List the 20 Traits You Want in Your Next Hire

Try this for your next hire: have a manager come up with a list of about 20 different traits she’d like to have in the new employee who’ll take the job. Consider the work environment and performance expectations: What skills and traits does an employee need to possess to excel at the job? Be specific.

After the list is complete, you and the manager can go back and put a letter “T” next to the ones in which you are able and willing to train. Of the remaining traits, circle the ones that are non-negotiable, must-have traits. From the ones circled, put a star next to your top five.

You can always train a new employee to perform a task (if you are willing), but hiring an employee who doesn’t possess the same values as you or your organization will be problematic in the long run. After aligning your values and attitudes, focus on the individual’s skills and abilities. Competencies to look for include reading comprehension, math skills, computer skills, decision making, flexibility, and interpersonal skills. Consider which skills are essential, which tasks are performed occasionally, and which are not necessary for the job.

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Determine how much experience and education are needed to fill the position and address specific needs. Some jobs can allow for a training period, while others require the employee to hit the ground running almost from Day 1. Even the employee with the best credentials will need a period of time to get adjusted to your organization’s specific culture.

Some people were made to be accountants, some to be salespeople, and others to work with their hands. Putting people in a position which is not the right fit for their skills, abilities, and personalities is sure to create coaching needs in the future.

Michael Patterson is a speaker, trainer, and author of the book “Sit Stay Succeed! Management Lessons From Man’s Best Friend," which offers an innovative approach to employee development -- treat them like dogs! Visit him at


7 Comments on “List the 20 Traits You Want in Your Next Hire

  1. This is a great article. People often just try to look for skills, but traits can be so much more telling.

  2. Michael,
    Nice article addressing something that most people don’t (or won’t) consider when hiring someone. Some skills are obviously necessary such as math for an accountant but what about positions where the requirement isn’t so obvious? We use a patented process to discover the traits required by the job. We then match the person to the job by measuring the person to see if they have the required traits. Since our retention rate at our clients is better than 90% I think we are onto something.

  3. As one recent Harvard Blog Network post pointed, the problem with this kind of matching is that applicants lie. They lie in interviews and they lie to your face in interviews. Managers and HR don’t have much of a chance of success if they don’t know if resume and interview information is true. Few of us have the budget to check everything… The Affintus blog posted today addresses this:

    Jay – you are right to differentiate knowledge required to do a job (a pilot’s license, a CPA, or a DMD), but for most jobs, if you first find the right cognitive and personality match between the job and the candidate, the training is fast and performance is significantly higher.

    See,, and Jon D. Bible’s Lies and Damned Lies: Some Legal Implications of Resume Fraud and
    Advice for Preventing It in the Winter 2012 Employee Relations Law Journal.

  4. Deborah thanks for your comments. I agree that some applicants may lie but when you have an objective standard (job benchmark) that they are unaware of, they don’t know what to lie about. A recent study using EEG brain scan shows that a high percentage of people self report truthfully. If you can figure out what the questions mean then you have a chance at gaming the assessment. In our case most of the questions don’t have a direct correlation to the job. Given the chance of having tell me a lie or believe their assessment, I will take the assessment every time.

  5. Jay – Absolutely agree – job benchmarking is crucial to being able to effectively assess personality and cognitive match. The information is useful throughout the employment cycle and of course, is needed to develop the questions… hopefully behavioral ones! Would you be able to provide the cite for or link to the EEG study mentioned? The work I cited was research derived from self reporting and it would be great to have the neurological research, too. Hope you are having a great weekend.

  6. Spot on about hiring for values, I’m a big believer in hiring for cultural fit. You can always train someone for a task but if they aren’t the right fit culturally you’re going to end up wasting a lot of time and money in the long run.

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