hiring

Successful Hiring Must Prioritize Traits That Can’t Be Taught

How many times have you hired someone who checked all the boxes, interviewed well, seemed to have potential for a bright career, but turned out to be an unsuccessful hire? We all have, even with great HR teams in tow. Hiring that produces fit and fulfillment for the employee also produces loyalty, strong productivity and contribution beyond expectations.

In short, a win for all with immeasurable ROI. If successful hiring is this powerful, why can’t we seem to master it? We will probably be studying this until the end of time. But those of us who focus on mastering it will have greater long-term success, and this will give us an advantage.

There are numerous strategies for successful hiring, and the fundamentals of these strategies should never be discounted:

  1. Professional Fit: Educational, skill and experience requirements
  2. Personal Fit: Team fit, superior-subordinate fit, likeability
  3. Cultural Fit: Fit with mission of company, style of work, type of work
  4. Desire to Learn and Grow: Desire to learn the business, master position, commitment to skill growth for stronger contribution and upward mobility


So what is happening when a fundamentally sound process results in failure? Even environments with strong staff managers engaged in growing careers through leading by example, providing opportunity for skill growth, and engaging in direct teaching and mentoring, experience this failure. In my experience (and I have hired a lot of people), the failure is often attributable to a factor we don’t interview for:

Lack of traits or skills that cannot be taught.

I found myself regularly identifying the absence of these, followed by frustration that we couldn’t seem to teach them or improve them, no matter how hard we tried. Employees either had them, or they didn’t. So we began incorporating questions and discussion of these core traits into the interview process.

In every startup, there are a handful of traits or skills that run through the fiber of the business and are paramount for long-term success. They are different for every company, and the secret to this strategy is to recognize that candidates that do not align are most likely very talented and strong candidates – just not for your startup.


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In developing your list, ensure you are thinking high-level, identifying only those that are truly most important. Be strategic and philosophical. Reviewing a list of unsuccessful hires will aid in identifying those core traits that cannot be taught and create unresolved conflict. Here’s my list that enhanced confidence and success in hiring once incorporated into the process.

  1. Work Ethic: Willingness to do what it takes to maximize success combined with trust that this level of effort will be rewarded and rarely required (i.e., an understanding that equal give and take creates a good marriage).
  2. Teamwork: The power of the team is exponentially greater than the power of the individual.
  3. Ownership and Humility: Work to add value. Prevent mistakes but value the power of fully owning and resolving problems.
  4. Politics: Playing politics and working angles always creates lack of productivity. You can’t move up if the company isn’t maximizing efforts.

Interviewing will never be a perfect science, but try adding traits you cannot teach to your process and watch how your process improves.

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