Despite the sluggish economy and continued reports of high unemployment, all the small business owners I know (including me) are looking to hire. The obstacle to doing so is not new health care laws as some would have you believe, nor is it always a lack of job-specific or industry-specific skills. Rather, it is a more fundamental problem. Most of the candidates whose applications cross my desk lack the basic character traits to become a successful employee. Those are:


At Metal Mafia, initiative is creating opportunity, and not waiting for it to fall into your lap. Sales don't happen. They are made. And they are made when a savvy strategist listens carefully to a customer's needs and suggests the perfect product to help meet that need. If a candidate applies to my company and cannot even take the time to explain to me in complete sentences why he would be an asset to my company, there is no way he will be able to explain to my customer why one of Metal Mafia's products may solve his problem better than another.


More than any degree or work experience, hustle is the most crucial indicator of whether an employee will be successful at my company. Hustle puts you in the right place at the right time, once you identify an opportunity. Hustle is the difference between a sales rep who sends a customer a catalogue and says, "Can I call you on Wednesday to go over the catalogue with you?" and one who says, "Give me a call when you have a had a chance to look over the catalogue." If a candidate applies to my company and I ask him to call me for a phone interview at his convenience, and he doesn't do so within 24 hours, I know he's not a hustler, and he won't jump to get my customers' needs met in a timely manner either.


A great employee brings high energy--and I mean the contagious kind--to everything he does. If he approaches a customer call and conversation with enthusiasm, a sales rep can change a customer's day. A job candidate who doesn't speak clearly, who gives one word answers, who looks down instead of into my eyes, or who communicates in a monotone, will never be able to get my customers excited for his call, nor will he be able to generate enough excitement to interest them in Metal Mafia's products.


This quality is what separates star employees from mediocre ones. You can take the initiative to sniff out an opportunity, have the hustle to put yourself in the right place at the right time, and work with enormous energy, but you will only be an average player if you don't bring a healthy dose of curiosity to the job. A curious sales rep doesn't just suggest solutions for a problem a customer describes. He listens for both expressed needs and silent subtext, which may indicate additional unexpressed and un-met needs, and he asks questions to learn more about both. If a potential employee comes to an interview and asks no questions about my company, or has done no research on who I am and what the company does, he will never be able to muster the curiosity needed to help my customers take their businesses to the next level.

For me, hiring is a lot like beginning a romantic relationship: a first interview is akin to a first date, and should exemplify the best of what a new relationship can offer; there are things I can compromise on, and things I can't. I believe these are the four characteristics that are non-negotiable.