How to Hire for the Recovery: Seven Key Traits Found in Office MVPs

With companies running leaner than ever in the wake of the recession, hiring errors can be costlier than ever, so look for these hallmarks of top performers to add strength to your bench

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Menlo Park, Ca — January 29, 2010 — There's no room for a weak link on a Super Bowl team. Similarly, even one poor performer can hurt a company's ability to make strategic plays and score new business. That's why the pressure is on for hiring managers who are looking to add strength to their talent bench, according to administrative staffing firm OfficeTeam.

"When companies are operating extremely lean, hiring errors take a greater toll on the team, since each employee is bearing a heavier workload," says OfficeTeam Executive Director Robert Hosking. "Today's managers are well aware of the high stakes when selecting new hires and striving to find professionals who can contribute immediately and build a long-term career with their firms."

Adds Hosking: "Although the high unemployment rate has resulted in more available talent, identifying the strongest candidates remains a tough task. Many professionals have had considerable time to perfect their resumes and interview skills, making it more challenging to distinguish job seekers with the greatest potential."

OfficeTeam offers seven hallmarks of top performers and how to assess those traits:

1. A winning mind-set. The best employees are optimistic yet realistic. Have candidates describe how they have handled a difficult boss, budget cut or mistake at work. Strong performers acknowledge challenges without sugarcoating their answers. Watch out for candidates who can't think of any problems; they either are wearing rose-colored glasses or aren't being honest.

2. Willingness to change plays midstream. Persistence is an important trait, but it's even better when coupled with adaptability. High-achieving employees don't give up on problems but instead tackle them from multiple angles. Question potential hires about how they were able to adjust their strategy on an underperforming project to improve the outcome.

3. Quickness on their feet. This is typically viewed as being especially important when hiring for customer-facing roles, but for supply chain roles, ask applicants how they would handle an irate internal customer. The answer itself may yield some interesting material, but more important will be how they think on their feet and give the rationale behind their response.

4. An eye on the prize. Top performers strive for success in everything they do and have a good sense of what it means to them. Ask candidates to describe their greatest work achievement. While the accomplishment itself may be revealing, even more so is how they characterize success.

5. Ability to make tough calls. The most valuable employees can be counted on to exercise good judgment and make difficult choices. Have potential hires walk you through a complex decision they had to make. Look at how they gathered facts and came to their ultimate conclusion.

6. Good sportsmanship. High performers put ethics first in all situations and don't climb over others on their way to the top. Ask candidates to describe an ethically challenging situation and how they handled it. Also ask references, including former colleagues and direct reports, how they would describe an applicant's integrity.

7. An enthusiastic fan base. The best employees don't just have references, they have fans. Listen to not only what a candidate's professional contacts say but also how they say it. Pose questions such as, "If you had the opportunity to hire this person again, would you do it?" and pay close attention to the tone of the responses.

Hosking also notes: "Many companies are choosing to work with potential new hires on a temporary or project basis before offering them a full-time job. This provides hiring managers with a clearer sense of a professional's capabilities and allows both parties to evaluate the fit before committing for the long term."