There is simply no management task more important than hiring the right people. You don't just want people who can do the job--you want people who will excel, and whose contributions will help you and your company reach the highest levels of success.

A while back, I attended a series of leadership conferences run by my friend and mentor, Gerhard Gschwandtner, publisher of SellingPower magazine. Attendees were mostly successful CEOs and sales execs.

Not surprisingly, a major topic of discussion was the ongoing challenge of hiring truly extraordinary employees. Dozens of great ideas surfaced, but here are the seven that I thought were the absolute best:

1. Define Your "Extraordinary Employee"

Study your best employees to determine the characteristics that differentiate them from the average ones. Find out what drives your best people to be the best. Discover which talents and skills are crucial to success in your unique business environment.

Then create interview questions that will reveal whether the candidate can be exceptional in your specific organization.

2. Always Be Interviewing

It's absurd to expect somebody extraordinary to walk through the door the moment you have a job opening. Rather than wait until your moment of greatest need, interview candidates all the time, even if you don't have any job openings. Use a combination of email and social networking to keep in touch with the best candidates.  That way, you'll have exceptional candidates ready when you have an spot for them.

3. Ask Questions That Reveal Character

You can't identify somebody extraordinary by asking ordinary interview questions. Rather than asking something like, "What was your greatest achievement?" ask the candidate to write down two achievements from grade school, two from high school, two from college, and two postcollege--with at least one business related.

Then ask which achievement makes him or her proudest. This lets you delve into his or her core motivations.

4. Seek People Who've Overcome Disappointment

Extraordinary employees are resilient--a character trait that emerges only as the result of life experience.  When you're interviewing, probe for defining moments when the candidate encountered disappointments and yet still managed to move forward. Exceptional employees will have personal experiences that illustrate their resilience--which in turn will help them shrug off the frustrations that are part of any high-performance job.

5. Don't Confuse Success With Motivation

Extraordinary employees are self-starters. However, there are many people who are successful only when somebody else is providing the motivation. For example, many top athletes (even Olympians!) slack off when a coach is not "riding herd."

Unless you plan to spend a lot of your time providing motivation, look for employees who don't require constant attention to be successful.

6. Hire for Attitude, Not Experience

Experience can be misleading, especially in a business environment, where things are always changing. As many hiring managers have learned (to their dismay), some "experienced" candidates have just had the same bad experience over and over.

Rather than focus on what candidates did in the past, focus on whether they have the attitude that will make them an excellent employee in the future.

7. Get a Real Reference

Extraordinary employees are usually likable--but plenty of likable people are particularly good at convincing employers (consciously or unconsciously) that they have talents that they don't actually possess.

Never hire a candidate unless you've talked to somebody who says you'd be crazy not to hire that candidate.  Ideally, you should research and locate the reference yourself, rather than simply calling the ones on the candidate's resumé.

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