The qualities I look for in a new hire

Aug 16, 2010

Business is starting to get better and hiring activity is restarting for many A/E/P and environmental firms that have shrunk over the last few years. That’s good news for the economy and for some of our professional disciplines, such as architecture, that were particularly hard-hit by the downturn. And while there are good people out there to hire (a real opportunity for employers and a nice change from just a few years back), there are still some duds. You don’t want to fill your empty seats with duds! You just cannot afford to. As ZweigWhite goes through its own renaissance, we, too, are entering a period of intense hiring. As recruiting should always be a high-priority role for the CEO, I find myself thinking a lot about the kinds of people we need in our own company. Here are some of the qualities I insist we have in any new hire: Engagement. There just is no substitute for it. Either someone’s head is in the game or it’s elsewhere. I insist it be in or we are wasting our money (and time). I have no way to judge engagement other than after hours phone conversations, e-mail exchanges, or work products that I participate in or see evidence of happening. People who are working and thinking at all hours are engaged. Work ethic. Again, you have to be willing to work hard when you have to get something done. People who are only 8-to-5ers and whose personal lives dictate their work schedules are really hard to embrace in these times of struggle. Technical competence or industry knowledge. Sure, having both is ideal. But we cannot always expect that. What we can expect (and stick with as far as hiring criteria go) is that everyone be either technically competent in their disciplines or intimately familiar with (and experienced in) our market. We can train for one or the other over time, but not both! Smarts. Intelligent people are capable of learning. They are flexible and adapt to changing conditions (see Who Moved My Cheese?). They are also easier to reason with and more quickly grasp the overall framework for any decision that needs to be made. Dumb people cannot do this. They are rigid and closed-minded, don’t adapt well, and sometimes even argumentative about things that they cannot grasp. You may have time to deal with inexperienced staffers but will never have enough time to deal with dumb ones! Common sense. Intelligence does not always result in common sense, yet “street smarts” are extremely critical if you need someone to get something done. There may be a few slots for dreamers in companies like any of ours, but not many. Most of the time we need people who can DO— and do well. Creativity. We all need people who can come up with new ideas. A lack of creativity is killing our productivity as a nation. While you want and need doers who can get things done, those attributes do not preclude the same people having creativity and imagination. Social awareness skills. I have known plenty of hard-working, smart, creative people who lack social awareness skills and are ineffective as a result. You can spot these folks quickly if you take your blinders off. They tend to be job-hoppers and they will say things early on in a relationship that anyone else would recognize as potentially alienating or offensive. Unless you enjoy constantly running interference for these people with clients and other employees, don’t hire ’em! A “can-do” attitude. This belief it can be done is a requirement. People either have it or they don’t. Those who do have it push for better and more efficient ways of doing things, get you into new clients, and new fields of endeavor. Those who don’t maintain their areas of responsibility, at best. No defensiveness/no excuses. This was really driven home to me recently by our parent company’s CEO, Greg Lindberg. Why waste time with excuses and defensiveness if something hasn’t gotten done that should have? Just get it done now. None of us, as managers, has the spare time or emotional energy to waste on hearing excuses. We need action. And if the action turns out to be the wrong action, we need new action. That’s all we can ask for. Willingness to learn our way first. New people need to do it our way first. Once they master that, then they can make improvements on it. When new people refuse to learn our way early-on, I get really concerned about their ability to make it. Having criteria— and sticking to them— is essential if you want to build a winning team. With winning being so much more fun than losing, who would want to do anything else? Originally published 8/16/2010

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.