Photo credit: Narisara Nami

5 traits you should look for when hiring employees

Article originally published in the American City Business Journals on March 1, 2021.

The people who work in your organization are the key to building competitive advantage and growing your business. In April 2018, I wrote an article headlined, “8 important traits to look for when hiring new employees.” This article adds five additional traits.

You want to hire individuals who:

Will achieve results

Hire people who will get things done and will bring to the job the philosophy of continuous improvement. You need employees who will break paradigms of existing ways of doing things and adopt new approaches that are more effective.

These employees are your talented change agents who will help your company develop a competitive advantage over your competition. Make sure you reward them for their accomplishments, or they are liable to quit and go to work for a competitor.

Inspire a feeling of ownership in the people reporting to them

The importance of personal ownership in what one does was taught to me by an hourly employee at our Toronto plant when I was president of my company’s Canadian subsidiary. The plant manager and I assigned the job of increasing capacity of a production unit to its operator and a plant mechanic. Their proposal was very creative, and they completed the project on time and under budget.

The mechanic changed from a negative opinion leader in the plant to a positive opinion leader, and told his fellow union brethren, “Management trusted me for what I could do with my mind, in addition to what I could do with my hands.” A powerful statement! The operator took personal ownership of this production unit and looked for ways of improving efficiencies, which prior to this point, had been done solely by management.

Possess emotional intelligence

In a 2004 Harvard Business Review article, University of New Hampshire psychologist John D. Mayer wrote, “Emotional intelligence is the ability to accurately perceive your own and others’ emotions [and] to understand the signals that emotions send about relationships.”

In a June 2018 article, I defined emotional intelligence in more practical terms. Individuals with emotional intelligence:

  • Recognize how others perceive them.
  • Don’t communicate with others in a way that puts them on the defensive.
  • Listen when a direct report shares an idea or proposes a new initiative.
  • Base decisions on what is best for the business, not them personally.
  • Admit mistakes.
  • Take the blame if it’s their fault. Give credit where credit is due.
  • Avoid being an imperial leader.
  • Don’t self-aggrandize.
  • A person with a high IQ but lacking emotional intelligence will not be a very effective member of your team.

Will say what they think, not what you want to hear

A major cause of failure of initiatives, sometimes with catastrophic consequences, is the inability of CEOs, their leadership team or a company’s board to face the brutal facts of reality.

A courageous independent thinker – a lone wolf – will point out that reality. These employees will also challenge policies and procedures if they don’t make sense to them. When challenged, the worst thing you can respond with is, “That’s the way it’s always been done.”

A lone wolf is a valuable member of your leadership team. Listen to what they have to say. Their input may increase an initiative’s probability of success.

Are trustworthy

The individuals you hire must be those the organization can trust. Without trust, little gets accomplished. Co-workers are always wondering what their hidden agenda is. Time is spent putting in place defense mechanisms rather than running and growing the business.

Too often, toxic individuals get hired into a position and wreak havoc. I once worked for such an individual. I was eventually promoted to a peer position and three years later was promoted to be his boss. I then fired him. I always wondered why his previous boss never did so and viewed it as a weakness in that individual.

Photo credit: Narisara Nami

How will you know if an interviewee has the right traits? You can test for some of them. Speak with individuals not on the candidate’s reference list. When interviewing the candidate, ask probing questions on how they would handle certain situations. Through deep due diligence you can increase the probability that you are hiring the right individual for the job.

Hiring employees with the right traits will not only help you achieve your organization’s objectives, but also enhance the company’s reputation as a great place to work.

Stan Silverman is founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership and author of “Be Different! The Key to Business and Career Success.” He is also a speaker, advisor and widely read nationally syndicated columnist on leadership, entrepreneurship and corporate governance. He can be reached at

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