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Half-Full or Half-Empty?

January 27, 2012
by Tim Tolan
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There's no substitute for a positive attitude

I’ve debated countless times on how much a candidate’s attitude affects a potential employer’s hiring decision. When it comes to the hiring game, there are many intangibles, and the one I hear about most often is attitude. Let’s face it, if you want your team to perform at peak levels, adding a new team member is a very big deal, so let’s take a closer look to see if seeing the glass half-full or half-empty really matters.

Half-full: People who possess a positive attitude generally have a more creative approach towards solving complex problems, as they’re usually the last person to throw in the towel. These people tend to be optimistic about the outcome in advance and possess the necessary stick-to-it-ness to fail multiple times before finding the right solution. They’re not afraid to get back on the horse because they believe the answer is just around the corner. Glass-half-full people are persistent, and that “never give up” attitude” gives them the will to persevere—they are wired to expect success. An added bonus: optimistic people inspire others to persevere. All good…

Half-empty: Misery seems to dog negative people regardless of the situation. Try to pull them out of their rut, and they’re usually uninterested in changing their point of view. You can keep trying to penetrate that negative wall, but it’s a real struggle to help them move towards a more positive outlook. Only they can change their attitude, and until they do everyone around them will have to grin and bear it. Negative people tend to attract others who share their belief system (they travel in packs with other negative people). It becomes a feeding frenzy of loser worker bees that can permeate an organization like a fungus. This is NOT what I would call a way to build a successful and scalable HCIT team.  

Under full disclosure, I tend to be a positive thinker, so I’m a little biased on this topic. During my career, I’ve done my fair share of hiring, and I’ve interviewed great candidates—some with positive attitudes, and unfortunately, some negative. If all things are equal, I always hedge my bets on the candidate with the can-do attitude—every time! I will bet on half-full over half-empty as life is just too short.

History is full of great “glass-half-full” leaders like Winston Churchill, who once said, “Never, never, never give up.” Calvin Coolidge has a very famous quote as well that says it all: “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” People with a can do attitude usually have what it takes to forge ahead during difficult times or periods of adversity long after the half-empties have called it quits!
I’ve never presented a candidate who hasn’t received an offer because they were too upbeat or positive. Organizations prefer those with a “glass-half-full” attitude over… well, you get the picture. Go the other way, and your new recruit has a better chance of falling flat on their face, and if you aren’t careful, taking down the entire team. Measure attitude in your hiring and the next time you interview a candidate, make sure you have a chance to figure out which camp the candidate is in. It won’t be hard to tell the difference from the winner or the loser.

Tim Tolan is a senior partner at Sanford Rose Associates Healthcare IT Practice. He can be reached at or at (843) 579-3077 ext. 301. His blog can be found at