Hire Great Employees

Back-to-basics advice on what to look for in your most valuable asset
4 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

In the course of hiring close to 10,000 people in my companies over the years, I've unfortunately seen the ineffectiveness of most of the fads, theories and scoring systems that promised to revolutionize the hiring process. It's unfortunate because many consultants seem to think they're paid by the pound, based on the weight of the documents delivered and not by results. But entrepreneurs must be focused on results.

To wit, I share with you what I've learned from my years of recruiting. It boils down to looking for people who exhibit five fundamental characteristics:

  1. Aptitude
    Certain job descriptions require lots of experience. But if you're trying to turn an industry on its head or create a new industry, it might be best to seek raw talent with lots of aptitudes or skills rather than hire people who think they know the business.

    My one cardinal rule for hiring people in my collection business was not to hire anyone with prior experience. I knew they'd be coming with lots of baggage we'd have to dump before we retrained them to treat borrowers with dignity and respect.

    In interviews and on resumes, we looked for clues that suggested aptitudes like the ability to create rapport quickly, handle rejection and to be willing to follow a proven process.

  2. Attitude
    We had a FedEx driver who applied for a job with us eight times. When that tidbit percolated up to me, I hired her. How could I not? Even if she had other deficiencies, she exhibited the great attitude of never giving up.

    Some people look at problems as proof that they're victims while others consider problems to be challenges. One woman was late to work at our office one day because her car broke down. Then I discovered that she had walked 15 miles to get to work. Talk about a winning attitude! I bought her a new car on the spot.
  3. Intelligence
    I'm not talking IQ, but rather a person's ability to come up with creative solutions. We all have budget and time constraints. Can your candidate point to examples where he or she found a way past, through or around a problem?

    Most industries suffer under self-imposed limitations of "it can't be done because it's never been done." My company became the subject of a Harvard Business School case study because we quietly and methodically dismantled barriers that other people thought were impenetrable.
  4. Intensity
    I informed all new hires that working for my company would be the hardest job they ever had, but also the best. If that spooked them into quitting, I was glad I discovered that early on.

    Look for people who embody the Zen principle of "Be here now." In other words, work when you're at work. Compete to be the very best and be impatient to reach your goals.
  5. Integrity
    This is people's ability to do what they say they will do. For instance, if telephone reps promised to call a customer back in 30 days, I expect it to happen in 30 days--not 29 or 31. I also expect employees at any level to show up for meetings on time and have the guts to deliver bad news rather than shade it or hide it.

I applied these five character screens to all levels of my organization. How did this system work? The main industry trade journal called our operation the "largest, best-trained and most-profitable collection operation in the world." In an industry where typical employee turnover was 100 to 200 percent per year, ours was only 9 percent.

Make your best "people person" (which may or may not be you) part of the interview process, and have this person rate candidates on a scale of 1 to 5. This is a good way to determine whether or not a potential employee possesses the above traits. Later, you can look back to see how accurate that initial rating was.

What can you learn from that experience to adjust your hiring process? After all, these are not traits that show up like a swallowed coin on an X-ray; the goal is to get better at it over time.

Be careful not to delude yourself into thinking that having a great training program means you can train people to have these characteristics. They're either baked into us very early on or they're not, and in a fast-paced environment our true colors tend to show through.

Once you make these qualities into a cornerstone of your hiring, you can smile at the fads and fancy scoring systems, knowing that your business is being built on the one foundation that never changes--human nature.

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