Six Characteristics of a Solid Employee

Building your workforce is critical to growth and sustainability. Regardless of technical expertise, you can build a brighter business future from the ground up by evaluating prospective employees on the following six (rockstar) factors.


Great companies need great people, but they aren’t easy to find. Failing to find them can be costly. According to a survey by Career Builder, two-thirds of the 2,700 employers surveyed had made a bad hire in the previous year, and 41% estimate that just a single bad hire can cost the company up to $25,000. At that rate it is a mistake most small businesses can’t afford to make.

Finding the applicants who have the skills, education, and experience to fill the position is key, but to find truly great employees who will become a part of your company and help build it you need to look beyond that baseline. You need to find the traits and skills that aren’t listed on a resume.

Finding the Intangible Qualities that Make Great Employees

To find out if a job candidate has the ability to be a great employee you need to go beyond the resume and the standard interview. It can be difficult to determine if someone is truly “passionate” or “goal oriented” in a short interview and often these judgements are subjective, it has to feel right, but being aware of the characteristics you want and having a sense of how to look for them can be helpful.

Related Article: Ways to Increase Employee Satisfaction

Luckily, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel here. Many great minds have taken the time to think about great interview questions. Laszlo Bock, Google’s SVP of People Operations, recommends using the Performance Based Interviewing questions developed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Below is a list of traits to look for and some questions you can use to try and identify them.

1. Passionate

Good employees who stay at a company are passionate about their work and their company. Finding passion in an interview can be tricky. Hopefully, all your interviewees seem passionate about the job (and if they don’t then that is an immediate red flag), but your job is to separate fake passion from real passion. More importantly, to find the people who can use their passion for their work.

Some questions to help determine a person’s passion include:

  • Give two examples of things you’ve done in previous jobs that demonstrate your willingness to work hard.
  • Give an example of a time you defended your organization or a group you belong to. How did you feel about doing it? How did you go about doing it? What was the response of the other party/parties?


2. Communication Skills

Companies are built by great employees who can work well together. That is built by strong communication. That is just internally, your company’s external success in sales, marketing, PR, and any kind of collaboration is also dependent on your employees’ ability to communicate well. This isn’t just expressing ideas coherently, it also requires the ability to listen to others and respond effectively.

While you will get a general sense of someone’s communication skills from any interview, some specific questions or tasks to ask include:

  •  Describe a time when you were able to effectively communicate a difficult or unpleasant idea to a superior. What made your communication work?
  •  It can be difficult to build good relationships at work but sometimes it doesn’t always work. If you can, tell about a time when you were not able to build a successful relationship with a difficult person. How did you handle the situation? How did you accomplish the work?
  •  How do you go about explaining a complex technical problem to a person who does not understand the technical jargon? What approach do you take in communicating with people who do not know the technical jargon?

3. Goal Oriented

To grow your small business you’ve got to have goals. To reach your goals, you need goal-oriented people, employees who don’t get bogged down in the muck of office politics or taking credit but are committed to getting the job done and achieving the goal.

Some ways to assess this characteristic:

  • Describe a time when you worked as a member of a team to accomplish a goal of your organization. What role did you play? Describe how the team worked together. What was the outcome?
  • Tell me about the last new procedure you had to learn in your job. Tell me what specifically was the hardest aspect of learning the new procedure. Tell me specifically what you liked best about learning the new procedure. How well is the new procedure working now?
  • There are times we work without close supervision or support to get the job done. Tell us about a time when you found yourself in such a situation and how things turned out.


4. Organized and Detail Focused

A good communicator who is also a go getter is great, but not if they get lost in the details and can’t stay organized. When a small business is trying to grow employees often need to deliver on many fronts and the bosses can’t be micromanaging. This requires employees who understand how to organize their tasks and who focus on the details.

If you want to find organized, detail focused employees, ask them:

  •  Put a specific request in the job description, ask them to state their salary desire or ask them to organize their resume a specific way, this way you can see if they pay attention to the details or if they are just sending out standard replies.
  • Developing and using a detailed procedure is often very important in a job. Tell about a time when you needed to develop and use a detailed procedure to successfully complete a project.
  •  Describe a situation that required a number of things to be done at the same time. How did you handle it? What was the result?

5. Adaptable

Business is unpredictable and circumstances are constantly changing. The business environment is always evolving and small businesses are hopefully growing and maturing quickly. Good employees need to be able to adapt to new situations and grow with your business. You don’t want team members who are stuck in their ways.

Assessing adaptability requires you to see how applicants have adapted before, some questions to try include:

  • Describe a change in your work you have personally had to make in the last couple years. At the time, how did you feel about making the change? What did you do to make the change? How do you feel about the change now?
  • Describe an instance when you had to think on your feet to extricate yourself from a difficult situation. What caused the situation? How did your solution work?
  •  Describe a time when you were faced with an obstacle to an important project? What did you do? Were you able to overcome the obstacle? What step(s) did you take?

6. Creative

Companies always need creative team members to help find new solutions. One of the benefits of new hires is new ideas, but to make sure you get new ideas you need creative thinkers.

When trying to determine how creative someone can be you can ask them:

  • Tell me about two suggestions you have made to your supervisor in the past year. How did you come up with the ideas? What happened? How do you feel about the way things went?
  •  Give examples to illustrate how you have generated ideas that represent thinking “outside the box.” How were your ideas received by others? What became of the ideas?
  • Tell me about a time when a co-worker had a good idea and you agreed but no one else was willing to listen. How did you handle the situation and what was the outcome?

If you can find employees with the traits above you will be on you way to building a strong team and a strong organization. Keep in mind things like your corporate culture and make sure applicants seem like they will be a good fit. Remember, finding great talent is one thing, keeping it is another. So treat great employees great and you will do just fine.

How do you currently search for new employees?

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Brian Sutter

Brian Sutter

Director of Marketing at Wasp Barcode
Brian Sutter is the Director of Marketing at Wasp, responsible for the development and execution of the company’s marketing strategy. His role encompasses brand management, direct and channel marketing, public relations, advertising, and social media. He also writes and speaks on topics related to helping small business owners grow their business and improve operational efficiency.
Brian Sutter
Brian Sutter
Brian Sutter

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  1. My advice to business owners is to hire employees based on personal qualities, not skills. You can always teach skills to someone who has right attitude, however reverse is not true. The qualities you described here makes an excellent list. I would also look to see how they are in interacting with customers. If the employee is not able to handle customers well it will start affecting your sales and soon the entire business.

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    • waspbarcode says:

      Thank you for your insight!

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    • Yes true Angel Biz advisors. Especially the nature of business I am in, I always look first the attitude of the employee parallel to their skills set that we required. When I interview.., I always asked if the position they are applying for part of their passion. Developing trust relationship with our employees is the best.

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      • Great insight – thanks for your comment.

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  2. Very true. I agree with the article “six characteristics of a solid employee”. I enjoy reading it.

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  3. i always thought the most important thing employers look for in people is their technical knowledge/ skills
    and rest is secondary

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  4. alright, but does any employer look for these properties in candidates or the specific skills required for that specific job the employer is offering. I guess these traits are only in the best interest of the employee himself and that most of the employers are concerned only with the job specific skills when they evaluate a candidate.

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