8 Traits of Top Employees (And How to Display Them in an Interview)

Top employeesCompanies continually deal with increasing levels of uncertainty and fewer resources to spend on even their highest-priority initiatives.

The result: a growing emphasis on finding and hiring a certain type of employee: consistently effective, adaptable and enjoyable to work with. These people can be hard to spot in advance, but when an employer meets one, they know it right away.

At ReWork, we’ve found these indispensable employees tend to share eight common traits.

Here they are, along with some advice on how you can show you have these sought-after characteristics:

1. Resourcefulness

The ability to (quickly) find, unlock, and mobilize resources (i.e. money, expertise, skills, support) in order to plan, pivot, evaluate, execute, or scale a project.

The information age has been upon us for sometime now. Anything we could ever hope to know is at our fingertips, including best practices, trouble-shooting guides, top-10 lists, and the Twitter handles of people who are far more experienced than we are. But not everyone can access this information equally. Most are still overwhelmed in this sea of knowledge.

For example, if your boss asked you to conduct a feasibility study on effective conservation techniques to protect the rare aquatic pygmy sloths of Panama, how quickly could you find a template for such a study? How long before you would be in touch with a niche conservation  biologist who studies those animals to help advise you?

If your answer is anything over two hours, you’ve got room for improvement (seriously).

How to display:

  • You may be asked for specific examples of times that you found critical information or resources quickly. This includes fundraising and coalition building, as well as smaller stuff (like “How-To” lists) that helped a project move forward faster.
  • You’ll have to think on your feet. Be creative in describing how quickly you can find a template for such a study, or the contact information for the niche  biologist who studies those animals and may be able to serve as an advisor.

2. Resiliency

The ability to work well under uncertainty, and to continue after (substantial) setbacks.

Most organizations are now experiencing increased instability and uncertainty, and thus, using shorter planning horizons. Teams in all functional areas are seeing more tumultuous work streams with changing goals and deadlines. Some people have a strong tendency to mentally lock-up under those conditions. The results aren’t good: decreased performance, irritability, fear, and tensions with other team members. Resiliency is the ability to maintain smooth sailing through those situations.

How to display:

  • Show evidence of grit. This could be times you narrowly averted disaster, took a huge risk and had it pay off, or came back from a stunning defeat to achieve victory in the end.

3. Confidence

A healthy esteem for one’s abilities and approach to life; an innate knowledge that “I can handle it.”

The line between confidence and arrogance is fine, as we all know. Nobody wants to work with people who think they are always right. But there is no substitute for someone who truly, with good reason, believes in his or her ability to handle any situation and figure it out.

How to display:

  • Be willing to say “I don’t know.” The interviewer may ask a question (perhaps about their organization) that: A.) has a right and wrong answer, and B.) is highly unlikely that you’d know the answer. They want to see if you’ll admit not knowing, or if you dodge or BS an answer, or try to guess. If you do any of those things, they’ll know immediately.
  • The interviewer will listen to how you speak. Confident people tend to speak more slowly, take pauses before answering, and don’t backpedal their answers.

4. Coachability

The trait of not only being able to accept constructive criticism, but of actively seeking out consistent feedback and mentorship; the trait of intentionally cultivating a beginner’s mind; the essence of a learner.

Especially for those early in their careers, this is key. Nobody knows everything, and there are lots of people who’ve been there and done that, with failure and success. Having a genuine interest in learning from them–even when it’s hard–is incredibly useful.

How to display:

  • Give examples of times when you pursued or engaged in mentorship opportunities, and how your mentors helped improve your professional abilities over time or when it mattered most.

5. Versatility

The ability to bring one’s full range of skills and strengths to bear in different and new situations, including both on teams and in individual settings.

This is pretty straightforward. Managers need to know that they can re-shuffle and re-allocate people as needed. Sometimes, that means logistical changes and deadlines shifts. Other times, it means entirely new workflow compared to the status quo. The more adaptable the person, the wider a range of settings he or she can be sent into.

How to display:

  • Give evidence that you’ve excelled in wildly different work settings, and about your process for handling the transitions.

6. Industriousness

The ability to work your a** off; good old-fashioned hard work.

Similar to confidence, there is nothing like a dose of serious hard work. Can you crank for 8 hours straight when push comes to shove? Can you pull an all-nighter if you have to? Do you complain when mind-numbing tasks are required, or do you just do them, and do them well?

How to display:

  • Explain what it means to hustle, in your own words. The interviewer will know right away whether you like that word–they’ll see your eyes light up as you fondly recount tales of intense times. Everyone has that spark that let’s them rise to the occasion. Give them the chance to see your spark shine a bit.

7. Loyalty

The ability and willingness to develop a long-term relationship with a team, organization, or cause.

As careers fragment further and further (current college grads will, on average, work for 14 different employers before they retire), the days of long-term work relationships seem to be fading fast. And truthfully, they probably are. But that doesn’t mean people like to work with others who’ll take off at the first sign of trouble or greener pastures.

How to display:

  • Give examples of times when you chose loyalty over opportunity.
  • Show what you are committed to in your life, and ideally there is overlap in your answer and the mission of your company.

Note: Just because someone left a job (or jobs) in short time periods doesn’t mean they don’t have loyalty–it just means those places weren’t able to command their loyalty.

8. Principle

A sense of what is right and what is wrong, and choosing to act in accordance with what is right.

This one is another fine line situation. Being principled is relatively rare–but being judgmental is quite common. Principled doesn’t mean casting judgments left and right; it means being willing to speak up when something wrong is about to happen. Human beings have an instinctual urge to follow those who show a strong sense of ethical concern, and every manager can sleep better at night knowing they can trust their team with sensitive information, delicate situations, and brand equity. Companies that hire people who live their values develop a fantastic company culture.

How to display:

  • This one is tough. It’s difficult for an interviewer to ask about this directly in any useful way. They’ll look for someone speaking up about something they don’t agree with. You may be asked about times that you’ve witnessed injustice and intervened, but that can be a difficult question to put someone on the spot with.

Show you have these eight traits, and organizations will be thanking you for years to come.





For this post, YouTern thanks our friends at YEC!



About the Author: Nathaniel Koloc is co-founder and Managing Partner of Strategy at ReWork, a Colorado-based start-up that matches exceptional professionals to jobs at for-impact companies. In this role Nathaniel is responsible for team coordination, strategic partnerships, brand evolution, and new service development. Nathaniel is an Unreasonable Fellow (’11) and a StartingBloc Fellow (’10), and holds a Masters of Science in Strategic Leadership toward Sustainability. 

This post originally appeared on Technori.


The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.


Image courtesy of blackenterprise.com… thank you!



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