What do you look for in an employee?
It’s a question often asked of company executives. In fact, there is a profile of a successful business person in the New York Times each Sunday, and somewhere in the interview that question is always included.
In a minute, I’ll tell you what I look for in my new hires.
While it may seem like an easy question, the answer is complex. What role are you hiring for? What is the skill set of your current workforce? How is the company performing? Those answers can all influence the kind of employee you are looking for at any given time.
The role you are filling plays a key part in what to look for in an employee. For example, an employee who will sell a product in a retail store will need to be able to focus on the current customer and keep an eye on other customers so they don’t lose them.
An employee who will work at the counter will need to keep a single focus on getting the items priced and rung up accurately.
Sometimes an ideal employee comes along, but he or she may not be the right fit at the time based on who is already in the department.
Years ago, I applied for a new role within my organization and did not get it. The reason? At the time, they needed someone with stronger technical skills. I was too much like what they already had in the department.
Lastly, it depends on the organization’s performance. Let’s say sales are below expectations and a sales clerk job is open. Because sales are slow, someone with a proven track record is a must for the opening. The thought is, ‘we don’t have time to train a less experienced employee.’
If sales are above target, an employer may be more willing to hire a person with perhaps a bigger “upside” who will need more training.
So what am I looking for when I make hires? Here are five key factors:
— Are they passionate? This does not mean the person has to be an extrovert, but in his or her own way, it needs to be obvious that they are relentless when it comes to doing a good job.
— Are they proactive? This one is high on my list. I’m looking for someone who is willing to take action before being asked. Years ago, I’d have a subtle test for this when I was handling interviews. I would put a crumpled up piece of paper in the hallway on the way to my office. The location would be very obvious, somewhere front and center where the interviewee couldn’t miss it. As they came down the hallway, I would notice whether they picked up the piece of paper and threw it away or just walked by it.
Guess who didn’t get the job?
— Are they teachable? Today’s job will change. How teachable is the person? There are excellent questions you can ask to help decipher that before hiring. After hiring, I look for these things: If I forward an article to them to read, do they send me their response? Do they do so without being asked? If I mention a book that will help, do they read it on their own? Are they looking for ways to improve themselves and the organization?
— Can they handle feedback? While it is common for people to say they want feedback, in most cases I find that means they only want positive feedback. Yes, positive feedback is important, but to really improve, you must be able to receive and act on feedback that will not be positive. It is not meant to hurt but to help.
— Can they provide constructive feedback to me and others to make things better? Everyone must be committed to pointing out what could be better. It seems that many times when a bad outcome is noticed, some people in the organization had concerns. However, when they diagnosed this problem initially, they did not want to step on toes, so they stayed silent.
In some cases, maybe they spoke up but were ignored by management. Toe-steppers should be welcomed. The more value-driven a person is, the more likely they will be to speak up if there are issues.
I could list more key factors, but these five, in my opinion, are the ones that separate the good employees from the great ones.