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The three traits I seek

Russ Kathrein - Selling our industry

At some point in my career I realized that, as I was interviewing candidates, I was really focused on assessing attitude and aptitude: attitude being how they presented themselves and worked with others; aptitude being their natural abilities and how well they were suited for the job. Over time as I shared my interviewing strategies with others, I was introduced to the third A in the “Three As for Hiring”: altitude, or how high was the candidate’s career potential. These three As became the mantra in the companies I worked in, and I’ve touched on them in a previous article.

Once we felt confident in the areas we wanted to explore with a candidate, we started thinking about what traits made an employee successful within our organizations. After developing a list of those traits, we started testing them against candidates who were successful, as well as those who failed. For the people who worked under me, I found three traits were fairly common in my most successful employees:

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  1. Shows a sense of urgency
  2. Gets “stuff” done
  3. Possesses intellectual curiosity

If you put them in a Venn Diagram, the green intersection represented the kind of person I wanted on my team.

Kathrein chart

Sense of urgency—this may seem straightforward, but the problem is it’s easy to talk about having it, but much harder to consistently demonstrate it. It involves energy and the ability to prioritize. A successful sense of urgency will recognize that getting things mostly right is probably better than waiting to try to get everything right (except in the case of defusing a bomb or building a space shuttle). Urgency should come out as an energy level during the interviewing process. Asking about where the candidate has been frustrated will give you an idea of when they felt their sense of urgency was not being met or appreciated.

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Getting “stuff” done—this may seem similar to a sense of urgency, but they are two different components. How many times have you seen someone who was passionate about a project only to get distracted or move onto something else without completely finishing it? Similarly, you will run into people that are really good at completing projects but take forever doing them. By the time they are finished, the need has abated or gone away. The right person will take pride in getting things accomplished in a timeframe that meets the objective, even if it means they have to go back and make some tweaks.

Intellectual curiosity—this is usually the hardest for people to grasp. It’s not outright intelligence, nor is it simply curiosity. Being intellectually curious means the person will look at how things are done and think, “I wonder if there is a better way to do this?” They have the concept of continuous improvement hardwired into their brain. They always look at the “why” first, rather than immediately jumping into the “how.” These are the people who will help transform your department or company. One of the simplest ways to identify this trait is to ask the candidate what books they’ve recently read, or what’s their favorite TED Talk video. How have they improved their most recent job? Someone with intellectual curiosity will not take much prompting to talk about their ideas. The trick is to separate the dreamers from the accomplishers.

By themselves, each of these three traits may sound admirable, but when taken together you get a person with the curiosity to explore change, the desire to enact upon that change in a timely way, and the perseverance to see that change through to its successful conclusion. That’s an ideal employee in any organization and why I continue to seek them today.

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Russ Kathrein is with the LBM Division of Do it Best Corp. based in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

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