OWNER'S MANUAL

7 Must-Have Qualities to Look for in Employees

The smaller your business, the more crucial it is to get every new hire right. If you find someone with these 7 traits, make an offer -- quick.
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While every hiring decision is important, the smaller your business the more important it is you hire the right people. When employee No. 300 turns out to be a disaster, the impact on the business is relatively small and often confined to a small group of staff.

When employee No. 3 turns out to be a disaster, everyone—and everything—suffers.

That's why attitude is everything. You can teach skills, but it's nearly impossible to teach and instill enthusiasm, teamwork and independence (great employees have both), and motivation.

And that’s why great small business employees:

Can come across a little different. People who are quirky, sometimes irreverent, and happy to be different may seem a little out there, but in a really good way. An employee who isn’t afraid to stand out or stretch boundaries often comes up with the best ideas—and helps you think in different ways, too.

May lack polish but overflow with personality. Think about your favorite customers, vendors, or suppliers. What typically comes to mind first? Those people are personable, friendly, outgoing, and make your day a little more fun. Look for the same qualities in the people you hire. Customers buy more and build longer-term relationships from people they like.

Think, “I’ll do whatever you need. It’s all 8 hours to me." I first heard that expression when I asked an employee to help me clean up after a backed-up sewer line spread (incredibly unpleasant) fluid across the warehouse floor. He smiled and said, "Sure. It's all 8 hours to me."

He felt he was paid to work for 8 hours, so the tasks he performed during that time period didn't matter (in a good way). Great employees are willing to do whatever it takes. Great employees are more concerned with overall objectives and goals than their individual duties.

Possess one outstanding skill. Small businesses have a variety of specific needs: Running the website, processing orders, generating leads, etc. Many roles can be outsourced. If you have the choice, only bring roles in-house because the candidate is truly outstanding.

Aren’t concerned with job descriptions or organizational structures. To a business owner a prospective employee who asks to see a detailed job description is waving a giant red flag. Employees are paid to work, not hold a position. (If you don't feel there's a difference you haven't run a small business.)

Want to learn and take over. You're often overwhelmed, so having the luxury to delegate and forget is extremely valuable. While employees with an independent streak can be more difficult to manage the payoff is definitely worth it.

Asked you for a job. Say you sell products online. One day a college senior walks in and says, "I checked out your website. I don’t mean to be rude, but it could be a lot better. I graduate soon and would love to work for you. Here’s a list of the changes I would make in the first three months, and here’s a breakdown of how those changes will improve SEO results and conversion rates. She’s targeted her approach, she’s done her homework, and she’s displayed a level of initiative every business owner hopes to find. While a prospective employee will rarely knock on your door, when one does, give her serious consideration.

That’s my list. What qualities would you add?

Last updated: Jan 17, 2012

JEFF HADEN | Columnist

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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