On Attitude, Aptitude, & Skills in the Clinical Laboratory

By Gaurav Sharma and Rakesh Sharma - June 17, 2021


Resignations, recruitments, and remediations are the three Rs that can unsettle the operation of any clinical laboratory and pathology practice. Each year, considerable amounts of time, money, and resources are spent recruiting new individuals and promoting existing individuals. Recruitment activities are the preserve of leadership and as a leader, a laboratory medical director must perform this function with utmost sincerity and sensitivity. A good recruitment has a multiplier effect—it fills one opportunity, balances workload, and prevents future vacancies. Paradoxically, it is also a thankless job since the work behind a good recruitment is seldom acknowledged.

Attitude, aptitude, and job skills are important guides in matching the right candidate with the right opportunity. However, we posit that many leaders use the concepts of attitude and aptitude interchangeably and may not be attuned to the importance of soft skills. A refined understanding between attitude, aptitude, and skills will help us create a capable and competent clinical laboratory.

The evolution of the recruitment process

The recruitment process has been overhauled in the past 30 years. Pre-Internet, recruitment was usually a local affair and was completed within weeks. A detailed job description was printed in the local periodical and the clinical laboratory’s reputation and word-of-mouth were the usual way of attracting local talent.

With the advent of the Internet, printed postings gave way to online postings. Browsing through recruitment websites, candidates can review an organization’s digital footprint, including its corporate website, employee reviews, and social media before making a decision to apply. A word of caution about the online submission of applications—they are often screened by algorithms and non-laboratory personnel. If the application does not include certain specific words or terms, the algorithm (or a non-laboratory professional) may erroneously discard the application and deny an interview to a worthy candidate. Also, COVID-19 has made virtual interviews the norm rather than the exception. Virtual interviews have expanded the pool of candidates for organization (and vice versa) and have done away with the hassle of travel across time zones for out-of-area candidates.

Despite these changes to the recruitment process, at the end of the day, every organization continues to grapple with three age-old questions: (A) how do we find good candidates? (B) how do good candidates find us? and (C) how can we determine if someone will add long-term value or not?

On attitude

Attitude is the overall ‘feeling’ that one has for a person, position, or role. Each one of us has a unique set of attitudes that help us understand the world and find our bliss in it. This feeling can be positive, negative, or ambivalent.

Our attitude steers our opinions and behaviors towards a person, position, or role. When we have a positive attitude, we want to experience more. When we have a negative attitude, we want to experience less.

Attitude formation results from experiences in the first half of our life—our role models, early childhood experiences, instructions from teachers, employment experiences, peer expectations, failures, and successes. Our attitudes define what we value in our lives and how we want to live. For example, if a certain candidate is positively inclined towards scholarly distinction, the candidate will gravitate towards opportunities at academic institutions where funding and collaborators are aplenty. On the other hand, a candidate who is negatively inclined towards cold weather will actively avoid places that get a healthy dose of snow and sleet. A spouse or significant other may hold their own attitudes that influence the decisions of the couple. Our attitudes are not straight lines. Rather, they are complex figures that illustrate our past, help us experience the present, and show our preference for our own future.

“Nothing is interesting if you are not interested.”

Scottish author Helen MacInnes.1

Why should one’s attitude be of importance to one’s organization? Well, our attitudes direct our behavior, our behavior directs our actions, our actions create our relationships, and our relationships create the culture within our organizations. When a team has a positive attitude toward its purpose, the culture is constructive and rewarding—and work gets done reliably. When a team does not have a favorable attitude, it slowly disintegrates, and its output diminishes daily. Ergo, there is a direct correlation between a favorable attitude of individuals and the quality of work that is done by them. Recruiting the right people with the right attitude is the first step for building a sustainable organization.

When evaluating candidates, the laboratory medical director must make an effort to understand the individual candidate’s attitude. Is it friendly or ambivalent? Is the candidate delighted at the interview invitation, or do they show any disinterest? A genuine candidate will have a positive attitude toward the opportunity and see it as part of their career growth. A disinterested candidate may be vacillating and neutral.

“Too many people miss the silver lining because they are expecting gold.”

Maurice Setter, English football player, and manager.2

Human nature and written communication are difficult to interpret. We are all human beings moving in different directions and a laboratory medical director should not take anything personally. Before writing off an application, we must confirm our impression with an experienced and trusted colleague, someone who can balance our impression with their own.

On aptitude

Aptitude is defined as the natural ability to do something. Throughout human history, society has wondered about the origin of aptitude. Why do certain individuals appear to be talented? How do we get effective managers and great leaders? Is it nature, nurture, or both? Why are some people lifelong learners and some are not?

To answer these questions, we must realize that the thought of advancement starts with someone willing and able to give up the stability of standing in one place. That willingness comes from a desire to go above and beyond one’s station in life. That desire is triggered by one’s mindset. People who have the right mindset will make the journey. So, what is a mindset?

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live a whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Albert Einstein3

A mindset describes the general way a person reacts to challenges and setbacks. As a child grows up, the child acquires a unique mindset that influence its choices. In her work, Dr. Carol Dweck has divided the world into two groups: individuals with fixed mindsets and individuals with growth mindsets.4 Her group found that kids who pushed through challenges believed they could improve (growth mindset). Kids who pulled back from challenges believed their abilities couldn’t improve (fixed mindset).

Individuals with a predominantly fixed mindset consider intelligence and learning static. Often, they believe that an individual’s achievement results from their background and training at school and work. They are risk-averse and see stable routine and organizational stability as their path to self-value. They can be relied on to perform the same job daily, are vocal about their problems, and expect authority figures to enforce compliance. As a prelude to this expectation, they cherish order and hierarchy, expecting to be led to the solution. They work best by themselves or in a small circle of trust. Typically, they are not receptive to constructive feedback and mentorship. They require well-planned training materials and detailed instructions for their daily work and any new tasks. They can be relied on to enforce discipline and stability and may be well-suited for supervisory positions in stable operations.

Individuals with a predominantly growth mindset are lifelong learners, embracing new problems while open to novel solutions. They believe that an individual’s achievement is the result of skills that they have taught themselves. They embrace constructive feedback and mentorship. Once a system of work has been optimized, they move on to the next. They see organizational improvement as their path to self-value. They are vocal about their problems and expect authority figures to empower them. They value innovation, trial and error, and the autonomy to reach a practical solution, work best with diverse groups, including outsiders and external subject matter experts, and can be relied on to optimize their work, improve the system of work of others. They are prime candidates for leadership positions in growing operations.

On skills

A skill is a learned ability to perform an action within specified requirements. These requirements can include a defined time, quality, quantity, acceptability, and usability. Skill determines the value added by the individual to the product or service offered and can be divided into two broad categories: hard skills and soft skills.

Hard skills are technical, unique to a position, and require prior training, experience, and proficiency. Almost all hard skills must be learned through education, training, or apprenticeship. They are easy to quantify, track, and learn than soft skills. Learning and re-learning hard skills requires the correct dose of a positive attitude and a growth mindset.

“We hire for hard skills. We fire for soft skills. The ability to interact and communicate with others or behave ethically and take responsibility for things tends to be where people tend to break down.”

Rick Stephens, Senior Vice President of HR, The Boeing Corporation5

In a pathology practice or clinical laboratory setting, hard skills can include performing morphological analysis of slides prepared from different types of tissues, the ability to interpret blood transfusion reactions, and many more patient care activities. If an individual lacks a specific hard skill, the laboratory medical director should determine if the job opportunity requires those hard skills. If yes, the next question is: Can the gap be bridged with additional training and certification? If yes, recruitment is feasible.

Soft skills are non-technical, not tied to a position, and may not require prior training, experience, and proficiency. Communication, leadership, conflict management, and social skills are all soft skills. They are hard to test, quantify, and track. In a pathology practice or clinical laboratory setting, soft skills can include the ability to perform as part of a multidisciplinary team, identify inefficiencies, lead teams to improve the testing quality, handle difficult interpersonal situations, and interface with the customers of the laboratory. If an individual lacks a specific soft skill, the laboratory medical director should decide if the gap can be bridged with additional training, coaching, and mentorship. If the candidate is willing and able to bridge this gap, recruitment is feasible.



Attitude is the overall ‘feeling’ that one has for a person, position, or role. This feeling can be positive, negative, or ambivalent.


Attitude has a direct bearing on one’s daily actions, engagement, and satisfaction at work. A positive attitude improves the performance of the individual as well as the organization. A negative attitude predisposes one to feel ­disengaged and not identify with the organization.



Aptitude is defined as the natural ability to do something. A mindset describes the general way a person reacts to challenges and setbacks.


Aptitude determines the ability of an individual to continually learn and adapt. Typically, individuals with growth mindset continually upgrade their skillset to move up in an organization and individuals with fixed mindset seek lateral positions at another organization.

Hard Skill


Hard skills are technical, require prior training, experience, and proficiency.


Hard skills must be learned through education, training, or apprenticeship. They are easy to quantify, track, and learn based on the requirements of the job.

Soft Skill


Soft skills are non-technical and are related to the ability to function as a part of a group.


Soft skills are not tied to a position, and may not require prior training, experience, and proficiency. They are hard to test, quantify, and track.


Leaders must understand that (1) our attitude has a direct bearing on our actions, relationships, and organizational culture, (2) our aptitude and mindset define how willing we are to think outside the box, (3) our hard skills define the quality of our own work, and (4) our soft skills make us better team players.

Healthcare is replete with individuals who are proud of their degrees yet feel underutilized for their potential. While one’s skill determines the capability of an individual to perform at the work, one’s attitude and aptitude have a bearing on one’s inclination to improve at their work and feel valued within the organization. An organization thrives whenever individuals with a fixed mindset have been trained to the highest level of their capability, and individuals with a growth mindset have been mentored to the highest level of their capability. When leaders choose well, their teams and organization do well.


This article was inspired by a lecture on Ethics by Dr. Vikas Divyakirti of Drishti IAS, Delhi, India.


  1. https://www.azquotes.com/quote/518203
  2. https://www.azquotes.com/quote/533757
  3. https://www.azquotes.com/quote/369274
  4. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success: ISBN 9780345472328
  5. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/quote-day-hard-skills-vs-soft-mark-white/