A man displaying a quality to look for in an employee by dressing professionally.

What are the key qualities to look for in an employee? What are two behavioral tendencies you want candidates to have?

When creating a hiring rubric, you want candidates to know what type of qualities are important in the role. By answering this, you identify traits or abilities that you want an employee in the role to display.

Here are the qualities to look out for when interviewing candidates.

What Qualities Are Important in This Role?

To answer what qualities that are important in a role, consider what qualities may help an employee fulfill the role’s purpose and goals, as well as qualities that fit broader, companywide goals for employee behavior. For instance, you may list “skilled at providing feedback” for the role of manufacturing manager, since they need that skill to complete their managerial responsibility. You may also include “curiosity” as a trait that you want every member of the company to have, if the company relies on continual experimentation and innovation to stay at the forefront of its industry.

(Shortform note: In First, Break All the Rules, Gallup Press says it’s important to distinguish between abilities and traits when considering what qualities to look for in an employee. Abilities like good communication can be acquired, while traits like empathy are intrinsic inclinations toward a certain feeling, thought, or behavior. They say you should prioritize traits when hiring, as you can’t teach them to an employee. In addition to the methods above, you can identify important traits by evaluating employees who have succeeded in similar roles. Identify these employees’ traits and then look for candidates who share said traits.)

The authors of Who caution against being too specific with your desired qualities, though. People with different qualities can achieve equal levels of success, so you don’t want to limit your candidate pool too much and overlook candidates who could excel in the role, albeit in a different way than you anticipated. For instance, say you specified that the manufacturing manager needs to be “skilled in providing feedback through written evaluations.” You then dismiss a candidate who’s skilled in providing feedback verbally. That candidate could’ve been successful in the role, but you lost the opportunity because of your narrow focus.

(Shortform note: Some business experts expand this mindset beyond a candidates’ qualities, saying you should even avoid specifying formal education and work history in your role descriptions. Many talented and successful individuals have unusual career paths, and limiting your candidate pool to a specific degree or kind of experience can stop you from capitalizing on that group. Hiring people with unusual backgrounds can make your company more diverse and innovative, they add, as these people will likely approach problems differently than those who share the same background.)

We’ve consolidated the authors’ advice into two main behavioral tendencies you should look for in a strong candidate:

Tendency #1: Meets Employer Expectations

According to the authors, identifying whether the candidate has regularly met previous employers’ expectations can help you judge whether they’ll meet your own. To identify this tendency, first ask why the candidate was hired for each role. This helps you understand what their previous employers expected from them. Then, discuss their successes and struggles in each role to see to what extent they met those expectations.

For example, let’s say a candidate was hired to create a unique marketing strategy that reached audiences on several platforms. She successfully created a unique strategy but struggled to execute it on several platforms. Thus, she only partially met her past employer’s expectations. If the candidate had trouble fully meeting expectations in her other past jobs, as well, she’ll likely struggle to fully meet yours.

Tendency #2: Has Good Relationships With Superiors

The authors argue that ascertaining whether the candidate usually has good relationships with their superiors is important for two reasons:

First, it helps you understand how the candidate interacts with their superiors—and therefore how they’ll likely interact with you if you become their superior. You can ascertain this by having the candidate describe their past employers. You’re looking for a candidate who speaks mostly positively about these employers, as this suggests they had a good relationship.

Second, it helps you see whether the candidate’s past employers considered them a valuable employee, which can help you determine if they’ll be valuable to you. You can ascertain this by asking why the candidate left their past roles. You want a candidate who left on good terms to advance their career. This suggests their employers didn’t want them to leave because they were a good employee. In contrast, a candidate who was fired or left on bad terms is likely less valuable.

The 2 Most Important Qualities to Look for in an Employee

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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