what it was like to hire, train and manage the more than 125,000 people I hired at places like the Mirage, Bellagio, Wynn Las Vegas and Wynn Macau. Here’s my answer.

The question I’m always asked is “How did I teach our employees to smile?” The easy answer: “I only hired those who smiled during the interview.” But that’s too simplistic: here’s the rest of the answer:

First: Hire for Attitude

Every company should define one or two immutable characteristics they want applicants to already have – something within that can’t be taught. After much thought, I figured out that people in a service or hospitality job must respond positively to being interrupted: think how often they’re asked to do something or provide answers while in the middle of doing something else. At those moments they need to optimistically and affirmatively stop what they’re doing and happily respond to that latest request.

The next challenge was to find a simple and quick “test” whose answer couldn’t be faked. Many have heard me talk about my “handshake” test – that’s where you unexpectedly walk up, smile and introduce yourself to someone and watch how they respond: if they react to the surprise greeting with an enthusiastic smile and greeting back then it’s fair to assume that’s their natural style.

In all service jobs, employees spend the majority of their time responding and reacting to things said, done and requested unexpectedly by people they don’t know. Thus, responding enthusiastically, affirmatively and with a smile to this kind of approach by an interviewer the applicant doesn’t know is a key indication of how they’ll most likely act as an employee when faced with a needy guest (is there any other kind). This simple test, which is hard to fake (like a blush), screens for the things that we can’t teach: an open and willing attitude, confidence and flexibility, and an overall sense of optimism. Those characteristics can’t be taught and thus have to come with someone to the interview and the job. Everything else can be taught.

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