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Science Careers Blog

April 2, 2010

Getting Hired, From the Boss's Perspective

In a post on Entrepreneur.com, posted yesterday, columnist Bill Bartman gives advice to budding employers on the five traits he believes make for great hires. While intended for employers, his advice offers insights into the thinking behind hiring decision, particularly in small businesses or quickly changing industries, that could be helpful to job seekers.

Bartman, who claims to have made a fortune buying and selling bad loans, says his companies have hired almost 10,000 people over the years; he doesn't say how many years or companies. He also says that his employee turnover rates were far lower than industry averages. Why? Presumably because he hired well. Here's what he suggests new bosses look for in their new hires ...

- Aptitude. Experience is nice, says Bartman, but if you want to turn your industry on its head or start an entirely new line of business, experience can be more of a disadvantage. Instead of people who claim to know their way around the industry, he says, look for raw talent and skills you can build on, like the ability to build rapport quickly, and to handle rejection.

This emphasis on raw skills rather than years of experience can be important in fast-moving industries such as biotech, genomics, or green energy, where you often need to adjust to new circumstances and opportunities. It can also benefit recent graduates, while it works against the interests of mid-career job hunters.

- Attitude. Bartman tells about a FedEx driver who applied eight times for a job with one of his companies. Her persistence impressed Bartman, who later hired her. Bartman also tells about one of his employees who, when her car broke down, walked 15 miles to work. He was so impressed with her loyalty he bought her a new car. You may not have an opportunity to demonstrate this kind of motivation to an employer, but you can demonstrate in your resume, cover letter, and interview that you keep at a task to see that it gets done right, or go the extra mile for a customer.

- Intelligence. Here Bartman says he's talking about creativity rather than IQ. He advises new business owners to ask candidates about situations where they broke through time or budget constraints, or other barriers. These kinds of questions resemble behavioral interviewing, which we've discussed on this blog and in Science Careers articles.

 - Intensity. By intensity, Bartman means a sense of urgency and excitement about the work. This quality is one of those "intangibles" that employers look for in interviews, but it's difficult to describe or quantify. Bartman says he would tell candidates that working in his company would be the hardest job they ever had, but also the best. If Bartman saw that the statement rattled candidates, he wouldn't hire them.

- Integrity. Bartman looks for people's ability to deliver what they promise. "I also expect employees at any level," Bartman says, "to have the guts to deliver bad news rather than shade it or hide it." This trait likely would not come out in a resume or even in interviews, but it would in reference checks, which are becoming much more comprehensive and probing.

Bartman says these traits are not easy to train in new hires, so they need to be uncovered in the hiring process, which is not an easy task. "These are not traits that show up like a swallowed coin on an X-ray," Bartman says, so employers need to develop their sensors to pick up on them.

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