Top 5 Qualities of Kick-Ass Employees and 3 Things to Look for When Interviewing

This week I taught a class in New Hampshire about how to recruit and hire talent. We covered topics ranging from behavior and personality, to thinking patterns, to interviewing questions, to reference checks, to building a bench of talent.

I’ve hired some pretty incredible people over my ten years in business and I have also made some almost catastrophic mistakes, that left me asking, “Why do I attract sociopaths?” (That self-dissection is best left to another blog.) But I will tell you this, by adopting a proven method and system for finding and hiring talent, along with studying behavior, and with a whole lot of failing forward, I’ve found a few things to be true: a confident handshake and eye contact go a long way, honesty is always the best policy (I’m a trained salesman, I can see right through your facade!), and always wear sunscreen.

As CEO and Chairman of the Board, I really have two jobs – cast the vision wide and often, and bring amazing people into my world and find the right seat for them.

Four candidates competing for one position. Having CV in his hand

Here are the 3 things I look for when hunting for talent:

  1. Track record of success. Is the person you are interviewing moving from job to job? Or are they looking for their next opportunity because they need to be challenged? Have they proven themselves at some point in their career, either with a major sales coup or a promotion? Has each job they have taken been a step up or some sort of strategic side step in order to position themselves for their next opportunity? This stuff is important. Success breeds success. While I don’t always hire proven talent (I prefer emerging talent plus), even emerging talent should have a record of success (captain of sports teams in high school, starting a non-profit, self-funding an Ivy League education, volunteer work, etc.).
  2. Self awareness and vulnerability. Nothing gets to me more than when someone refuses to admit their faults or mistakes. Vulnerability is a virtue, not a vice. One of my favorite questions to ask in an interview is, “Why wouldn’t I hire you?” The worst answers are the non-answers. “There is no reason not to hire me.” “I’ve never worked in the real estate industry before.” Ugh! You know what I want to hear? That you move too fast and may take some unapproved risks. That your sales tactics are aggressive and I may be getting some consumer complaints. That you have a lot of new ideas and can sometimes unknowingly piss off the higher ups. This is self-awareness. And it goes a hell of a lot further in my book. I want to know you – the good and the bad. So give it to me straight.
  3. Intelligence. This is one thing I can’t teach. (Just to be clear, I also can’t teach basket weaving, chemistry, or gymnastics. But that’s it.) My goal is always to be hiring people who are smarter than me. If I’m the smartest person in the room, than I have failed as a leader.

So you’ve hired amazing people. Check. Now what? Pour into them with everything you’ve got! Focus on your top 5 empire builders. Talent is talent, but talent is not always an empire builder. An empire builder will take your company or division and run with it. And your empire builders should be trained to hire other empire builders. Continue to communicate your vision and standards. Remove roadblocks. Hold them accountable. Challenge them. The rockstar employees will rise to the challenge and thrive. And if you realize you made a few mistakes along the way – fix them quickly.

With over 30 staff members and hundreds of independent contractors under my purview I know what talent looks like.

Here are the top 5 qualities of kick-ass employees:

  1. Loyalty. Loyalty has nothing to do with the length of time an employee is with you. Look for other signs. Are they just as committed to the success of the company as you are? Do they often put the company’s interest before their own? Are they willing to disagree and challenge you (see point 4)? Do they make sure to disagree with you in private? Do they have your back and support you in public? Do they want what is best for the not just the company, but for YOU too? You can’t pay for loyalty. It is earned and it can sometimes be rare. You must absolutely make sure your top 5 empire builders/inner circle is loyal.
  2. Resourcefulness. I’m not big on excuses or stories (okay, I don’t tolerate them at all). This means that my team must be resourceful. Our company motto is “There is always a way.” For a very good reason. My team knows they must get results and sometimes there is a whole lot of resourcefulness needed to make things happen. Creative solutions to problems is a must. With all of the challenges that get thrown at you and your staff every day while building a huge business, you’ve got to surround yourself with people who will get. shit. done.
  3. Extraordinary Work Ethic. You’re not going to get where you want to go if you don’t have a team of employees who are going to work hard. Extremely hard. This means going above and beyond – daily (and not just between the hours of 9am and 5pm). This means owning their role and having a tremendous sense of responsibility to contribute quality work for you and the company. This means having a sense of urgency, having integrity, and being a great team player.
  4. They Piss You Off Daily.  If your team is not challenging your thinking, then you may not have the right people on your bus. Loyal employees want what is best for you and the company and that often means respectfully disagreeing with you and playing Devil’s Advocate. You want a black hat at the table! Kick-ass employees know what they are doing and will bring a different perspective to the table. Controversy is your friend. Yes-men and order-takers may make you feel like you are God’s greatest gift to mankind, but they not going to help you build your empire.
  5. Learning-Based and Growth-Minded.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. If you’re not growing, you’re dying. I can’t have people in my organization who are not growth-minded. We move fast, we’re disrupting multiple industries, and we’re failing forward. If I didn’t have a team who was constantly moving and constantly on a quest for more and more growth, then I would never be able to accomplish my goals. Look for life-long learners and people who are fueled by progress.

I challenge you to answer this question the next time you are about to make a hire: “Would this person be able to survive in Elon Musk’s (insert comparable industry icon) world?” 

Now go find your five empire builders – it will change your world and theirs.

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