What We Look For in an Employee

Those of you who know me (or at least know this blog), are aware that I have a great affinity for BGSU, and regularly assist the business school and the marketing department on various topics. Yesterday I was back on campus for Speed Interviews (spring is a wonderful time at BG, by the way). I had a break during the day, and was asked to speak at Mearl Sutton’s Intro Business Class (comprised mostly of freshmen, completing their first year at BG). The following is an excerpt from that presentation:

One of the questions that the class asked me to cover was about traits and qualities I look for in prospective employees. I’m going to spend the majority of my time today on this question, because I think it will be the most helpful to you in the long run. The future – Where I think we are headed – (and the reason why I value these attributes above all others) will not seem revolutionary to you in this room – It will only seem like the norm. It will be the reality in the only business world you will have ever known…


The “normal speed” of business has taken another quantum leap forward, and timelines and expectations have compressed. And all of the rules – from technology to consumer behavior, values, media habits – all are in the process of being rewritten.

As I said, this is the only reality you will know – but it will be new territory to those already in the workplace. The managers to whom you would normally look to for advice won’t have much to offer. Sorry about that.

So expect to have to make your own way. Don’t expect a career path to unroll smoothly in front of you. Oh, and always, always, always live on less than you make – preferably half as much.

You will notice nowhere on this list do I describe a single job skill. Not that you can type 60 w.p.m., or that you are proficient in PowerPoint or Photoshop or PHP. Now, those may be job requirements to do the job, but they are “threshold” issues. They are necessary, but not sufficient. What I mean is, certain skills are necessary in order to be considered for the job, but they are not sufficient to land the job. Skills can be learned, improved, tested. Skills also become obsolete. But the character qualities I am going to describe will always be in demand.

Ok, here’s the list of what I care about and why:

Intelligence: Doesn’t necessarily mean education, but education can be a good indicator. (I’ve met intelligent people without education and educated people without intelligence.) There is no substitute for raw mental horsepower.

Attitude: Eagerness, enthusiasm – no naysayers allowed, realists only as necessary.

Work Ethic: Show up. Be dependable. Don’t be the guy with the reputation for: late, lazy, buck passer, finger pointer, excuse guy, always sick, etc. Your credit with management and peers both takes a hit. Note: you don’t have to have intelligence to work hard. Work ethic is one attribute that is completely in your control.

Adaptability/Nimbleness: As a manager, I try not to ask for miracles often, because then they cease to be special – but every once in a while, we have to “drop everything” and handle some new project immediately. Doing it without letting anything fall through the cracks is an art form.

Teamwork: Ability to work and play with others. When to be bold and assert your position. When to acquiesce. Don’t throw teammates under the bus.
Willingness to Try: There’s a first time for everything. You can’t learn if you don’t try.

Ability to Learn Quickly: We move too fast to have to go over things too many times. Intelligence and nimbleness of mind are key here.

Organization of Thought: Learn how to assemble a compelling argument. Bring order out of chaos. Start with data and create information. Help convince everyone around (owner, vendor, customer) to see things our way – a single, united vision.

Do Not Make the Same Mistake Twice: Human beings make mistakes. It’s part of the human condition. And when we ask you to you to try new things, and push yourself, we understand that mistakes will happen. And that’s OK. But when you do make a mistake, admit it. Own the mistake, apologize for it, and learn from it. Find out how to fix it, and how to keep it from happening again.

These are the qualities that I find to be the most valuable, and they apply across the board. No matter what industry you are in, no matter what your role in the organization, these qualities will always be in demand.

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