I often get asked what I look for in new talent. What makes an employee genuinely invaluable? What differentiates a typical employee from a top performer? It’s a question we’ve all likely asked ourselves at some point throughout our careers. And while every company, field and role requires a unique set of qualifications and technical skills, certain attributes are indispensable no matter where you work or what you do.
Here are the five attributes that characterize a truly remarkable employee.
These individuals are not at your organization just to do a job, but rather to make their mark on the company as a whole. They are deeply inquisitive, which typically means they see beyond just the roles and responsibilities outlined within a 100-word job description. Instead, they view their day-to-day work as a way to further the organization’s vision at large. They inherently connect the dots —understanding that each task, big or small, supports a collective push.
These employees are always present. In other words, they bring their whole selves to work and sincerely believe in the impact, and ripple effect, of a job well done. Their penchant to learn and problem-solve is not only admirable, but also insatiable. Looking for creative solutions to business problems is almost like a reflex to them. They are asking themselves the important questions, enabling them to remain proactive before a manager needs to step in — ultimately reducing feedback loops and driving companywide productivity.
The second attribute goes hand-in-hand with the first. An employee’s natural curiosity will, in most cases, sharpen his or her ability to learn quickly. Though it may sound straightforward, the propensity to learn new things quickly and effectively is an integral skill. Being able to absorb information rapidly, process it and ultimately translate that new information into action spurs growth at scale.
I don’t give too much credence to a prospective employee’s college major. While some roles require technical knowledge, what I’m actually looking for centers around how an individual navigates ambiguity. Can he or she excel during uncertain times? When he or she is faced with an unfamiliar task, is he or she able to adapt in real time? If the last year and a half has taught us all anything, it’s this: The organizations (and people) that are able to acclimate to new circumstances, by way of learning, are the ones that avert crisis and prevail in the end.
Feedback is the foundation of any successful relationship, personal or professional. And, while giving feedback can at times be uncomfortable, having hard conversations are imperative, particularly in business. Perfection doesn’t exist, not even among standout employees, so feedback is compulsory and encouraged. What truly sets top performers apart is the way in which they react to feedback.
Are they able to see the constructive feedback for what it is? It’s challenging to reconcile with feedback at times; I can attest to this myself. A standout employee, however, uses feedback as a way to tangibly showcase improvement and growth. He or she is abundantly aware of his or her shortcomings and works diligently to transform weaknesses into strengths. The setbacks motivate these employees, ultimately making them stronger and more resilient.
Naturally, people who can work with little or no guidance are exceedingly valuable at work. They take direction well and require no handholding. That being said, top performers are not only autonomous, but they also thrive in group settings. Able to collaborate, share ideas and grind independently, these rare individuals are a double threat — in the best possible way.
The ability to work alone and with a group affords them versatility. In other words, they’ll thrive in many different roles at the company — excelling in cross-functional settings. As a CEO, you can assign them a variety of projects and rely on them; as rudimentary as that sounds, it’s critically important. Simply put, teammates respect them, managers trust them, and the organization prospers because of them.
This final attribute may be the most critical. All things considered, real standout employees are the ones that make everyone around them better. If it’s a standout manager or leader, this means developing and nurturing the talent that reports to them. If it’s a junior or entry-level employee, this involves uplifting and inspiring peers they collaborate with regularly.
This component leans more on an individual’s emotional intelligence. Standout employees are able to empathize with the people they work alongside. In a lot of ways, they view their colleagues as an extension of their family. This is because they recognize that when one employee grows and succeeds, it's a win for everyone. In the end, standout employees are simply human, and that humanness is an advantage — not a drawback.