Top 4 Critical Qualities to Look for in Candidates


I have had the opportunity and pleasure of building many great teams of truly amazing people. Recently I was thinking about the people I've worked with and what qualities make them great. That reflection inspired me to write this post. Building a great team from scratch requires getting the alchemy right - a balance of the right experience, knowledge and skills, with opportunities for each member to play to their own strengths and count on the strengths of the others.

However, having the appropriate experience, knowledge, and skills are table stakes.

When speaking to potential candidates for the team, I look beyond the ordinary requirements and search for 4 critical qualities within the individual: Attitude, Aptitude, Enthusiasm and Energy. I test for all 4 qualities and individuals typically display a signature strength in one or maybe two of the qualities. These 4 qualities are most important to me because they drive high levels of engagement. People with high levels of engagement are "true believers" in the vision and charter of the group. They see a connection between the work they do and the overall goals of the team. They are tireless in their efforts to make a difference in their team, organization or company.


This is the most important quality of the four. Attitude is a force-multiplier for the other 3 qualities. If during an interview a candidate doesn't demonstrate they have the right attitude, the interview is over. Attitude is infectious and will drive the overall morale of the team more than any other quality. Having a "can-do spirit" isn't enough. Team members need to have a positive mental state, always seeing the potential in the current situation, and a clear vision of what success looks like. Mark Suster (@msuster, GRP Partners) wrote a great post about attitude vs. aptitude. I absolutely agree that attitude is most critical and you need both. Ask potential candidates: "How do you deal with perceived insurmountable problems?", "What aspects of your career have not lived up to your expectations and why?"


Aptitude is demonstrated ability to rapidly acquire a new capacity and competency: learning agility. People with high levels of aptitude are often referred to as "talented". People with aptitude become productive very quickly, shrinking the time it takes for them to be valuable to the team and organization. They create a synergistic increase in overall team productivity. Ask potential candidates: "Give me an example of when you took on a new role or job and what steps you took to come up to speed quickly", "How do you determine what you need to know to become productive on the team?"


Enthusiasm is intense interest or passion. I talked about passion in my post about motivation. Enthusiasm can be infectious as well, especially when present in someone with the right attitude. People with high levels of enthusiasm have a deep desire to help others. They inspire others around them and build community. Enthusiastic people always focus on the good in other people, situations, even in their own setbacks. They move through life always serving a higher purpose, greater than themselves. Ask potential candidates: "What aspects of your current or previous job do you feel passionate about?", "What is the most important award/reward you've received and why?"


Energy comes from deep within an individual and gives them the strength and endurance to persevere. Energetic people are tireless. Their energy is often fed by high levels of enthusiasm. Energetic people are infectious, energizing others to endure and persevere. Energy fuels aptitude, shortening the time it takes one to be competent in a new capacity. Ask potential candidates: "How do you keep yourself motivated during especially long projects?", "How do you handle a heavy workload, with multiple priorities and conflicting deadlines?".

In my experience, people with these 4 qualities are more engaged, more self-directed, more self-actualized. They are top performers that are passionate and loyal to the vision and charter of the organization and have the endurance to execute. They inspire others, build community, and embolden the team to take on any challenge.

Please comment and let me know what you think!

- PG