An Indescribable Trait that Makes the Best Employees

I was talking with a group of people from four different organizations last week about hiring traits. One of them said that they had a theory about hiring people who had worked in the restaurant business. They liked hiring them because they knew how to hustle and how to treat people right. (I, of course, like this theory since my first job was serving tables.)

That led us to talking about what we look for when hiring employees. One of the people there said the best way he can describe what he looks for is "spirit." In his current search for an applicant, he has narrowed down the search from 112 to 2. He ended up with these two because they had spirit.

Another person said they were looking for "legitimacy." Will others look at this person in a work environment and think they are genuinely good at what they do? Yet another said he wanted someone with emotional intelligence—someone who recognizes how others around them feel and reacts appropriately.

I have always looked for two things. The first I call the "normal person" concept. Tina Fey shed some light on my principle in her book, "Bossy Pants." She said that when she was hiring writers for SNL, she would ask herself if she would want to be stuck in a break room with them at 3:00 a.m. eating dinner together. If she answered yes, they would likely be a good hire. That's really what I want too. I look for applicants I enjoy being around.

The second thing I look for is zest, or infectiousness. Do they have that thing that really makes me want to be around them? I've never known exactly how to describe it, but I know it when I see it.

I thought it was really interesting that as we discussed this, each of us was essentially looking for a similar, hard-to-describe quality. There is an emotional quality inside people that we know translates into successful employees. We each had a different word for it: spirit, legitimacy, emotional intelligence, and zest.

Of course, there are lots of other traits that employees need to be successful: problem solving, pattern recognition, attention to detail, etc. However, having zest really puts an applicant over the top.