Think about really great employees that have worked for you… and then consider whether you’re reflecting on their level of skill, experience, knowledge, even intelligence? Or is it more about their attitude? In most cases you’ll find it’s very much the latter. I would suggest that the things that make a great employee include:
- Positive attitude
- Eager to understand and learn, and fast learners
- Accept new challenges readily
- Willing to do whatever is asked of them
- Reliable – do what they say, when they say
- Tenacious, don’t give up easily
- Proactive – recognise what needs doing and do it
Now consider typical job adverts and interviews. They’re full of “Must have…” requirements for specific skills and “Minimum three years experience of…”. Having observed the process managers go through when writing a job recruitment spec, they sit and think really hard about these skills and amounts of experience and create a shopping list. It’s way too formulaic.
Experience is always a criteria that I find somewhat questionable. By all means take it into account, especially as evidence that someone can actually do a particular job and will stick at it. But just remember that experience means they know exactly how to do things, without even having to think about it… someone else’s ‘right way’. Chances are that you’re going to spend months getting them to un-learn old habits (“We always did it THIS way at me previous company”). And also remember that ten years of experience might in reality be one year that they repeated ten times without ever getting better or learning anything new!
So what’s the alternative? Identify what are the absolute minimum you could accept in terms of knowledge, skills and experience. Yes, there’s usually going to be a minimum or they can’t actually do the job on day one or even day twenty-one. But be honest, the minimum is often not that much unless you’re hiring into truly professional roles.
Focus on good behaviours and attitude. The most important one is an eagerness to learn – if someone is eager to learn and proactive about it, they’re going to progress rapidly. Make sure they can and will follow instructions (or you’ll regret it when they’re working for you!).
The way to attitudes is to ask good open-ended questions and then listen to what they say AND what they mean. When prompted with the right questions, will they complain about their old boss, about their co-workers, about how their company didn’t do this or that… When they list hobbies and interests, ask about those “so what was the most recent book you read?”, “When did you last play that sport”, “Your creative writing sounds interesting, where can I look at some examples?”. You’ll soon see a picture of the real person emerge. That’s the person you could have in your organisation – will you be thinking in years to come how lucky you are to have them in your business? Or regretting the day you hired just on skills and experience?