The 6 qualities to look for in a new employee

Looking to fill an open PR or corporate communications position? Consult this checklist to make sure your next hire isn’t a bad apple.

Do you know what you should be looking for in an ideal employee? I didn’t know what to look for when I started my entrepreneurial journey, but after making dozens of hiring mistakes I’ve learned what to look for and what to avoid.

If you are trying to grow your business, especially during the early days, it’s really important to hire the right people. Hiring one bad person can derail your whole business and could cause you to fail.

Don’t make the mistakes I made by just hiring the cheapest employees out there; make sure you hire the right person for the job. Here are the essentials of smart recruitment:

Hire people smarter than you

You should never hire anyone who isn’t smarter than you. Now, they don’t have to be a jack-of-all-trades, but they do need to be smarter than you when it comes to their job.

For example, if I were to hire an online marketer, I would hire someone much more knowledgeable in this area than I am. Plus, that person needs to not only be able to talk the talk, but they have to walk the walk as well. If they can’t execute on their knowledge, they typically aren’t the right fit for any job.

If you don’t hire smart people, you’ll end up wasting your time micro-managing. Employees hate that, and it will consume too much of your time. Smart people, on the other hand, are independent, they’ll figure out how to get stuff done on their own, and they’ll do a better job than you.

A good fit, culturally

One big lesson I’ve learned is that culture is really important. I used to think that you could just hire smart people and expect them to do wonders for you.

If people don’t fit with your company culture, they will be more likely to butt heads when it doesn’t make sense, they’ll quit when things aren’t going well, and they won’t care for your company.

Zappos does a great job of hiring people who fit with their company culture. During the interview process, they’ll even offer candidates money to quit, which helps them weed out bad apples.

If someone doesn’t fit your company culture, you shouldn’t hire them—even if they fit all your other requirements. We followed this strategy at KISSmetrics, and we were able to keep every one of our employees during the tough times—such as when we went through a class-action lawsuit last year.

Hire hungry people

The main reason companies don’t hire overqualified people is that those people aren’t always willing to do what the job requires. People who are very successful, such as corporate executives, usually aren’t as willing to get their hands dirty, as would someone who is trying to get his or her big break.

If things don’t work out for that big corporate executive, they can always get another high-paying job. If things don’t work out for that young kid, they’ll be left with nothing. For this reason, you want to hire hungry people, because they have no choice but to work hard and strive to succeed.

When we started our sales team at KISSmetrics, we had a choice of hiring a sales executive from Web Trends who managed a large team and was producing over $30 million in sales a year, or a director of sales from Truste who managed a small team and was producing over $16 million a year.

Do you know which one we hired?

We didn’t hire the sales executive from Web Trends even though he was in the same industry as we were. It wasn’t because of his qualifications or salary requirements; it was because he was a high-paid executive who already was successful and was used to managing big teams that did all the heavy lifting for him.

The guy from TRUSTe, on the other hand, badly wanted to be a VP of sales and was willing to do whatever it took. He wasn’t just a manager, like the Web Trends candidate; he was actually selling for TRUSTe while managing. So we went with him, because he was willing to do whatever it took to earn the job.

It worked out well, because he put in more hours than required to ensure the company’s success. He didn’t have the luxury of failing; he needed things to work out to improve his future.

Focus on hiring people who are hungry, because their output will usually be much greater than a high-paid executive. Besides, you can always pay the high-paid executive to mentor your scrappy hire.

Eyes on the job, not the paycheck

If someone cares for money over everything else, he or she probably isn’t a good fit for your company. You want to hire people who love your company and believe in your vision.

The right candidates will take equity in your company and less pay, because they really want to work with you. They’ll get the opportunity to learn from you and work with like-minded people who can challenge them, and they will be in a fun work environment that isn’t filled with useless meetings and boring calls.

When negotiating compensation, keep in mind that people have bills to pay, so they do need money to survive. You can’t expect people to work for free, but you can expect them to work for you below the market rate.

Following a process is key

As you become larger, you will have growing pains. You’ll have to figure out how to make things more scalable, train more employees, and make things more efficient. There are no quick solutions, but employees who are good at creating processes will make your life a lot easier.

If you hire people who aren’t good at creating processes, it will be hard for them to determine the bottlenecks in the business and what can be improved. For example, my VP of sales created our sales process and continually adapts it to help his team maximize their efforts; the last thing they want to do is make hundreds of sales calls and close no deals.

If you want to grow fast, you’ll have to fine-tune your business, and it’s hard to do that without processes.

Don’t accept candidates from recruiting firms

In most cases, recruiting firms don’t have the best candidates. Why? It’s because talented people don’t need recruiters to help them find a job.

If someone is really good at what they do, they’ll be bombarded with job offers. If someone isn’t very good at what they do, they won’t receive many job offers.

For this reason you should avoid recruiting firms. Recruiters are bad. Having recruiters work for you internally is a different experience from using a recruiting firm to help you hire.


I know that when you are starting out, it’s hard to find the perfect employee, but don’t settle for someone mediocre; it can hurt the trajectory of your business.

If you want to find the best candidates for your job openings, try hitting up potential candidates through your LinkedIn profile. Using your own LinkedIn account will achieve a higher response rate than using a random person’s LinkedIn account.

A version of this article first appeared on QuickSprout.

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