Admittedly, my answer often depends on what we’re looking for most at that particular moment. However, these seven traits consistently come to mind, regardless of the role:
1. Willing to Ignore Job Descriptions
I’ve been a big fan of this trait since I read a post by Jeff Haden in Inc. The fact is that 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. Infinitely 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 (and managers!) 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. An Entrepreneurial Spirit
Today’s talent is driven by so much more entrepreneurial zeal than previous generations. 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. To compete well, an entry-level employee or intern must exhibit this trait to be considered a Top 5 candidate.
4. Can Articulate What Makes Them Unique
The working world – and the chair on the other side of the interview desk – is far too populated with me-too clones (cloned personalities, cloned clothing, cloned levels of effort…) seemingly afraid to be a little different. Don’t be afraid to show a little personality and some youthful exuberance. Be unique, tell a good story about why you care about life and your work – and have a little fun!
5. Passionate About Life and Work
Exceptional employees simply don’t allow 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 and their team members. Most important, no matter what else is happening around them, they genuinely care about the customer experience. From the first interview on, they understand that passion is infectious (and so is negativity).
6. 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. The best new employees put themselves in a position to compete well – every day.
7. High Emotional Intelligence
Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is a term most often used in business by HR and talent managers. Effectively, a person with high EQ 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 EQ. Those who do… and are able to show this quality during the interview process… often become epic employees.
Having two or more of these seven skills and/or attitudes puts you well ahead of most job seekers competing for the same job or internship as you. Having four or more makes you, from my perspective, a candidate worth pursuing… right now!
How many do you have? And what is your plan for adding even more to your value proposition?
For more discussion on the skills to successfully navigate the epic leap from classroom to cubicle, join us tonight at 9pm ET for #InternPro chat!
About the Author: CEO and Founder of YouTern, Mark Babbitt is a serial mentor who has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Mashable and Forbes regarding job search, career development, internships and higher education’s role in preparing emerging talent for the workforce. A keynote speaker and blogger, Mark’s contributions include Huffington Post, Bloomberg News, Switch and Shift, and Under30CEO.
Mark has been honored to be named to GenJuice’s list of “Top 100 Most Desirable Mentors,” HR Examiner’s “Top 25 Trendspotters in HR” and CareerBliss’ “Top 10 Gen Y Career Experts.” Mark is currently working on two new books: “A World Gone Social: How Companies Must Adapt to Survive (AMACOM, August 2014) with Ted Coine and “The Ultimate Guide to Internships (And Making Your College Years Matter Again)” (Allworth, September 2014). Questions? Contact Mark on Twitter.