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Hiring Checklist: 4 Characteristics That Matter

The top four characteristics to look for in people you recruit — according to Conductor CEO Seth Besmertnik.
COLLABORATORS Seth Besmertnik
4 characteristics that matter when recruiting

Whenever you recruit for an open position, you know what you’re looking for. Or, probably more accurately, you kinda know.

Or, if the observations of search-industry professionals are to be believed, you scarcely know at all and you certainly haven’t thought through — and described in writing — exactly what characterizes the type of person your business needs to succeed.

Seth Besmertnik, CEO of Conductor, the $10 million SEO toolmaking shop, is an exception. Not only has he labeled the top four characteristics he seeks in job candidates, he’s adopted a routine of publicly restating them among his staff every quarter.

“I have a slide of what makes a great person who works for Conductor,” Besmertnik told Adam Bryant for an article in The New York Times. “I share that with everybody about every 90 days, and they might feel annoyed seeing it again, but repetition is a good thing at times. They’re basically the things that we look for when we hire people.”

Conductor’s cultural and tactical circumstances won’t match those of every business, so consider Besmertnik’s desired employee traits a provocative benchmark, not a directly applicable recipe. They’re Conductor’s unique answer to three leading questions: What kind of person do we need in order for us to succeed? What do our culture and competitive challenges require from a person? And, What kind of person thrives and becomes a top contributor in our environment?

From the answers to those follow two more actionable questions: How would we define those traits for the purpose of making the right hires? And, How would we prioritize those traits?

Here are the four essential characteristics Besmertnik looks for in prospective hires at Conductor:

1. “An incredible sense of self-awareness. I tell everybody, you should be looking back at yourself every six months and saying, ‘Man, I was a dummy back then.’ We want people who are very in touch with what they’re doing right, and what they could be doing better.”

2. “The second thing is that you need to be committed to your own improvement.”

3. “The third piece is passion. We want people who are very passionate and put their soul into something, and they don’t stop until they get where they want to go.”

4. “The fourth thing we look for are people who are good communicators. We look for people who say what’s on their mind.”

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THE PLUS

As noted, executive search firms make it their business to lead clients through a rigorous process of defining what they need in a prospective employee. Organizations can usefully steal from their methodology.

Try a Korn/Ferry Institute e-book called "Career Playbook: Practical Tips for Executive Onboarding." Though it focuses mostly on mapping out an incoming manager's first 90 days (the period most likely to determine eventual success or failure), it lists questions that are valuable to address even before making a hire: “Who succeeds here?” “When people fail, what trips them up?”

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Hiring Checklist: 4 Characteristics That Matter

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