Interviewing? 5 Surprising Success Indicators

As a business owner and former executive, I have interviewed somewhere around 217 job candidates.  I guess I’ve gotten pretty good at sensing when a person has the drive and the ability to succeed in marketing and retail. I believe there are universal indicators of a person’s ability to succeed in those fields.  Now, if you are a doctor or a scientist I have 2 comments: (1) what are you doing reading my blog? and (2) I cannot guarantee these translate to highly technical careers.  But I would still want people who do all five of these things well.

1. Curiosity – Give me a person who questions what they are told, has a diverse set of outside interests and an eagerness to try something new and I will show you a person who will succeed over the long haul.  There are two components to successful curiosity: Keen interest in new ideas and the incentive to do something with the new ideas.  Curiosity has to be equally weighted with motivation to test the new idea.  Ideators who like to think about stuff but never do something make me crazy.

2. Storytelling – Great managers need to motivate people – not just the people who report to them, but perhaps more importantly, people they work beside.  Someone who can tell a story, explain where we started and where we are going are important throughout an organization.  If someone can tell a good story they are likely to be able to motivate and inspire the people around them.

3. WOO – Marcus Buckingham in “Now Discover your Strengths” calls it Winning Over Others.  You can call it an easy style or even the gift of gab, but successful people know how to quickly bridge the divide between seemingly uncommon qualities to gain the confidence of a diverse group of people.  Can you imagine a more diverse set of people than the folks who work and shop in stores?  People who quickly establish rapport and easily move to common goals are successful in stores and corporate environments.

4. Personal Networking – Love it or hate it, I look at LinkedIn whenever I am doing a background check on someone.  A diverse personal network is an indicator to me that the candidate values people.  I look for people who know others in a variety of roles.  Chances are they can see things from more than one perspective if they count teachers, lawyers, business partners, restauranteurs, etc  among their network.  When I see a small network or a very focused network, it makes me wonder if they are capable of working across disciplines or can gain allies from different areas of the company.

5. Business Acumen –  So far I may have been describing a really nice neighbor, but it is the business side that is critical for me to be interested in making the offer.  The answers to problems and how issues are framed must come from an understanding of the business conditions and requirements of the strategic issue.  When they tell me about a project they worked on in the past, I like to hear them tell me why it was important and how it fit into the goals of the organization.  They have to be able to tell me how their work connected to the success of the company in order for me to believe they will be able to do that with their employees and peers.

I can’t guarantee that someone who exhibits these traits will always succeed in the role, but when I have to gamble on a new hire (and every new hire is a gamble)  I will take these every time.

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