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5 Traits to Look for When Hiring

When trying to hire the best and the brightest, most managers look only at education and experience.  The problem is, past performance does not necessarily predict future success. And education doesn’t make a big difference in the long term. It may give a candidate a short head start, but unless a person is committed to continued learning, the benefits of education soon disappear.

I prefer to hire for potential rather than experience and education.  Don’t get me wrong, I value greatly experience and education, but potential trumps them both. I think we fool ourselves if we think experience and education are the most important factors in making good hires.

In his book It’s Not the How or the What but the Who, Claudio Fernández-Aráoz records the results of his research in the field of recruiting and hiring.  He outlines the five most important traits to look for when hiring.   Over the past twenty-five years, I’ve found these to be true predictors of a person’s potential and future success.  As a manager I’ve experienced my best results when I hired for potential and trained for technical competency.


The first characteristic to look for is motivation.  You’re looking for a person with commitment to excel in the pursuit of unselfish goals. High potentials have great ambition.  They want to leave their mark, but display humility as they pursue collective goals.  Highly motivated individuals invest in getting better at everything they do.

Be sure to check the type of motivation.  If someone is driven purely by selfish motives, that probably won’t change.  You’re looking for a person who is motivated to improve himself along with the organization he works for.


Next is curiosity.  You want a person who seeks out new experiences and knowledge.  Ideally this person would welcome candid feedback and be open to learning and change.


After curiosity comes insight.  This is the ability to gather and make sense of information that suggests new possibilities.  You want a problem solver who will be able to process new information and provide possible solutions and best practices as technology and the industry change.


Next is engagement.  You’re looking for a person who can use emotion and logic effectively to communicate persuasively and connect with people.  Most of our problems within teams and organizations stem from a lack of interpersonal skills.  A person who can relate with others and work collaboratively will not only be successful, but he will improve the overall performance of your organization.


Last, and certainly not least of the characteristics you should look for to make the best hire possible is determination.  You want someone with the ability to fight for difficult goals despite challenges and to bounce back from adversity.

So now the question is, how can you tell if a candidate you’ve just met—or a current employee—has potential? This will be the topic of my next post called How to Uncover Top Talent.

Let’s wrap up today’s post by acknowledging that most jobs at a water or wastewater utility have some level technical expertise required.  It’s up to you as a manger to decide whether you have a training program that’s up to the task of training a person with high potential who lacks the education and experience.  American Water College has a complete training library available to your organization.  Click here  or call us at (661) 874-1655 to find out how you can gain access to this industry specific training for your organization.