Are You a Hiring Manager’s “Dream Employee?”

Are you the manager’s dream employee? Naturally, meeting the qualifications of the job description is essential, ranging from skill sets to knowledge. But most managers will tell you there is more to getting the job than just checking those boxes.

When leaders decide who to hire or promote, it’s the intangibles that often elevate the best to the top. So what are these “unposted requirements” for the job? I recently interviewed several managers to get their opinions on this topic. In this series of articles, I will share them with you. The first three requirements the managers shared were ServitudeAttitude, and Intelligence.

Servitude

An important quality that came up with several managers was the ability to serve the customer, inside or outside the company. One of the leaders of a healthcare provider shared the #1 trait he looks for is having a customer-centric approach in one’s work. He stated, “No matter what you do in your job, you work for someone. If you feel someone you work for is your customer, your interests begin to align with the purpose of the business.” Having a customer-centric philosophy is more than just seeking to please, but acting with integrity and approaching relationships with the confidence to hold your ground when necessary.

 

 

Certainly, in an interview, candidates should not make their first question center around the benefits of working at that company. We’ve all heard you need to start with how will you “serve the company” not vice versa. Interestingly, a leader at a huge financial institution took a different spin on “Servitude.” He shared, ” I like to know how people serve their community. What volunteer activities do they get involved in? You can find out where people’s passions lie and what skills they have by understanding their work as volunteers.”

 

Attitude

Zig Ziglar’s famous quote, “Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.” There’s a lot of truth to it. Several managers said they look for a good attitude. One went as far as to say, ” I’d much rather have someone who has a great attitude and hasn’t done this particular job before than someone with only a decent attitude that has five years experience in the position.” It is one thing to say this, and another to act on it. I asked this manager to provide and example where he used this philosophy to guide his actions. Here’s what he told me:

 

“I once took over a group and had to make the tough decision to let a few people go. I wanted to keep the best and one person stood out. Very quickly I saw that whatever the situation, this person was going to own it and do everything to get it done–no excuses. This person was very comfortable in their position, knew the details of their job and was creative in developing solutions to business problems. This person was also very likable. The decision turned out to be a good one as I now consider this person to be my future replacement someday.”

 

Enthusiasm plays a critical role in attitude. One of my clients, a CIO in software development, said he really prefers to hire someone who loves what they do. And believe me, whether interviewing or working day-to-day, it shows when you love your job or just tolerate it.

 

A manager at a global telecommunications company agrees She asks, “Is the person motivated about the job?” She adds, “A popular sports-related prerequisite for accomplishing anything is to have a willing mind and able body. If the body is able to show up to work every day, but the mind isn’t engaged in the job, then the results will be lackluster.”

Intelligence

Several of the managers interviewed value intelligence. On the job, this means creative thinking, active problem solving, and unique perspectives in challenging situations. These leaders want to know if you will provide new ways to tackle a project versus follow the same path as others. Subject-matter expertise is important, but this can be learned. It is how well one uses their mind that can set them apart. One manager said he needs to be able to look in their employee’s eyes and see the atoms moving.

 

During an interview, managers will gauge intelligence not only by how candidates answer questions, but the kinds of questions they ask >As one COO put it, “Are the questions thought provoking or do they just require a short answer?” A good question to ask is how the requirements of the job feed into the bigger picture of how the business runs. It is also a good idea to ask about a technology or tool you are familiar with that may help the company.

Word to the Wise

As I share these attributes in this series of posts, you need to ask yourself: Do I have clear, solid examples of these qualities in my professional life? When being considered for a promotion, you may not even get the chance to “interview” for the position-you must be displaying these strengths every day. In the interviewing process, you must speak with examples, too. Just saying you have these qualities is not enough. As they say, actions speak louder than words.

Being a Good Communicator

I’m not exaggerating when I say that over 90% of the candidates I talk to tell me they are an excellent communicator. And yet, in interviews or presentations, some of these same people fall into traps that show they have more to learn about communication.

 

We all have heard how essential it is to make direct eye contact and most of the managers interviewed mentioned this. One Senior Quality Manager even said, “Quit looking at your note pad during the interview.” One of the key takeaways from my discussions with these managers was well-stated by one COO: ” Open up. Avoid Yes/No or one-sentence answers as it makes you appear overtly cautious.”

 

Several managers stated the importance of their employees being articulate and polished. But what does this really mean? A few leaders took this aspect a little further. One said, “You need to be able to make your argument well – or we won’t listen.” In other words, are you concise, clear, and factual? One HR leader shared that you must have a strong business vocabulary, but watch out for using all buzz words and just regurgitating articles. Another manager had more to say regarding style and approach for good communication:

 

“I look for people who are willing to state a point of view, and perhaps even provide a rationale for it–preferably something more enlightened than “it’s my opinion and I’m entitled to it.” In the consulting world, we’re looking for people who can help create change, so being persuasive and having conviction both matter.”

 

There is one aspect to communication many do not think about: Listening. In interviews I conduct, if the candidate does not answer the question I asked, I begin to wonder how well this candidate would take direction from their boss. You need to make sure you stop thinking about what you’re going to say next when you are supposed to be actively listening.

 

Communication is a skill that takes practice and sometimes formal training. Do not assume you are a master until you meet the one HR leader’s criteria: “Someone who just really impresses the whole team when they speak. Someone you know would have instant credibility just a few minutes into a discussion with an internal or external customer.”

 

Are You The Real Deal?

Most managers will tell you they are looking for someone who is honest and genuine. One manager defined that uniquely as, “I’m not looking for a brown-noser or someone who is rehearsed.” When asked for more detail on this, she explained:

 

“I don’t want someone who comes in and tells me exactly what I want to hear. I really want to know who you are as a candidate. Think back to your dating days. Did you ever date someone who decided they liked salsa just because you did? I want the real person who fits naturally.”

 

Being the “Real Deal” also means the job candidate can give concrete examples of their work. One manager said, “They will need to provide specific examples of what their personal role was and what impact it had on the business.”

 

The theme here is being able to present yourself as a viable candidate for the job or promotion. You need to articulate how you would make a positive impact immediately. Another manager expects candidates have researched their company. He said one of the biggest mistakes they could make in the interview would be to ask, “What do you do?” Additionally, there is an expectation that you be as interested in their business as you are about your expertise.

If you are the “Real Deal,” you can also back up your resume and interview claims with solid references. A senior leader at a large computer manufacturer shared with me, “I only hire people who come from personal recommendations from someone I know and respect.

Being Well-Rounded

Conventional wisdom says that to succeed in a corporate career you need to be a specialist, and this is true. Most of my clients ask job candidates who are experts in a given area. But they also want those candidates to have a wide breadth of secondary experience and knowledge. As one HR manager put it, “Someone who’s a B- in functional area knowledge outside their immediate role.” In essence, managers want people on their team who can draw on knowledge beyond the edge of their focus, which allows them to think more broadly and creatively than someone whose knowledge is entirely specialized and too narrow.

For example, a manager at a software development company stated she likes hiring someone who doesn’t wear blinders. As she explained, “Just because you are a Database Administrator, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t at least have some idea of how to read an annual report.” Regardless of the specific role she’s hiring for, the HR manager quoted above likes candidates who have a broad knowledge of business in general: markets, trends, how products are marketed, SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis, financial statements, and customer support.

Naturally, what constitutes relevant secondary expertise varies from job to job. In some places, international experience or knowing a foreign language is helpful. The key is to think of additional strengths a team might need and to make sure you are working on those skills as well as your core skills.

 

Valued-Added

These days, it seems everything is measured in terms of return-on-investment. And yes, your boss is evaluating how much a return he’s getting out of his investment in you. This value can be measured in terms of new revenue, cost-savings, increased productivity or other things, but it all boils down to how much you contribute that’s tangible and visible. If you’re not sure what your ROI is, ask yourself the following questions: What would happen if you were not there tomorrow? Would anyone miss you? Would your absence hurt the company? How do you protect the company’s interests?

A good way to add value is to routinely look beyond your daily responsibilities (which a well-rounded person can easily do). A senior leader in supply chain program management shared with me, “One of the top things I look for are people who don’t adhere to a defined list of job responsibilities. I don’t want people who say, ‘That’s not my job.’ I want employees who identify areas requiring attention and take steps to get them addressed.”

 

Another manager sees value in someone who can collaborate with a team. She said that when she interviews she is trying to find out, beyond the obvious skills, “What else do you bring to the party? How are you going to help my organization grow and change?”

One CIO shared his insight with regards to the age-old struggle between getting it fast versus getting it done right. He said, “I always want fast. But I will always take thoughtful, careful, quality-obsessed work over speed.”

As you can see, what managers see as valuable traits can vary greatly. Usually they “want it all.” They know that’s not necessarily realistic, so they set priorities when selecting team members. If you’re working towards joining another team in your company, take the manager to lunch to discuss what they need and what value-add they’re looking for. If you’re interviewing with a new company, network with people who know the hiring manager to find out what he values most beyond the basic requirements for the job.

The bottom line: To be a value-added employee you need to think beyond your job description. Just doing your day-to-day work is not enough. As a leader of a health care provider related, “you must have an appreciation for how your contribution fits into a larger scheme.”

Being forward thinking

Some managers call this being proactive, but it’s more than that. Good employees are quick to fix something when there is a problem. Dream employees anticipate hurdles or potential opportunities and dive in before others even see them.

For example, consider this employee at a public relations firm. As the company has evolved, it’s online presence has had to grow too. And the company’s technologist has been out in front pushing every boundary. The CEO explains, “As we take our web presence to the next level, he keeps coming up with ideas to make it better as he’s building it. If he sees an example of a company doing something right, he sends it to me with ideas on implementing it for us.” She goes on to say that he sometimes is so far ahead of where they are, she almost has to slow him down. However, she believes she would much rather rein in an enthusiastic employee than have to keep asking when something is going to be finished.

In an interview for a new job or promotion, think of examples of your own that illustrate how you step beyond the here-and-now. You want to convey that your skills and knowledge are always on the cutting edge of your subject-matter expertise or industry trends. This is another trait that is best illustrated with results, not just situations.

 

Cultural Fit

Cultural fit is one of the hardest things to address in an interview. There aren’t any clear requirements for it in a job description and even if there were, you can’t change who you are. As one quality manager shared, “We are always looking for someone who fits our company culture, but you can’t prepare for that. Either you do or you don’t.”

Culture boils down to the way people interact and behave in the office. It should be equally important to both the employee and the manager. After all, you don’t want to work in an environment that’s not suited to you. You need to ask the right questions or talk to people who work there to understand what the culture is. Is this a company where people are competitive and politics drive the dynamic, or do people routinely work collaboratively and share credit? Is the environment fast-paced? Is there a lot of structure and formal processes to follow or is there a definite lack of structure and hierarchy?

Most managers want to find employees they can easily manage. Personality has a lot to do with this. One marketing manager told me he’s looking for people who “love to win.” At the same time, he said he hires people who are, ” very grounded and down to earth.” His rule of thumb? He asks himself, Is this someone who you would like to sit next to on a 14-hour flight to Asia.

It’s important for you to have an idea of what kind of environment you prefer, what kind of people you want to work with, and what constitutes a deal-breaker. When you interview, keep an eye out as you tour the facility. What do you see that appeals to you, or turns you off? And don’t be afraid to ask the hiring manager what he values most in an employee’s personality. As one CIO told me half-jokingly, “Laughing a bit too loud at my jokes is a must.”

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