hire-retain-top-talentIt’s obvious that you want to hire employees with good qualities: people who work hard, produce results and keep clients coming back. That goes without saying.

But what do you look for after that? Well, there’s probably a specific skill you’re looking for, and you’d prefer to work with someone you actually like.

But do you recognize the right fit when you see it? Do you know more specifically what you’re looking for? Is your agency even set up for these prospects to come on board and stay there? In growing various businesses, I’ve found that some characteristics are more important than others.

What to Look for in New Hires

It’s always difficult to discern if a potential employee has every quality you want during the interview process, but some traits are easy to pick up on.

Passion

If an individual cares about what your agency does, it should be obvious. It’s easy to tell if someone wants a job because of the paycheck or because of the work involved. You need people on your team who will put in the hours and contribute to driving the company forward. They won’t do that if they are apathetic.

An employee’s passion is also related to work ethic. You want every hire to work hard for a long time, rather than slacking off once the honeymoon phase is over and the novelty has worn off.

Reliability

This doesn’t just mean they’ll show up on time for a job they’re responsible for. It means the person is a good long-term fit for the agency. I’ve had several people tell me during interviews that they want to have their own agency in three years. They didn’t make the cut. To build on the foundation we’ve already established and move forward, we must hire people who are in it for the long haul.

A Team Player

This is a general term that encompasses several characteristics. First, there are universal qualities to look for, like someone who is happy both in and out of the office, and who would be pleasant to work with. You probably want to like her personality if you’ll be working side by side for years.

Then, there are necessary, practical qualities you need to pursue, like the ability to communicate well. Communication can be hard — whether it’s in the office or with your spouse — so you want people who will enhance it, not make it harder.

And then there are additional qualities that vary depending on the work. For example, we’ve actually had bad experiences with individuals who were overly educated. A certain level of education is a must, but I’ve witnessed a lot of intellectual baggage that was not helpful in certain positions.

All of these qualities are hard to teach. Skills can be learned. Character cannot. A potential team member might be a rock star at what she does, but that doesn’t matter if she doesn’t fit with the company.

Retaining Quality Talent

Once you find the talent you want with the qualities you value, do everything you can to hold on to it. The culture you create at your agency is what keeps employees loyal and dedicated. Talent tends to get traded from one agency to the next, so we try to hold on to top recruits with a fun environment where people feel a sense of ownership in what they do.

I can’t stress the importance of ownership enough. Every single individual who works for you must feel a sense of purpose behind his work. This is where that passion we talked about earlier comes into play. Apathy is toxic to a business, especially when it comes to creative efforts. It gets inside everything and hurts the quality of the projects you create, and it hurts your relationships with clients.

In addition to building that sense of ownership, we focus on creating a culture that is very open and helpful. If someone wants to learn a new skill or cross-train, we are supportive. Good people are hard to find, and we want them working for us. We don’t want to risk losing them to competitors.

Never Stop Interviewing

If you want to have quality talent when you need it, you should be interviewing for positions you don’t have yet. You want to have people waiting in the wings, ready to work as soon as you’re able to move forward with a project.

We never start a new initiative until we have the people to run it. That means being proactive about hiring, not reactive. Even if we’re not ready for the next project yet, we’re moving in that direction, and we want to be ready when we get there. This practice also means we’re ready to hire talent as soon as it’s available. We keep watch for people we want, and we contact them the minute they’re looking for new work.

It may be frustrating to find the right people for your company, but they’re out there. Don’t be discouraged by the hunt, and don’t settle for less. The employees who fit your company the best will make the difference between growing and dying.

Originally published Feb 19, 2013 12:00:23 AM, updated July 28 2017

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Recruiting Tips