8 Qualities of Exceptional NEW Employees

Recently on Inc.com, author Jeff Haden wrote an outstanding piece – one of the best I’ve read in quite some time regarding workplace skills – on the “8 Qualities of Exceptional Employees“.

His post got me thinking about those making the transition from college life to real world – and how they might benefit from a list of their own “exceptional qualities”; essentially, a structure for becoming a can’t-miss candidate – and contributor.

So, using Mr. Haden’s excellent work as a backdrop, here are my “8 Qualities of Exceptional NEW Employees”…

1. They Ignore Job Descriptions

I love that the Inc. post led off with the “ignore the job description” gem. As companies are expected to do more with less, and expect the same from team members, this is pure gold. To be the first to answer the “all hands on deck” call – or just to jump in when others might really need your help – is truly a good sign of an exceptional employee (regardless of workforce experience).

However… to ignore the job description before you get the job – and the failure to adapt your cover letter, resume and interview exactly to the requirements of the job description – means doom to your candidacy. Live and breathe the job description until you get the job… then forget all about it! Your job now is to demonstrate you are “all in” as a team member.

2. They are Coachable

Coachability – the art of being able to listen and then adapt to what you’ve learned – is at the top of my list for new hires – and one of the first characteristics I look for during the interview. Part of this highly sought after quality is the willingness to occasionally be wrong, and be willing to learn from the mistakes made. Exceptional employees are able to set ego aside, listen to other team members and mentors, and ultimately come up with the best solution for the challenge they’re facing.

3. They have an Entrepreneurial Spirit

Today’s new exceptional employees are driven by so much more than previous generations exhibited. Without being asked, they accept responsibility for process improvement. They take the extra step to make a customer happy. They solve problems the existing team might not have recognized. They approach their jobs in a wholly entrepreneurial fashion – where nothing gets in the way of finding a solution, or a better way.

4. They are Unique

Again, I love what Jeff Haden wrote in his second (“They’re eccentric…”) and third (“…but know when to dial it back.”) points. The working world – and the chair on the other side of the interview desk – is full of clones (cloned personalities, cloned clothing, cloned levels of effort…) who are seemingly afraid to be a little different. Don’t be afraid to show a little personality and some youthful exuberance. Be unique – and have a little fun!

5. They are Passionate

Exceptional employees haven’t yet allowed themselves (or just haven’t been around long enough, perhaps) to become jaded by personalities, office politics and problems. They retain their passion for the project, the company mission, their team members and – most important – the customer experience. From the first interview on, exceptional NEW employees understand that cynicism is a choice – and passion is infectious.

6. They Have a Competitive Nature

Exceptional employees detest losing. They will innovate until their eyes go blurry, create solutions well outside the proverbial box and work the hours necessary… to win. Not with the “win at all costs” mindset, of course – and not without keeping other qualities mentioned here in mind. But… through self-motivation and humble confidence, they understand that going through the motions while pretending to be busy just isn’t an option. Exceptional new employees strive to compete – every day.

7. They Have High Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence (EI) is a term most often used in business by HR and talent managers. Effectively, a person with high EI is capable of processing emotions – both theirs and those of the other members of their team – in a productive manner. What’s important here is that new employees – young employees, specifically – aren’t yet expected to lead by example with high EI. Those who do… and are able to show this quality during the interview process… often become epic employees.

8. They are Leaders

Regardless of experience level, education or what it says on your business card… leaders are leaders. Yes, there is something to be said for laying low the first couple weeks and being a good follower. Not being too assertive while you learn the ropes is critical to existing team dynamics. However, when the situation calls for it… leaders never – ever – wait for permission to lead.

Jeff Haden ended his post this way:

“Great employees follow processes. Remarkable employees find ways to make those processes even better, not only because they are expected to… but because they just can’t help it.”

Well said, Jeff. +100.

Ditto x2 for NEW employees.

For more discussion on successfully navigating the epic leap from classroom to cubicle, join us tonight at 9pm ET for #InternPro chat!


About the Author: A passionate supporter of Gen Y talent, CEO and Founder of YouTern Mark Babbitt is a serial entrepreneur and mentor. Mark has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Mashable, Forbes and Under30CEO regarding internships, higher education’s role in preparing emerging talent for the workforce and career development. Recently, Mark was honored to be named to GenJuice’s list of “Top 100 Most Desirable Mentors”. You can contact Mark via email or on Twitter.


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