As many of you who regularly visit this blog know, my life mission is relatively straightforward: to stop small company owners and managers from running their companies like big ones. And nowhere is it more tempting for entrepreneurs to emulate their larger counterparts than during the hiring process, where they compete directly with Fortune 1000 firms for the world’s best, brightest, and most upwardly-mobile talent. For weeks at a time things like resumes, grade point averages, personality assessments, letters of reference and “skills inventory surveys” are reviewed over and over again, until the best candidate for the position is eventually uncovered.
You see, while large firms go out of their way to minimize risk and variation among staff (big company managers: don’t even attempt to deny this) small company managers looking to post significant growth need to dig deeper than a resume or assessment can take them, and find high-impact employees who don’t fit the traditional ‘big company’ mold. If you are a small company owner or manager in the process of hiring your next employee, be sure to keep an eye open for these five traits of great small company employees.
Trait #1: Street Smarts
At most big companies, Educational Background and Grade Point Average are often used to separate candidates early in the hiring process. Although the implied prestige of a University and the candidate’s GPA can tell some of the story, neither of these criteria is an accurate measurement of what matters most: common sense. The world is littered with straight-A students who can’t critically think their way out of a wet paper bag—and small companies need employees who can think on their feet, adapt to constant change, and succeed where a competitor’s big company employees regularly fail.
Trait #2: Passion for the Job
One of the most difficult things to do in a job interview is separate candidates who are looking for any open position from candidates who are looking for YOUR open position. In today’s economy, most job seekers have been trained to automatically tell hiring managers how much they want the job. But more often than not, the candidate is merely communicating how much they need it. Employees who are passionate about what they do—marketing, sales, human resources, accounting, or whatever—will carry those feelings over to the company they work for. And there is no more valuable employee than one who truly cares about the well-being of your organization.
Trait #3: A Non-Standard Personality
When you think back to your formative years (whenever they happened to occur) which friends made the biggest positive impact on your life: the ones who were very much like you, or the ones who were nothing like you? When used the wrong way, tools like personality assessments and strength-finders do nothing more than allow companies to hire ‘cookie-cutter’ employees who act and think alike. Sure, people with non-standard personalities can at times be more difficult to manage and communicate with. But they also push boundaries, challenge traditional thinking, and generate ideas used long after they move on to the next opportunity. And I can offer Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Larry Ellison as three examples of world-changing people who wouldn’t have a chance in hell of passing your company’s personality assessment.
Trait #4: Something to Prove
When I look back on the half-dozen small companies I worked for over the past 18 years, something interesting occurs to me. As counter-intuitive as it may sound, the most valuable employees I ever hired were not the smartest, most educated, or most charismatic—they were the ones with the biggest chips on their shoulders. As a general rule, people who are repeatedly told they can’t accomplish something will accept the bad news and move on. But small companies need to load the employee roster with the few who refuse to give up, and spend the next three decades of their lives trying to prove everyone who doubted them wrong.
Trait #5: A Firmly Implanted Backbone
If I had a dollar for every time an entrepreneur said “I don’t want to be surrounded by ‘yes’ people” I could a) walk away from this blog, b) pay off my bills in cash, and c) pursue my dream of doing absolutely nothing for a living. But surprisingly, most business owners don’t follow their own advice. The more entrepreneurial a small company is, the more valuable employees with backbones become. In fact, employees who are well-trained in politics and ‘neutralism’ actually HURT small companies. Why? Because they refuse to challenge management, question ideas, or stand up to ownership when critical mistakes are about to be made.
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