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Hire for Culture, Talent and Traits, not Skills, Knowledge or Experience

Human Resources

As founder of career community pdxMindShare, I’ve met thousands of professionals over the last decade and heard their unique stories. Over that time, I’ve had the opportunity to identify trends in what an ideal employee (and employer) should look like. As the owner of a decade-old search engine marketing agency, I’ve also been in the unique position to identify and retain employees based on my insights and I’d like to share with you what I’ve learned when it comes to  identifying ideal talent.

During informational interviews, which I regularly host, I’m often asked what traits or talents have led to my success as an entrepreneur and marketer. My short answer is that I’ve always had an interest and proficiency with sales and marketing (or what I call storytelling). I’ve also been fortunate to harness my general enthusiasm and passion towards digital marketing into a productive business career. While I’m not a believer in luck, I do believe in karma and timing and much of my success can be attributed to both, having read Gladwell’s Outliers.

Unfortunately, a good deal of what makes someone successful can be mislabeled or misunderstood. For example, having deep knowledge and experience in a particular discipline (like public relations) or industry (like automotive) do not directly correlate to your success as a PR person at an automaker. Too many times, companies hire based on foundational skills that can be easily taught or knowledge or experience that can be transferred or accumulated, rather than a personality or unique ability that will truly impact the organization.

Instead, companies should focus on identifying people with an existing passion or interest in your industry and then look at that person’s unique ability or “Freak Factor” to determine if there is a good cultural fit. An easy way to filter out prospective talent is to ask questions that relate to depth of passion, overall cultural fit in terms of personality and how their strengths play within the organization.

For example, someone who is inherently good at customer service may not be a good fit for sales or detail-oriented work. The inverse is true as well: those that prefer to get down and dirty in data or a particular process are often not as interested or able to converse effectively with customers (think IT professional).

While talents and strengths are often unique to an individual, there are common traits or skills you can identify in yourself or a potential employee. At Anvil and Formic Media, two digital marketing agencies, a team member’s organizational skills are the greatest single predictor of success or failure. Communication skills are also extremely important and universally valued by organizations and teams. Having a growth mindset is also invaluable for most positions, particularly in smaller more dynamic organizations. Other important traits to look for: optimism/positivity, resilience and intuition.

I can tell you that my organizational skills are above average, but I’m a solid communicator, have a thirst for learning and am generally optimistic. As a business owner, resilience and intuition have been key traits and factors in my success. One trait I look for that I also hope I navigate well: balancing confidence with cockiness. There is also a fine line between enthusiasm and desperation. Know the difference as an employee or employer or it can be a big turnoff.

So how do you know what your talents and strengths are? Ask your friends, family, peers and coworkers. Identify common themes and you’re off to the races. Armed with that knowledge, you can look for career opportunities that truly leverage your strengths and talents and avoid those that do not. If you lack the necessary minimum knowledge or experience, consider gaining it the risk-free way: via internships and volunteer work. Regardless, the ability to channel your strengths into your day-to-day role will drastically improve your happiness and overall success.

For more information on building your career, networking or entrepreneurship, visit the articles in Anvil’s Resources section.

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