Career Guide

Good Vs great employees

Why most companies never hire the perfect person for the job

Want to hire superstars?

Trying to find the “total package” is the last thing you should do. Literally (and not in the teenage use of the word) the last thing.


Think about the typical hiring process.

You work hard to find and select the right candidate. You evaluate skills and experience and then ask interview questions to determine if the candidate possesses qualities like attention to detail, interpersonal skills, leadership ability, problem-solving skills – the list goes on.

Your process is exhaustive and, well, exhausting.

Still, while many of the people who get hired turn out to be good employees, few of them turn out to be what every company really needs: great employees.

Why? Those companies – and the people making the decisions – took the job description approach to hiring.

Think about job descriptions

They list a wide variety of qualifications the employee should possess.

Typically, attributes like “self-motivated”, “able to work with minimal supervision”, “able to prioritise and handle multiple tasks”, and “able to work well alone or as a member of a team” are included.

So, what happens?

People begin evaluating candidates with those requirements in mind. The candidate who ticks the most boxes is usually selected – and the company ends up hiring good when they really need great.

Think about the truly great employees you know

Some are all-rounders, some are not, but all possess at least one incredible skill.

They do at least one critical thing so well that people are willing to overlook some of their deficiencies.

They may not “take a collaborative approach to problem solving” but they sure do make your fulfilment facility sing.

A great employee has what you really need. All other attributes on the job description, while important, pale in comparison.

The next time you hire an employee, set the job description approach aside and take this approach instead.

Forget about finding a “well-rounded employee” (whatever that is). If you could only pick one or two attributes, what are the most important skills or qualities you need?

Those attributes will often change depending on your current needs.

So, ignore the job description. Forget the position; think about the job. Decide what you really need the new employee to do.

HubSpot chief technology officer Dharmesh Shah says, “You don’t need a VP [vice-president] of anything... you need a Doer-Of-Things-That-Need-To-Get-Done.”

When ticking off boxes on a list of qualifications, it’s easy to forget that you simply can’t live with some attributes, regardless of how solid the candidate appears to be.

Complete this sentence about a theoretical employee: “I don’t care how great she is, I would still let her go because she ________.”

Those are your no-go attributes. Never lose sight of them.

Set aside every candidate who doesn’t have what you really need.

Don’t be tempted by the “Wow, he really has a wide range of skills” candidate. If he doesn’t bring the one or two attributes you really need, he may turn out to be just a good employee.

Then, set aside every candidate with an attribute on your “no way” list. They won’t be great either.

Spend 10% of your time assessing general qualities and 90% of your time ensuring the candidate truly has what you need.

Ask for examples. Ask lots of follow-up questions. Write everything down.

Then, check references and use your notes to help you ask specific questions.

Sure, some companies won’t provide any information, but many small businesses will.

Many will say that they are not allowed to share information about previous employees.

When that happens, try saying, “I understand. I’m just really worried I might make a mistake. Could you perhaps tell me, if you were me, would you hire him?”

You’ll be surprised by how many people who will help you out with a whispered “yes” or “no”.

If a few candidates seem relatively equal in terms of what you really need, then decide which one best meets your more subjective criteria.

Conduct a second interview if necessary. Or, let other employees interview the remaining candidates.

At this point, you can afford to evaluate “nice to have” qualities because you’ve done everything possible to identify the candidates who have the attributes you truly need.

Your thoughts

What do you think? Do you hire people who have that one skill you most need, or do you try to hire candidates who appear to be the total package?

- Jeff Haden is a speaker, ghostwriter, and author of “The Motivation Myth: How Highly Successful People Really Set Themselves Up to Win.” Email your thoughts about this article to

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