I was recently asked by a family friend to help her daughter through a difficult part of her post-high college life: determining an academic concentration and ultimately the field of her career. One of her first questions was “What do employers look for in a candidate?”. The answer varies wildly between potential employers but got me thinking about the attributes I look for when hiring someone.
But before I begin my list, I will tell you what I don’t look for in a future employee: academic qualifications.
Academic results reveal nothing about the actual potential value of an employee. A candidate could have a 3.6 GPA in Mechanical Engineering, yet totally fail as a reliable employee. A candidate could have gone to MIT and graduated Summa Cum Laude, but lack all motivation to be any kind of leader in your organization. You can’t rely on someone’s academic performance to indicate future success.
Nothing outweighs experience. Granted, fresh out of college most candidates have little to no experience, so if you’re reading this and you’re about to graduate: GO GET AN INTERNSHIP. Paid or unpaid; do it.
I spent one crazy hot summer making $8.75 an hour as a truck parking lot attendant in Houston. Dealing with customers and the responsibility of a routine schedule makes me a better employee in the future.
Otherwise, for those not fresh out of college, the experience can be a difficult thing to quantify. Sure months and years offer an idea, but that’s only a measurement of time, not an accounting of what you know and have gone through on the job. Be sure your resume and introductory emails include a thorough description of your work experience.
Whenever interviewing someone who recent come from college I always ask what the candidate is currently learning that does not directly relate to their job. The answer, even if it’s “nothing, but I want to learn…”, will tell me a lot about that person.
The ability to learn and to teach oneself is invaluable; to both the company and yourself. There certainly are times in which the company should send their employees to workshops or conferences, but when employees are able to add new skill sets of their own volition instead of using company funds both parties win. And let’s be honest, conferences are just about partying (looking at you OTC).
Aptitude also implies a willingness to learn. And that willingness to continuously improve oneself is indicative of that person’s nature. I’m wary of co-workers who have seemingly stopped learning new things; stagnancy does not breed innovation or growth.
The last thing a growing company needs are people who are dependent. Employees who are able to find solutions without the assistance of other co-workers and bosses eventually develop a sense of autonomy that will radically improve productivity.
Think about the people in your company that you feel you can depend on to do anything. Are they the type of person who “needs” some kind of technological solution to make their jobs easier, or are they the type of person who finds a solution regardless of the resources at hand?
The most successful people I have ever met are never hindered by their resources.
This is perhaps the most overlooked attribute when hiring someone. Healthy and diverse company culture is the backbone of a successful business. This becomes especially important in companies where identifying and solving problems needs to happen quickly.
“My biggest mistake is probably weighing too much on someone’s talent and not someone’s personality. I think it matters whether someone has a good heart.” — Elon Musk
Let’s boil this down to the simplest example. What kind of team produces the highest level of innovation: the team with the most talent, or the team that works best? I’d say the latter.
Also, a sense of humor is also vastly underrated. In the middle of my interviews, I like to throw a curveball: “Would you rather have shoeboxes for hands or a broomstick as a tail?”. If they don’t at least chuckle, that could be an issue. And slightly awkward.
Knowledge can be found easily. It’s no longer a commodity in short supply. Someone who is “knowledgeable” will know all the right industry phrases and buzz words, but often not be able to provide much insight.
A classic example happened when I questioned an engineer about the valve testing process. He used terms like hydrostatic and API 6D, but when I pressed him further on the process it turns out he had never even seen a valve in person!
Wisdom, however, involves discernment, empathy, and patience. A wise person Socratically solves problems while rarely becoming temperamental. They listen before speaking and have the foresight to see opportunities hidden from others.