What Makes a Great Employee: Insights from a Hiring ManagerFeatured

Have you ever had to double your team as quickly as possible? Find candidates with very specific and scarce experience? I’ve been there multiple times, both in the US and internationally, and I haven’t always done it right. It can feel like an impossible challenge, especially in a tight job market, to find someone with the necessary functional experience, the right background or industry and the right culture fit and mindset. But when you do find those people, it’s magical.Whether hiring for a Fortune 500 or a fast-growing startup, I have found these guidelines - and challenges - to be true.1. “Renters” vs “Owners”When you rent a car, do you take it to the car wash? Do you make sure you check the oil and tire pressure? Unless you are a very unique person, the answer is no. You just use it for the ride.You want people at your company who aren’t just along for the ride (or paycheck) but are invested in the outcome. The best employees are often those who seek you out and are truly inspired by the mission. They want to make a difference and have an impact. They are “owners,” not “renters”. Find those people.The ability to think and do.It’s hard to find people who can think and do. It doesn’t matter how junior or senior the person is - at every level, everyone needs the ability to think and do. At the junior level, it’s often challenging to find someone who can see the forest from the trees, since they spend much of their time on execution. Without much experience, it can be difficult to understand not just what to do, but what it means. In this case, I am really looking for common sense. Does what I’m being asked to do make sense? If I am marketing to runners, would I use a photo of professional basketball players? At the senior level, they will be doing more strategic thinking. However, you cannot have someone who only sees the forest and doesn’t realize there are individual trees. I still need that person to be able to execute effectively, even if the definition of execution is different at this level. I once had someone who could think very strategically, but they repeatedly had mistakes in their marketing campaigns.One size does not fit allBe very conscious of the stage of the company you are in and the type of employee who will be most successful. There are people who do better in startups. There are people who do better in big companies. Some people can go between stages or sizes of companies, but not all. There are people who find joy in starting from a blank piece of paper or creating order out of chaos. There are others who operate best when there is an established process to follow. Neither is wrong; it’s a matter of finding the right fit for you and the employee.There is no I in teamThis is a cliche, but I cannot emphasize it enough. There are so many people who are jockeying for position and are looking to demonstrate their individual “victories.” When it’s all about them and their recognition, ultimately the team loses. Running any business is a team sport - you win and lose based on the team outcome. The best people make the entire team better, while the not-so-great stand on the shoulders of others to make themselves seem taller. Some people think others don’t see what they do, the way they try to shine brighter than the rest of the team. Those are not the people you want on your team. Sometimes you end up with someone who is genuinely talented, but cannot work with others. Known as the “brilliant jerk,” they can add tons of value, but only if placed in the right position where their brilliance can be tapped without negatively impacting the rest of the team. If they detract from the team outcome, and a substantial amount of your time is spent dealing with them, no amount of individual contribution can compensate for the damage done to your team and company. The silent heroSometimes the most valuable employee is someone who doesn’t call attention to herself and isn’t proclaiming “victories.” Some examples:The employee who took it upon herself to teach the summer interns. 23 years old, barely out of school herself, but we called her “Professor Daniela” for the number of times she was in front of a white board teaching someone something. Talk about a rock star.The employee who got up at 4am on Easter Sunday to get a graphic done for an event that day. I didn’t ask her to do that. She did it anyway. The same employee catches the balls other people drop. She catches them even before I am aware they are dropped. Invaluable team member.The employee who makes a point of organizing informal team lunches, recognizing major life events in people’s lives, highlighting people who are less likely to brag about their accomplishments and making people feel good on a daily basis. When I had checked this person’s references, I was told, “she brings joy to the workplace.” She sure does.These are the people who go above and beyond to do the right thing, without being asked, and without people watching. These are the silent heroes of your company.You don’t create silent heroes, but you can find them. You can’t always tell who they are in the interview process, but you will hear about them in their references. Listen to the words people use to describe them. You can tell when a reference is saying the “right thing” vs something genuinely special. Listen carefully.--Tina Lin is a strategic marketer who is currently serving as Head of Marketing at Universal Tennis and is on the board of Inceptive. She started as an investment banker, but switched to marketing. She has worked in big companies and small, and she has marketed advertising-based products, small business software, online poker, celebrity-endorsed products, an app for runners and now a tennis platform. She is a mother of two teenagers, and she is currently the co-President of the Menlo-Atherton PTA. She is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Stanford Graduate School of Business.
Thank you Tina for sharing your story with us! Hiring managers on Elpha, what qualities do you think make the best employees?
Hi Tina! Thanks so much for sharing! "Sometimes you end up with someone who is genuinely talented, but cannot work with others. Known as the “brilliant jerk,” they can add tons of value, but only if placed in the right position where their brilliance can be tapped without negatively impacting the rest of the team." -- This is so interesting, and I'm sure we've all had that one co-worker (or co-founder or boss) that fits this description! I'm wondering if you have any go-to methods for dealing with a "brilliant jerk"?
Start by taking a deep breath. :-)Seriously, the key is to put them in a position where they can leverage their strengths. The reason you put up with them is because they are GREAT at certain things. Focus their role on where they can be great and reward them for their brilliance.
Awesome advice @TinaLin!
Thanks Tina! What interview questions do like to you ask to identify high performers?
Hi Bronwyn, some of the questions I like to ask: 1) something they are proud of and why 2) a situation they found to be challenging and how they handled it 3) what areas they are interested in developing in their next role 4) what environment do they work best in 5) how would your work colleagues describe you - the good and the bad.I also like to give candidates some sort of "assessment" to submit - evaluate a key path of the website, evaluate our social media, etc. I recently had a candidate attend one of our team meetings, and I was impressed by how she interacted with the team and contributed during the discussion.
Bookmarked. Great insights!
insightful post, thanks for sharing.these types of qualities that exist outside of hard skills, off the CV tend to occur less with technical recruiting and engineer types, in my experience. any advice on how to identify the "silent heroes" among those? especially for early stage start-ups where equity is in question. thanks again!
Some of my best "silent heroes" have been engineers/technical team members. References often will tell you - listen to the words they use to describe the person. Talk to the manager, peers and subordinates. You can also sometimes tell by talking to the candidate directly. Engage them in conversation outside of the typical interview questions, and you might be able to get a sense for what's important to them.