The One, Single Trait That Separates Great Hires

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For 20 years, I’ve been hiring and firing people.

I’ve been lucky enough to have some great performers, a bunch of good performers, and an also a few crappy performers. It seems like every time I turn, someone has an answer for me on how to hire better.

For years I have given the advice that if all else fails, hire smart people.

It’s not a bad strategy. For the most part, if you hire the smartest ones of the bunch, you’ll have more good performers than bad ones. I’m talking pure intelligence, not necessarily book smarts.

The one trait we don’t focus on enough

But, just hiring smart people still isn’t perfect. I want to hire good, or great, people every single time. How do you do that? That’s the million dollar question.

To me there is one trait we don’t focus enough on, across all industries — Optimism.

It’s all about your ability to look at a situation and come up with positive ways to handle it. If you think about your best employees, almost always there is a level of optimism they have that your lower performers don’t.

I can’t think of one great employee I’ve ever worked with that didn’t have a level of optimism that was at least greater than the norm. They might be optimistic about their future, about the company’s future, about life in general.

The key was that they had optimism.

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Optimistic people find ways to succeed because they truly believe they will succeed. Pessimistic people find ways to fail, since they believe they are bound to fail.

Interviewing for optimism: 3 questions to ask

This kind of hiring thing can be difficult, so don’t make it even more difficult by hiring people who are not optimistic about your company and the opportunity you have for them. Ask questions in the interview that get to their core belief around optimism:

  • Tell me about something you’re truly optimistic about in life? (Pessimistic people have a hard time answering this. Optimistic people will answer quickly and with passion.)
  • Tell me about a time something you were responsible for went really bad. How did you deal with it?
  • The company has you working on a very important project and then decides to cancel it. How would you respond?

Hiring smart – and optimistic – people

Surrounding yourself with optimistic people drives a better culture, better teams, and it’s uplifting to your leadership style.

I want smart people, but I truly want smart people who are optimistic about life. Those people change the world for the better, and I think they’ll do the same for my business.

This was originally published on Tim Sackett’s blog, The Tim Sackett Project.

Tim Sackett, MS, SPHR is executive vice president of HRU Technical Resources, a contingent staffing firm in Lansing, MI. Tim has 20 years of HR and talent background split evenly between corporate HR gigs among the Fortune 500 and the HR vendor community ? so he gets it from both sides of the desk. A frequent contributor to the talent blog Fistful of Talent, Tim also speaks at many HR conferences and events. Contact him here.

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0 Comments on “The One, Single Trait That Separates Great Hires

  1. Enjoyed the article. I have been wondering about the balance between positivity and ability to be realistic (so important in project management) here: https://insideprojects.wordpress.com/2014/12/24/motivation-or-delusion-how-to-strike-a-balance-when-trying-to-motivate-your-project-team/

    Is there a difference to be made between optimism and positivity, where optimism is thinking things will turn out for the best, while positivity is thinking things go wrong sometimes but it’s worth keeping going because most issues can be resolved? Perhaps this is a distinction without a difference.

    Is there an extent at which positivity tips over into mindless optimism and would this be a problematic trait in a new hire?

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