How to Hire: 6 Traits Every Employee Must Have

hiring

Do you know what you should be looking for in an ideal employee? I didn’t really know what to look for when I started my entrepreneurial journey, but after making dozens of hiring mistakes I’ve learned what to look for and what to avoid.

If you are trying to grow your business, especially during its early days, it’s really important to hire the right people. Hiring one bad person can derail your whole business and potentially cause you to fail.

Don’t make the mistakes I made by just hiring the cheapest employees out there. Make sure you hire the right person for the job. Here are the qualities you should be looking for:

Hire people smarter than you

You should never hire anyone who isn’t smarter than you. Now they don’t have to be a jack-of-all-trades, but they do need to be smarter than you when it comes to their job.

For example, if I were to hire an online marketer, I would hire someone who is much more knowledgeable in this area than I am. Plus, that person needs to be able to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. If they can’t execute on their knowledge, they typically aren’t the right fit for any job.

If you don’t hire smart people, you’ll end up wasting your time micromanaging. Employees hate that, and it will consume too much of your time. Smart people, on the other hand, are independent and they’ll figure out how to get stuff done on their own, while being able to do a better job than you.

Don’t take culture for granted

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that culture is really important. I used to think that you could just hire smart people and expect them to do wonders for you.

But if people don’t fit within your company culture, they will be more likely to butt heads when it doesn’t make sense, quit when things aren’t going well and not care for your company.

Zappos does a great job of hiring people who fit within their company culture. During their interview process, they even offer you money to quit, which helps them weed out all of the bad apples.

Over the years, I’ve learned that if someone doesn’t fit your company culture, you shouldn’t hire them…even if they fit all of your other requirements. We followed this strategy at KISSmetrics, and we were able to keep every one of our employees during the tough times…even when we went through a class-action lawsuit last year.

Hire hungry people

The main reason companies don’t hire people who are over qualified is because they aren’t always willing to do what the job requires. People who are very successful, such as corporate executives, usually aren’t as willing to get their hands dirty compared to someone who is trying to get his or her big break in the corporate world.

If things don’t work out for that big corporate executive, he/she can always get another high paying job. But if things don’t work out for that young kid, the kid will be left with nothing. For this reason, you want to hire hungry people because they have no choice but to work hard and strive to succeed.

When we started our sales team at KISSmetrics, we had a choice of hiring a sales executive from Web Trends who managed a large team and was producing over $30 million in sales a year or a Director of Sales from Truste who managed a small team and was producing over $16 million a year.

Do you know which one we hired?

We didn’t hire the sales executive from Web Trends even though he was in the same industry as we were. It wasn’t because of his qualifications or salary requirements; it was because he was a high paid executive who already was successful and was used to managing big teams that did all the heavy lifting for him.

The guy from TRUSTe, on the other hand, badly wanted to be a VP of Sales for a company and was willing to do whatever it took. He wasn’t just a manager like the Web Trends candidate; he was actually selling for TRUSTe while managing. For that reason, we went with him because he was willing to do whatever it took to earn the job.

In the end, it worked out well because he put in more hours than required to ensure the company’s success. He didn’t have the luxury of failing due to the fact that he needed things to work out to improve his future.

Focus on hiring people who are hungry because their output will usually be much greater than a high paid executive. In the worse case scenario, you can always pay the high paid executive to mentor your scrappy hire.

Money isn’t everything

If someone cares for money over everything else, they probably aren’t a good fit for your company. You want to hire people who love your company and want to work there because they believe in your vision.

The right candidate will take equity in your company with less pay because that person really wants to work with you. They’ll get the opportunity to learn from you, work with like-minded people who can challenge them and be in a fun work environment that isn’t filled with useless meetings and boring calls.

When negotiating compensation, keep in mind that people have bills to pay and they need money to survive. So you can’t expect people to work for free, but you can expect them to work for you below the market rate.

It’s hard to scale without process

As you become larger, you will have growing pains. You’ll have to figure out how to make things more scalable, and you’ll have to train more employees. You’ll also have to figure out how to make things more efficient. There’s no quick solution in solving all of these things, but employees who are good at creating processes will make your life a lot easier.

If you hire people who aren’t good at creating processes, it will be hard for them to determine the bottlenecks in the business and areas of improvement. For example, my VP of Sales created our sales process and continually adapts it to help his team maximize their efforts because the last thing they want to do is to make hundreds of sales calls and close no deals.

If you want to grow fast, you’ll have to fine-tune your business, and it’s hard to do that without processes.

Don’t accept candidates from recruiting firms

I know this really isn’t a quality in a candidate, but I had to include it. In most cases, recruiting firms don’t have the best candidates. “Why?” you may ask. It’s because talented people don’t need recruiters to help them find a job.

If someone is really good at what they do, they’ll constantly be bombarded with job offers. And if someone isn’t too good at what they do, they won’t receive too many job offers.

For this reason, you should try to avoid recruiting firms. By no means am I saying that recruiters are bad. Having recruiters work for you internally is a much different experience than using a recruiting firm to help you hire.

The candidates who aren’t receiving too many job offers usually use recruiting firms to help them find a new job.

Conclusion

I know when you are starting out, it’s going to be hard for you to find the perfect employee. But don’t settle on hiring someone who is mediocre because it can hurt the trajectory of your business.

If you want to find the best candidates for your job openings, my recommendation is that you should manually hit potential candidates from your LinkedIn profile. Using your LinkedIn account will achieve a higher response rate than using a random person’s LinkedIn account.

What other traits should you look for in an employee?

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Comments

  1. #1 is the most important from my experience. You need to put your ego out of the way and find someone who is better than you to get the job done. The rest I haven’t had experience with too much but the goal is to build a team because no one, even the CEO, is the person who can do it all especially with you scale the business up. Talent is key.

    -Amir

  2. I am looking for job, hire me ;)
    Best Regards!

  3. I agree with what you said about recruiters. Often, they don’t have your best interest in mind. They just want to sell and make a commission

    The best people to hire are people who already have jobs. Good employees are not unemployed for a very long.

  4. Hi Neil ,

    Its very difficult to judge all these qualities in an employee. Most of the time you need to go with the gut-feeling because you need to fill that position. I am not sure how would you about the culture thing you mentioned. I would say, Its very hard to find right-fit employees nowadays.

    Regards
    Aditya khanna

  5. Yes I totally agree with all this points Neil.I feel having the sense of good fore sight is part.When I was thinking of getting other students to run my Bulk SMS service for me on campus, I came across a particular young guy who didn’t really look fit for the job but I just gave him a trial until he surprised me on his first work day.Today he has grown from being my employee to a business partner

  6. Hire talent, train skill. The smartest hires are capable of taking your company to the next level. And of course culture is really important for every business. Culture defines what the company stands for, and all employees should be on the same page when it comes to a winning company culture. Zappos is a real example of succeeding with great culture. Tony Hsieh has transformed his company with great culture and efficient customer service.

    Cheers Neil

  7. Company don’t hire over qualified people. But we (Readers of QS) read over informative blog like this. lol.

    I like the point need to hire hungry people most. Just simply I am also struggling to make a mark in Graphic Design industries. This is why we are work so hard and feel how it feel.

    Thanks

  8. “You should never hire anyone who isn’t smarter than you.” – I don’t think this is always the case.

    There’s been other instances where grooming your employees and teaching them the skills they need to grow has proven to be successful.

    For example Bill Belichick (NFL coach) has had 6 assistant coaches have become NFL head coaches, 14 assistant coaches or executives have become assistant head coaches, coordinators or executives in the NFL.

  9. well neither i am boss nor employee but soon going to appear for interviews if i would have been boss then i will find such qualities in an employee….so in other ways this post is going to help me a lot.i mean all the points that neil mentioned i am not recruited by any firms and i am hungry i think.thank you neil sir you told me what my interviewer wants from me and i will do that.

  10. I agree with most of what you have to say here Neil. I do disagree with the comment about compensation though – at least the below market part.

    Now, if we’re talking about YOU, that may be right. As an online marketing guy, I’d see getting to work with someone your level as additional compensation on top of my check.

    But, for a lot of businesses wanting top people, below market isn’t an option. Like you said, true talent rarely experiences a time when there isn’t some offer on the table – so unless you have the kind of business that can inspire great passion, you’re going to have to come up with some cash.

    The equity example is interesting – it might appeal to some, but even top talent needs cash flow. It’s also a double edged sword – I personally would make sure I made the right hiring decision before offering up a piece of my baby :)

    What you’ve described is an ideal scenario – but I think folks need to understand that there are times when talent just wants to get paid, and that’s ok, assuming they fit the rest of your profile. If you’re hiring right, an employee should be considered a long term, multi-million dollar investment, so first year compensation shouldn’t weigh that heavily.

  11. Kirti Chitnis :

    Culture fit is hugely important when hiring someone but is also the hardest to verify. One of the things that bothers me most about the hiring process is lack of social proof. References are the last thing you check for and that too from a couple of people who the candidate recommends. What if you had a better idea of what the person is like from more people he or she worked with. It is a hard problem but a very relevant one as hiring becomes more and more difficult – lot of candidates and very little time. Most times people just end up hiring someone because someone recommended them not because they know that they could be the best choice out there. You check reviews when visiting a restaurant or buying a product. Recruitment is one space where social proof needs to be leveraged to avoid type 1 and type 2 errors.

  12. #1 is most important for a new business if you hire people that all know exactly what you know then your not going to get what you need. An employee who knows what you dont is great cause then they can do the stuff you can’t!

  13. Attitude is one. Even the time you criticize him on what he did, he should be willing to accept it at all cost. :)

    Regards,
    Venchito

  14. Hi Neil,

    for the most part i think it’s a great post however i disagree with this point;

    “So you can’t expect people to work for free, but you can expect them to work for you below the market rate.”

    If someone is already earning the market rate then you would expect them to work for less?

    I feel that companies should pay employees what they are worth, good people are worth good money.

  15. Neil i love to read this article i am beginner and this kind of stuff aware me a lot.

  16. This is a great article, Neil, but I also take exception to the implicit conclusion you make that people who won’t work for less than market value care more for money than anything else, and that someone you can’t underpay is therefore not the right person. Sometimes we need to forget “How cheap can we get him for” and remember that “You buy cheap, you get cheap.”

  17. Before taking my first interview, I was give a simple tip by my senior “Just see whether he can work with you”. To date that is what I try to evaluate in any interview

  18. I agree with a couple of your points, but certainly not all.

    I am a recruiter who has worked with young tech companies for almost 2 decades. I’ve seen good and bad hiring decisions and I’ve been around to see the success and failure of hires at all levels.

    I like the basics of the message – Hiring for smarts, integrity and passion are key.

    But… Measuring passion and engagement by an individual’s ability to take a pay cut is not always logical. You don’t want anyone who just shows up for the pay cheque, because they won’t bring passion and they will leave for a bigger number. BUT when you are competing with other companies who ALSO have great opportunities, you need to pay people what they are worth. Trying to bargain for talent is not like getting a good deal on a car. You need to send a message that you value your people and their contribution, so if you can afford to pay what someone is worth, then do it. If you are just getting started and need to craft a package that includes equity and/or bonuses because funds are tight, then your hiring options will be limited to those who can afford the personal sacrifice. Sometimes you need to also make sure that the individual’s spouse is on board, and salary matters.

    Regarding recruiters… I just have to apologize for the people in my profession who have given you such a bad experience. A good recruiter should not try to sell you candidates who are unemployed or mediocre. It is bad for everyone – like giving away free samples of your stale products. Recruiters should be opening doors for you into pockets of talent that are exceptional and hard for you to find. Their relationship with you should start with trust and an understanding of what you need, followed by a sniper-fire approach to finding and delivering very specific talent.
    Candidates do not ‘use my services’. I will give free advice to people who are looking for work, but I will not make an introduction if I’ve not been engaged on a search.

    • Kristina, you bring up some great points. I wish I had some of these while writing my post. I agree that a candidate must be engaging and put forth an honest effort.

  19. Hey Neil, I have couple of business, where I have some employees working for me but I never imagined or thought to hire someone who are more smarter than me. But its idea worth pondering upon. :)

  20. As usual nice post Neil. But how do you make your employees feel that you really appreciate their work? By giving bonuses, salary hike, rewards, promotion ? Because as an employer if you don’t understand what your employees are going through and you don’t motivate them enough then even you are failing at your job, isn’t it? Because self motivation goes as far its beneficial for a person and that’s just a human tendency.

    • Yes, all of the above plus more. It depends on the employee… you have to get o know them to figure out what makes them happy… and then you can really motivate them.

  21. Awesome Article Neil,

    This is what I always wanted to know about! I was very anxious to know about your team selection process, and what exactly you will look in them. Many people doesn’t take the ownership of what they work for. It is extremely difficult to get a intelligent person working under you in India, as every go that entrepreneur qualities in their jeans. Thank you for this wonderful post.!

  22. Excellent post Neil.

    I was just doing some research on this.

    Great timing and serendipity.

  23. I agree that most of the candidates from recruiting firms tend to be less than desirable. But there are a few recruiters who are really good so I don’t completely shun them. I think the key is not to have high expectations and test them first to see if they are any good. You will usually know after seeing a couple of candidates they send.

  24. Good points Neil. For me, hiring someone who has different skills with you matters. In that way, you would both compliment each other and do the tasks intended by means of team work. :)

  25. This is extremely valuable because I don’t think people know the impression they may be sending by going through a recruitment firm.

    All the more reason to get rid of the middle man.

    It makes sense really.

    Thanks for writing this.

  26. Great post. I always look at their Facebook profile if they have one. There’s much to tell by their profile. I look for someone who can multitask, has common sense and pays attention to detail. We recently interviewed for a position with my company. We asked that they answer 3 questions and attach a resume when responding. over 50 people responded via email and only 1 person answered the questions.

    We ended up hiring this person and so far so good!!

  27. Hello Neil,

    Could you please take a look at this sentence from the above article.

    You’ll have to figure out how to make things more scalable and you’ll you to train more employees.

    I think there is a minor error in that sentence. “You’ll have to” instead of you’ll you to..Please correct me if I am wrong.

    Sincerely,
    Rafi

  28. I like to hire techs who are both good with computers and with people. This is not as hard as you might think.

  29. Hi Neil,

    I m agree with you , always hire hunger one or mad one .

    Great tips for startup-er .

    Regards
    Saurav Sharma
    Social Media Strategist
    GlobalHunt(www.globalhunt.in)

  30. Whatever the high street landscape looks like in the coming years, online retailing is here to stay and will only place increasing competitive pressures on bricks and mortar retailers. Great tips. Need to be very alert before hiring the correct people for your business. “The problem, simply put, is that we cannot choose everything simultaneously. So we live in danger of becoming paralyzed by indecision, terrified that every choice might be the wrong choice.”― Elizabeth Gilbert

  31. I like to hire techs who are both good with computers and with people. i agree with you , always hire hunger one or mad one .

  32. I always felt upset when the hiring company did not call me because I asked an average salary. Some of them do not bother to ask information about you if you do not ask the lowest salary possible. But, as you said, we won’t work for nothing. My opinion is the following: if your salary satisfies you, then you can entirely focus on your job.

    Concerning the recruiting firms, I do not completely agree. A lot of companies publish their jobs only through those and candidates may not have access to these positions in another way. So, even if you can apply directly on the website of some companies, you have to use those firms.

    • Great points. It is not always as ideal as it should be. Recruiters have incentives that involve how much they are compensated as well. Sometimes it is best to search for a job on your own without the middle man. However, like you said it is hard to avoid them.

  33. Thanks for sharing, was a nice article. Waiting eagerly to read some articles on SEO tools and techniques for blogs and also how to increase rank of blog on alexa and google ranking etc.

  34. To hire people smarter than you is a counter intuitive thing. In the other end of the spectrum, when looking for a job, companies will reject me because I am smart. There are a few companies who are ready to let out their ego and hire smart people.

    Many companies are just looking for “factory workers” and they don’t want smart people who take initiatives. They want compliance and obedience. Like in School.

  35. WTF how you get such great ideas every week?
    Love him or hate him, you can’t ignore Neil Patel. He’s kind of a fucking genius.

    Thanks, you also unknowingly taught how to become a great employee.

  36. I Am An Exceptional Recruiter Who Finds People Under Rocks… Disagree with your assessment about external recruiters and firms… But I respect your opinion how it relates to your world…

  37. Ask questions to them like where do you see yourself 5 years from now.

  38. Great post, Neil! And a BIG YES to “hire people smarter than you”. Thanks for sharing!

    -Gasper

  39. Hi Neil !
    Thank you for your great post. One point i have catched here that “Hire Hungry People”, i agree with your point that over qualified people work for their wish but needy people can work much more and can highly contribute.

  40. Neil, I agree with most of your points, however, things are not always so black and white. A friend of mine started his career as a hungry “go getter”. He loved his work, he loved helping people. Before he went on to a better opportunity, his boss even hinted that losing him would be the beginning of the end for the company. My friend played the same role at his second position, however, he made mistakes. He grew complacent after 5 years and he let emotions make his decision to leave the company. He then started going through recruiting firms and he has been doomed since. I’m sorry for the long response. The point that I’m trying to make is that Workplace bullying is very real and it can ruin lives. My friend has been harassed, and treated like he was nothing for the past 3 years. Now even when he wants to give 100% at a new job, he second guesses every keystroke. It’s a two way street. You have to treat employees like human beings.. If my friend could find a job that provides a positive work environment, where he could give his all and not feel like scum at the end of every day, I know he could be transformed just as he was cut down. Here is some info on Workplace Bullying http://www.workplacebullying.org/ . Great post and comments. Thanks.

  41. Amazing if done correctly, thank you for sharing :)

  42. Niel, I would agree with the recruitment firms idea, some of them are doing the so called CV dropping because they have several clients and they are trying to get out of the most from one candidate because they are overloaded. If you want to have the best candidates you have to find an A+ recruiter, who is targeting inactive candidates who are not on the job market and those headhunters will have a good relationship with the players so they already mapped the market. Hiring is faster and if they know all players near by than it is really easy to get a references. Job boards are not the solution anymore direct connection and attention is.

    I can refer to IT recruitment for Startups in Europe but it works nearly the same with everything.

  43. whatever God or My subconscious mind brought me to this post. I really need it because I’ve started to outsource more often.

    I’ve found that you can find people to do wonders for you for cheap prices if you just believed in them and gave them the chance to prove themselves.

    You can hire the best company to do an animation intro for more than 3500 bucks or you can get the same result for 15$. don’t overestimate beginners but don’t underestimate them either.

  44. Great post Neil!!

    In my business I find #1 (Hire people smarter than you) is the most important!

    I have found that when you run your business and you have like a million things to synchronize and take care, then DELEGATION is a very important ingredient for you to be successful.

    And in order to be able to fully delegate the responsibility (and keep of course the accountability of your work) to a resource, then he/she needs to BE SMARTER THAN YOU in their area of expertise.

    Viterbi

  45. The point about Hungry people was awesome. People who are willing to cross the limits for getting results generally get to the finish line, leaving everybody behind. I however am a very lazy person, so I guess, success won’t come to me for quite some time. Looking forward to it, though!

  46. “Money is not everything”. You are so right. Great article…

  47. Hi Neil. Good article, thanks for sharing. I like your points, still when it’s about people things are not that straight and a success formula might not work for all. I have seen people who were not successful in a previous job being shining star in the next and vice versa. Management style, building trust, encouraging employee to make mistakes and come with creative ideas, rewording system, are also elements that foster personal success. Managers will successfully work with people that fit well with their management style, and when hiring, will instinctively look for such. Hungry people are not a guarantee they will strongly support your business. Might get a better package from competition, and when leaving, will take with them ideas, good people and clients. Recruiting firms can help. Take a chance, tell them what you are looking for and go with a success fee. If they are good professionals will offer good advices during selection, valuable people are not that easy to find. Have a nice day.

  48. You are very right Neil. All the points you mentioned here are so true. One thing I could add up is to hire people who is wiling to build a good working communication. It’s so difficult to trust ghost employee. Talking to them and being a friend could create a harmonious working relationship that could bring success not only to you but to your employee as well.

  49. Hiring an employee competitive enough to do the work without being managed is really a tedious task. I like the idea of hiring “the hungry”. This employee will surely give his best to prove his worth rather than those who are already successful ones who will just tend to relax.

  50. Neil,
    First off thank you for the mention here, I truly appreciate you recognizing my efforts. More importantly, thank you for giving a hungry guy the opportunity at KISSmetrics ;-)

    Our sales team has been built using the same principles which is why our success has scaled so well over the last 2 years.

  51. Neil, In general good points. Especially in startups, smarts and hunger are requirements. Although learning and working with the best people is an intangible value and good candidates take that into consideration, I will assume you don’t think you can hire the best experienced people at below competitive rates.

    Where I strongly disagree is your point on using recruiters. (I am biased as I am a head hunter)
    I am wondering if you have ever engaged with one of the top firms (and didn’t try to get a deal) to see what they can do? What you describe as accepting candidates suggests the recruiter are not engaged by you but trying to get your business by sending un-solicited candidates. This is a lot different than engaging a recruiting and working with them to hire.

    You will find just like in every service business, even SEO consultants, there are very bad ones that don’t earn their fees. Right? So would you make a blanket recommendation that people shouldn’t use SEO consultants?

    But why does Al Pachino use an agent? I am betting he could get roles on his own. Good recruiters work with people that are not applying for jobs actively, but rather are open to explore options and find a great company. The recruiter found them, not the other way around. If someone contacts me, and they aren’t a referral, then it is usually not someone I end up representing.

    Enough rant, ;-) In any case, I am a long time reader of this blog and have learned many valuable marketing lessons here.

    • You have a good point. I have tried a lot of the top tier firms, but I always negotiated with them… which is what they hated. For that reason, I probably wasn’t given the time and attention that I needed to make it work.

      Thanks for shedding some light on the situation.

  52. This is an awesome post. I think i will pass on the tips to my friend who owns a small scale IT firm within town. Thanks for sharing

  53. you need to IMO be able to get a balance between boss and employee, try not to be to friendly but dont be to closed and make your employees feel closed off from you.

  54. Neil, your comment “If someone is really good at what they do, they’ll constantly be bombarded with job offers” couldn’t be further from the truth.

    • Tony, It was a bit of an exaggeration. But I wanted to push the point forward that hard work and talent typically creates a need from others to work with you. The current economy, however, states otherwise at times.

  55. Neil, thanks for your insights on recruiting agencies or employment agencies, but you are absolutely wrong! I own and operate a diverse attorney recruiting firm for over 20 years. The talented diverse attorneys that I contacted are talented but they are not being recruited by law firms because law firms don’t want a recruiting wars! My law firm clients don’t know how to recruit diverse attorneys especially black attorneys of African descent, so you are wrong, your information is old and outdated. Also, recruiting is a personal and professional business, websites and blogs can not preform that function, recruiters can.

    • Ron thanks for your feedback. This information is definitely not cut and dry. There will often be other variables to account for. These are just my experiences.

  56. Thanks Neil I love all of those 6 traits. And now I know the method to hire perfectly.

    Thanks
    Al amin

  57. Excellent post.I think that sincerity and respect should be there in every worker so that employee can make his team effective.
    Thanks

  58. Hey Neil !
    This is a nice post. I really liked this guide line for hiring an employee. But I think we should hire an employee who needs money, and he will be motivated to do the work. Because he knows if he would not do work then he will get nothing. Moreover, the person who just want fun in the work, may be get bored at one stage because it is the human psyche.
    Thanks.
    Dexter

  59. I just love your all 6 traits..

  60. Great Article @Neil,

    I will Use This Tip. Thanks for Sharing

  61. Hello Neil !
    You are right that hire people who are greedy. this will definitely increase your productivity. This is quite important outline for hiring an employee.
    Thanks.
    Barrett

  62. Hello neil !
    Hire people smarter than you is just awesome. But I think it would create jealously factor. lols. Well this would be the best plan for creativity. It would be beneficial for the company.
    Thanks.
    Dion

  63. Hi! Do you know if they make any plugins to assist with Search Engine Optimization? I’m trying to get my
    blog to rank for some targeted keywords but I’m not seeing very good results.
    If you know of any please share. Thanks!

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