Congratulations –– you’re finally ready to hire someone! Many start-ups start small –– think two partners collaborating in a garage or shared workspace. Other operations, like restaurants and retail, usually require staffing before they open. Regardless of your needs, employing talented people is vital to your company’s future. How vital? Well, research conducted by Sara Pollack, a vice president at ClearCompany Talent Management Software, shows that when a superstar employee joins a team, department-level output can increase by over fifty percent. Even if they leave, the team will continue to be nearly as productive.
As the owner of Cake Publishing, I’ve been there. I see the pitfalls. One thing that helps is involving other stakeholders. Your partners should join you as you interview prospective employees. If you’re a small company, include earlier hires as well. It’s not just that including others shows you care about their opinion. The truth is, their opinion does matter. During the interview, pay attention to the details. Arriving late could mean the interviewee is irresponsible and unreliable. Slovenly dressers tend to not be detail-oriented. Beyond that, how do you discover people who will really drive your company’s success? Well, you have to know what to look for. Here are the top five superstar employee behaviors.
1. They are Passionate
Passion can’t be taught or trained. If you discover employees with this quality, the sky really is the limit. After Facebook’s billion-dollar acquisition of Instagram, the founders and many of the 13 original employees could have moved to deserted islands, drinking cocktails and playing croquet. Instead, they stayed on for years afterward because they were passionate about what they had created and wanted to make sure its unique qualities were preserved.
To find passion, look beyond the jobs held by your interviewees. See what drives their hobbies, what their major was in college. If you are founding an online publication you might be able to attract a passionate journalism grad who feels trapped in a marketing job. If you’re directing your first feature film, you could land a cinematographer who has only done commercials but dreams of shooting an Oscar winner. You will still have to pay them well –– passion alone doesn’t cover rent –– but they will put in extra time to achieve your vision.
2. They are Ethical
Another trait that’s tough to suss out on a resume. However, it to is vital to your company’s future. Unethical employees have damaged brands and even destroyed them. This is where speaking to their personal references and not just former employers can really help. Pay attention to subtext. Take the time to actually call humans, rather than send emails. You’re looking for someone who won’t cut corners. Someone you can trust. Like all relationships, it’s not always easy finding the good ones but it’s definitely worth it.
3. They are Results Driven
As you craft a corporate culture it can be easy to get stuck in the weeds, focused on the process instead of the results. How something is done is less important than that it gets done –– and done well. You want a team that cares about reaching the finish line. What you don’t want is someone who will put on a show every time you’re looking while not actually meeting the deadline. With last year’s lockdowns, many of us went to fully remote work. While check-ins are normal early on, I’d be nervous about someone who emailed or called with every tiny decision.
You need someone who can prioritize without your constant guidance, someone who will get the job done to your satisfaction. Being results-orientated is definitely a superstar employee behavior but people with that quality tend to be independent and self-supervising. In order for them to thrive, you’ll need to loosen the reins a bit. I use a number of freelancers. I don’t really care if they sleep until noon and work at midnight. All I care about is that they meet the deadlines and deliver quality work. I am rarely disappointed.
4. They have Stamina to Spare
If you have a new business, you likely won’t be able to succeed with a clockwatcher who can’t wait to leave at six. Your projects will likely demand some grueling hours and not everyone is up to the task. Passionate, result-orientated people have tons of stamina. They are not only motivated, they inspire those around them. In fact, one Harvard Business School paper suggests superstar employees can generate up to 80% of a business’s profits.
The problem is people often look energetic in interviews. That’s more a function of nervous adrenaline than actual energy. Job-hopping histories aren’t the deal breaker they once were but I’d pay attention to patterns. If most jobs end at the six or nine month mark, it may mean they push really hard and then succumb to exhaustion. With a few exceptions (movies and pop-ups perhaps) businesses are marathons not sprints. One downside to motivated superstars is they are more susceptible to burn out. That means if you do hire one, you may have to push them to take breaks and days off. It’s tempting to just enjoy the goose’s golden eggs, but in real life all gooses need their rest.
5. They are Team Players
This is especially critical if your potential superstar is going to be working onsite. Some superstars are lone wolves. That isn’t always a bad thing –– Steve Jobs had some pretty famous brush-ups with bosses and staffers who didn’t get his vision. Still, hiring a superstar who doesn’t play well with others can create a toxic environment leaving the company worse off. Again, pay attention to references and the type of companies that employed your potential superstar. See if there is a history of successful collaborations. This is another case where the interview matters more than the resume. With the right questions, you can see how people interact with your team and how they worked with co-workers.
Finally, pay attention to your own bias. One downside to superstars is they can suck the oxygen from the room. Your other staffers need to feel that they matter. We often pay extra attention to top performers. That’s a problem no matter what but it’s an even bigger issue if you tend to favor workers who look like you or come from a similar economic or educational background. You’re not hiring clones. You’re hiring top performers who will work to make your company the best it can be.
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