Each spring, a fresh crop of college graduates will be entering the workforce, searching for jobs with varying degrees of success. Some graduates with a strong academic record (e.g., GPA) will quickly find a job and succeed, while others will not. Some graduates with a mediocre academic record will flourish in the workplace. What is the discrepancy? Why isn’t school success and job success the same? What is it that employers really want?
I study job performance and “things” that predict job performance. I have listened to many hiring managers and executives talk about what they want in an employee. While it can differ from industry to industry and job to job, many desirable qualities are universal. These qualities are not always the same qualities that are necessary for success in a school setting. GPA is not a strong predictor of job performance because it isn’t a proxy for intelligence as many people assume (see the blog on why GPA doesn’t predict job performance).
Even if a student entering the workforce is smart, it often isn’t enough. Organizations want well-rounded, cooperative and dependable employees. Listed below are my picks for the top five qualities that lead to high job performance and success throughout a career:
1) Ability to Learn
Every organization has a specific set of knowledge that every employee will need to acquire to be successful at their job. Whether it’s learning technical knowledge, specific work processes or how to effectively navigate the organization, being able to acquire it and get up to speed quickly is very desirable to most organizations. It is after the initial learning curve that organizations start to receive a return on their hiring investment. The shorter that curve is (i.e., high ability to learn), the more successful new hires are in their new jobs.
Conscientiousness is a personality trait encompassing many characteristics desirable to organizations. People who are high in conscientiousness are dependable and reliable. These people are more likely to follow through, work hard, pay attention to details, and plan and organize their tasks. Let’s be honest, organizations like employees who work hard for them, show up reliably and those willing to go the extra step to make the organization better.
3) Interpersonal Skills
For most jobs, you do not need to be an extrovert, but it is important to get along with others. In many organizations, you will be part of a team. New hires need to work with others on their team and across departments. Sometimes team members disagree; how these disagreements are handled makes a big difference in job performance. Successful employees are typically cooperative, diplomatic and tactful.
Things change. Processes change, jobs change, priorities change, markets change, leaders change…things change. It’s important for employees to be able to adapt and continue to be effective even when changes are occurring. Organizations are looking for people who can roll with the punches and keep up with the demands of their jobs.
Honesty. Morality. Virtue. Organizations want to be able to trust their employees. They want employees who will not lie, cheat or steal. There is nothing more valuable to organizations than their intellectual property; leaders want new hires who they can trust to not give away company secrets. This also means making the right decisions for the company and looking out for the organization’s best interest.
So, if you’re on the job market, remember these characteristics; share examples in the hiring process that illustrate how you have displayed these behaviors in the past. If you are in a position to hire this year’s new crop of talent, how do you ensure that you’re bringing in people with these traits? Clearly, relying on GPA will not work. Rather, build measures of these traits into your selection system. Measure these traits with validated assessment content and well developed, structured behavioral-based interviews. High performing employees possess many desirable characteristics; make sure you’re looking for them all.