Hire the Right People: How to Spot Them

To hire or not to hire? That is the question. Learn how to spot the right people to hire.

It’s easy to get enticed by impressive resumes and quick answers, but hold on. The seemingly best candidate might not be the best hire. In this article, I will list some of the things to look for and some things to avoid if you want long lasting, loyal employees.

What to Avoid

Of course the skillset of a future employee is important. But it could happen that the ideal candidate skill wise is the worst fit for your company culture.

Seems Busy or too “Important”

The candidate...

  • Misses interviews, is hard to contact or late for interviews
  • Doesn’t seem enthusiastic
  • Brags about other job offers/opportunities

First impressions matter. If the candidate misses a lot of calls, emails or even interviews, they are probably not really motivated for the job. This is no time or place to play hard to get, which is also why bragging about other job opportunities is definitely a warning sign. It might just be that the candidate is using your interview as a way to entice other hiring managers to get a job at their company, in which case they are clearly not motivated for your job offer. During the interview, you want to look for enthusiasm. Are they way too casual or uninterested? Naturally, the job must go to someone sitting at the edge of their seat, eager to get started!

Seems Unprepared

The candidate...

  • Asks no questions
  • Asks questions for the sake of asking - ones that seem unoriginal or unfocused toward your organization
  • Don’t know the requirements listed in the job ad

All three things listed above points in the direction of being unmotivated. If a person asks no questions it seems that they are not really curious or reflective about what they are about to embark upon. Most often than not, there will be questions - if the candidate is motivated that is. If, however, the candidate asks questions that seem to be redundant, it might be because he/she knows that asking no questions is bad. But if the questions are unmotivated or “fake”, the questions don’t matter in the end. The candidate didn’t really prepare enough to ask an insightful question. At the same time, not knowing what it says in the job ad is equally bad. Not only does it indicate that the candidate is not really motivated, but the candidate might have forgotten about your job ad because he/she has other job applications on their mind that he/she is more interested in.

Lacks Self-insight

The candidate...

  • Doesn’t know what they are bad at
  • Lacks career goals
  • Has a victim mentality

If the candidate doesn’t know in which area he/she could improve, it’s really not a good idea to hire him/her. They don’t know where they need help, which is not good in a critical situation. You want to be able to rely on the people you hire to know what they claim to know, and if they don’t, they should be comfortable with delegating the work to others or asking for help.

Of course, not everyone knows what their career goals are and things might change many times during a lifetime. However, it’s a good idea to hire someone with at least an indication of direction. What do they want to learn from this job? Where do they see themselves in five years? If the candidate has no long term purpose with the job you are offering, it is not necessarily a long term hire you are looking at.

If the candidate explains their desire to move on from their current or past job by saying they didn’t learn enough or weren’t challenged enough - keep a watchful eye. This might indicate a victim mentality. If the candidate felt like they weren’t challenged enough, they might be the cause of this themselves by not seeking out challenges themselves and lacking initiative. This mentality might be causing them to blame their past manager. On the other hand, they might be telling the truth about wanting more challenges and not being able to find them at their previous job, so it’s a good idea to ask them to elaborate on this issue.

Practical stuff

The candidate...

  • Will have a long commute
  • Sent in poor or no references
  • Did a lot of job hopping

To finalize this (admittedly long) list of things to avoid in a new hire, I have some suggestions on the more practical side of things. For example, job hopping is a hard thing to define - when is it too much and when is it just a more or less frequent change in jobs? As a rule of thumb, it is normal to have one or two jobs with a duration of six months or less, but if this occurs more often than that you might want to look into it. Ask the candidate the reasons why they switched jobs so frequently and most of the time you will find that there is a perfectly good explanation - especially if the person has good recommendations/references.

Last but not least, if the person lives more than two hours away it could also be a risky hire. More times often than not, this person might quit relatively soon or always be late to the office and meetings because of the traffic jams, etc. This of course does not apply for positions that are remote.

What to look for

Now you know who NOT to hire, but that doesn’t mean that you know who TO hire.  

Talented and Intelligent

Talent can be exemplified by the ability to play beautiful music on an instrument or the ease with which one writes complex and functional code. Intelligence is the way a problem is approached with logic, the ability to ask great questions, plan and prioritize.

“76 percent of the productivity and contribution of an employee will be determined by his or her level of intelligence.” (theundercoverrecruiter.com).

Even though attitude is important (and we’ll get to that), a complete lack of talent or intelligence will not make for a great candidate. If a given candidate has a high degree of intelligence, this will probably come across in the kind of questions the person asks during the interview. Keep watch for these and put it on the plus side of your little mental scorecard.

Passionate, Enterprising and willing to Learn

A great attitude consists of different personality traits. Some of them, all relatively extraverted, I have coupled here. First of all, passion is important and it doesn’t really matter what for, just some degree of passion is important. It might be passion for the tasks to be done, passion for what the company does, passion for helping people or whatever. This leads me to the second personality trait: to be enterprising, a.k.a. taking initiative. People without passion rarely take initiative and you need and want people who will take initiative and responsibility for new and better things. Willingness to learn is also a really important ability, which might be visible in the candidate’s resume: Has the person taken a lot of courses? Is the person self-taught in a particular area? This is something you want to encourage - if your employees grow, your company will too.

Trustworthy, Modest and able to Change

Another way to recognize a great attitude is to look at some more modest traits like trustworthiness, ability to change - and yes, modesty. A (somewhat) humble person might fit into teamwork better than someone stubborn, even though different personalities are needed in a company. Decide for yourself what the position calls for. Trustworthiness speaks for itself, but how to detect it? If you let current employees provide referrals for candidates, you will already have a stamp of approval for that person, but of course good recommendations from previous employers will work as well. Finally, ability to change is an increasingly important trait to have in the rapidly developing world we live in.

Fits into the company culture, but is different from you

“Hire for attitude, train for skills.” Bill Taylor (www.hbr.org).

With this mantra in mind, take a look at the candidate in front of you. Is he/she aligned with your current company culture? It’s important that people fit into your company culture while not thinking exactly like you. If they think and act like you, they will probably have the same weaknesses as you, leaving your company no better off. Especially if you need the new hire to be creative, it is important that the person is somewhat different from the people in your existing team.

However, it is important that the person feels at home in your current company culture and that he/she will have some sort of common ground to stand on alongside the other employees. Humour or basic values can be great common denominators, while a difference in gender, age, background and origin can be beneficial. If these things are in place, creativity, innovation and critical thinking can prosper. Learn more about how to compose a creative team in the blogpost here.

Believes in your Company and/or Product

If the candidate has a genuine interest in your company, that’s great! You might just have a long term employee. Good indications of this can be if the person applied for a job at your company before or if the person applied unsolicited. For this reason, it’s a good idea to keep an archive of past applicants. These people are really motivated to work with you, not just that particular job you posted.


  1. http://www.jobmonkey.com/employer-insights/reasons-not-hire-someone/
  2. https://www.forbes.com/sites/lizryan/2016/09/25/five-reasons-not-to-hire-someone-even-if-theyre-qualified/2/#c989c4096884
  3. https://www.inc.com/jessica-stillman/10-red-flags-not-to-hire-that-promising-candidate.html
  4. ‍https://employmentoffice.com.au/five-reasons-not-hire-someone-even-theyre-qualified-applicant/
  5. http://business.salary.com/7-reasons-not-to-hire-someone/
  6. ‍https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/234096


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