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What Qualities Do You Look For When Hiring New Employees?

All employers want a perfect employee. Someone who is hardworking and reliable, as well as trustworthy and energetic – honest too. The list could go on and on! The first thing to realise is that no one, including your new employee, can be perfect. So, you need to work out what qualities matter most to you. That’s why you start off with some good old brainstorming.


Brainstorm a bunch of strengths and weaknesses and then order them in terms of importance. What’s more crucial – technical skills or willingness to learn? Great people skills or unfailing honesty? Work out what you can live without. When you’re done you should have a good profile of the type of person you want.

What about core traits?

There are some key traits that would be ideal for your new employee to have. These are the kind of fundamental qualities that should be part of your list. Let’s run through them.


Ideally, you should be aligned on what motivates your new employee, and whether you can supply that. What gets your new employee up in the morning? Is it because they find their job meaningful or because they like getting paid a decent wage? Would they prefer cash bonuses or flexible hours? How would they like to be rewarded? What style of management do they prefer – clear instructions and step by step tasks or lots of freedom? You’ll need all this info to make sure you’re compatible.


In the interview, ask them to explain something difficult they know really well. This is a great way to determine a candidate’s intelligence and passion. It’s also a good indicator of social skills like clarity in communication and an ability to guide their audience to understanding. The candidate could explain anything from a hobby or a film to a recipe. If they are knowledgeable and passionate about something this will translate into charisma and enthusiasm at work. You’ll also get an idea of their level of comprehension of a difficult subject. The ability to articulate well (or lack of), will be obvious. Keep in mind the way they answer this question is likely how they would talk to a friend.

Self Awareness

The best way to test this is to ask them in the interview to tell you about a recent time they made a mistake. This question is the ultimate test of self-awareness. Look for a candidate who can comfortably talk about a time they got something wrong (you’ll be able to spot perfectionists who stress over mistakes straight up). They should demonstrate ownership of their screw up and be able to tell you what they learned. Beware of candidates who try and mask their faults with a fake answer or who blame others or the situation they found themselves in. Really, a well-prepared candidate should be expecting this question anyway, but their level of authenticity when delivering their answer will provide insights into their character.

Accurate perception of ability

Ask the candidate “how would you rate your ability to do this job on a scale of 1-10?” Listen carefully to their answer and you will gain an awareness of their level of confidence and how well their perception of their skills matches reality. The interesting part of this question is following it up by asking why they rated themselves like that, and what they think they would need to do to get to a ‘10’. This will tell you what they think is involved in the job, and gives you the opportunity to clarify any points of confusion about what is expected. There’s nothing wrong with a candidate scoring themselves as a 7,8,9 or even being humbly confident as a 10, it’s why they think that and what they’re doing to improve their ability that’s key.

Willingness to be unapologetically frank

In the interview, ask the candidate “What are 2 negative qualities someone close to you would say you have?” Firstly, disallow positives dressed up as negatives answers like “I’m a perfectionist” or “I’m a workaholic”. If they have trouble coming up with others, give them enough time to think, or you could even let them phone a friend. It’s an important question so it’s best not to skip over it. It will tell you a lot about their self-awareness and transparency. The best candidates are usually those who know what their flaws are, and who are willing to admit them. Bonus points if they can authentically tell you how they are trying to improve on them.

Personality and Culture Fit


Much of the early hiring process is about picking the right combination of education and work history. This information is objective and helps you get the most experienced candidates to the interview stage. After that, you’re looking for the right personality and cultural fit. Get them talking about their ideal management style and the kind of teams they work best in. Get a feel for sporting or other outside-of-work interests. Ask them how’d they deal with specific workplace-related issues. Finding a good personality fit for your company culture is crucial!



Running a small business is stressful enough without managing an employee you don’t trust. So how do you figure out if you can trust someone? Ask yourself these three questions. Firstly, is this person invested in what happens to me and my business? Secondly, do they carry out the tasks that they say they will, on time and consistently? And lastly, is this person actually competent in the areas they have claimed to be? Try and work these out before committing. Tip: Contact their referees and ask similar questions.


What next?

Once you have your desired qualities figured out, here are some more tips on how to make sure you pick the right candidate:

Devise an interview format and questions

You’ll have limited time with your potential new employees so use it well. You want to get to know them as a person as well as a worker. In addition to formal questions, include some informal topics to get them talking freely. Examples include:

  • Tell me about your professional path up until this point
  • What is it about this industry that makes you excited?
  • Why did you choose this line of work?
  • When do you feel most motivated and inspired?

Suggest grabbing a coffee or lunch after the interview. You’re going to be spending a significant amount of time with this person, so make sure you get on well!

Spend time with them first

It can be tempting to make a decision on the spot when it comes to hiring someone. Don’t do this. Spend a bit of time with them first. Take them to lunch. Give them a tour of your business. Ask them to do a trial period. This is a huge decision and it’s best to be as well-informed as possible. Try to get a read on their personality and what they are passionate about. You want someone who is genuinely keen to work in your industry and whose personality aligns with the views and values of your business.

Consider a probationary period

The probationary period is a time frame during which you decide whether the employee is meeting your expectations.  If a performance plan is created for the new employee, ensure you set a review date well before the employee’s minimum employment period ends. This will ensure you have enough time to review the employee’s performance, decide whether you want to keep them and, if not, terminate their employment before their minimum employment period expires.

Also note that the Fair Work Act sets a minimum employment period that an employee needs to serve before they are able to make an unfair dismissal claim: 12 months – for small-business employers with fewer than 15 full-time equivalent employees; or 6 months – for all other businesses.

Want to know how to keep your new employee happy? Create a positive culture in your business.

Once your new employee is on board, here’s how to keep them motivated.

Are you ready to start the search for your perfect employee? Access millions of Australian jobseekers here.

Download our latest 2019 Recruitment Handbook