Article originally published in the American City Business Journals on April 30, 2018
What are the traits business leaders should look for in future employees? Based on my own experience as a former CEO and as a board member observing the hiring practices of other leaders, I offer the following advice. Hire people who:
1. Differentiate themselves from their peers. What has a job applicant accomplished in previous positions that differentiates them from other job applicants? Have they taken the initiative to do things that went beyond their job description? How have they moved the business of their previous employer forward? Are they a team player, and do they help others within the organization achieve their objectives?
These are the characteristics of employees who are your change agents. They will differentiate your business versus your competitors.
2. Have a proactive, can-do attitude. What is the applicant’s track record of accomplishing new things? In deciding to implement a new strategy, how did they go about assessing risk? Inquire about initiatives that the applicant has undertaken and that have failed. How did the applicant handle failure, and what did they learn from it?
People who have never failed have never accomplished what they are capable of, nor have they built the internal fortitude to move on after inevitable failures.
There are people who see a world of possibilities and abundance. There are others who see only limitations and scarcity. You want to hire the former.
3. Possess the skills to do the job or can rapidly develop them. It doesn’t help your organization or the job candidate if there is a significant mismatch in know-how or credibility to do the job. If you want to place a high-potential individual into a stretch position, ensure they have the needed resources and advisors available to help them be successful.
4. Will help you become the preferred provider to your market. This is the Holy Grail of any business: to become the preferred provider of products or services in your geographic market, that is, the provider everyone wants to do business with.
To achieve preferred provider status, employees need to be focused on providing a great customer experience. This builds repeat business and is a real competitive strength, as outlined in an October 2016 article, “Six ways to become the preferred provider to your markets.”
5. Have common sense and good critical judgment. Stories appear in the news and on social media about an employee who makes a bad decision while dealing with a customer, harming the company’s reputation. Hiring people with common sense and good critical judgment will minimize the likelihood of this occurring.
On occasion, an employee may need to violate an organization’s policy when it’s in the best interests of the company. In a September 2014 article headlined, “When an employee violates company policy for the right reasons,” I describe a situation when this occurred. You need to hire people with common sense and good critical judgment, so they know when to violate the rules. Celebrate these employees, rather than terminate them.
6. Are committed to continuous improvement. The only constant in life is change, and those companies that don’t embrace change and continuous improvement will fall behind their competitors.
Hire people who are committed to continuous improvement. You certainly don’t want to hire continuity people. They will stifle your business.
7. Are people of integrity. You and no one else within your organization will trust an employee who lacks integrity and ethics, regardless of the great results that individual has achieved in previous positions. Hiring such a person is a recipe for disaster.
Do your due diligence on a potential employee’s reputation. An April 4 article headlined, “Dealing with toxic individuals in the workplace” describes the damage that these people can do. Avoid hiring them.
8. Can develop other leaders. Even if the job you are filling is that of an individual contributor and is not a formal leadership position, that individual should still have leadership potential. When serving on a team, an individual with the needed knowledge and expertise may need to step up and serve as the leader for a particular initiative.
While this article shares advice to business leaders on the traits they should look for in new hires, the advice is also for those who want to improve their attractiveness to potential employers. For those seeking a new job, it will put you at a competitive advantage versus other applicants for any job for which you apply.
Stan Silverman is founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership. He is a speaker, advisor and nationally syndicated writer on leadership, entrepreneurship and corporate governance. Silverman earned a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering and an MBA degree from Drexel University. He is also an alumnus of the Advanced Management Program at the Harvard Business School.