Many employees recruit for attitude first and technical skills second. Of course, the two aren’t mutually exclusive, and the ideal fit is someone who meshes with the company culture while also offering the expertise to get the job done. But the understanding that interpersonal or so-called “soft skills” aren’t as trainable as technical ones is beginning to shift employers’ ideas about what makes an outstanding employee. Here are some of the top traits employers tend to value most in employees when they’re looking to make a new hire or promote someone from within.
Those who are self-aware and know how their behaviors impact others are also more attuned to their colleagues’ own emotions. That means their interactions at work are more likely to be based on respect and consideration. In short, they’re team players. Emotionally intelligent employees build strong working relationships with ease. For employers, that translates into loyalty, and it increases the efficiency and productivity of the entire organization.
Outstanding employees don’t just speak up in order to hear the sound of their own voices. They do so when there’s a real need–especially when nobody else is talking about an important matter. Knowing when and how to bring up an issue allows them to address sensitive topics that might scare others away. They also sense which issues should be raised publicly and which are best left to private conversations. Their skill at asking questions tactfully allows them confront problems head-on, all without offending others or putting them on the defensive.
The best-valued employees have the ability to focus on the job at hand without getting distracted. Some of this simply comes from experience, but it speaks to someone’s critical-thinking abilities. They can discern what’s important, in what order, and can prioritize how best to go about tackling things. Great employees also know when they themselves are functioning at their peak. And their strong people skills keep them from being rude to colleagues who might disrupt them while they’re plugging away at those top-priority tasks.
Great employees are confident in their abilities, but they keep their egos in check. They don’t boast about their successes. Instead, they’re patient with those who need their help and don’t put their colleagues down (even those with lesser abilities). This approachable side is another way top employees balance high performance with teamwork–no small feat–and makes them a valuable resource on a team. Others feel comfortable coming to them with issues and concerns that they might not otherwise bring up.
Exceptional employees don’t walk past a problem they could help solve simply because it isn’t in their job description. They see their roles more broadly than that, as chiefly about helping the team reach its goals. As a result, they’re always willing to give of their time and knowledge. When they see something that needs to be done, they step up and help out.
Great employees help lighten up the workplace with their sense of humor where it’s appropriate. But they also know when it’s time to get down to business. They have a strong sense of timing and context. When a colleague is feeling down or struggling, they’re the first one to lend an ear and offer a pep talk. By the same token, they know when they aren’t cut out (or don’t have the time) to offer more serious counseling, and they’re proactive about pointing coworkers who’ve hit a rut toward other resources.
Standout employees are never satisfied with the status quo. They’re always looking to improve themselves, their work, and their environment. Not only do they suggest ways to make those improvements, they also take initiative in carrying them out. To them, change is a good thing–an opportunity to do better. Others tend to see change in opposite terms, as a threat to their comfort level. But since exceptional employees can embrace it, they’re a great asset to management when it comes time to change course–fending off resistance and helping smooth the implementation.