A new leader recently asked me, “What do you look for in a new hire?” It’s a common question that I’ve asked myself repeatedly over the years. About a year ago (ironically when I least needed it as I wasn’t anywhere close to hiring anyone) I finally figured it out.

What to look for in a prospective employee
What would you add to this list? The four things to look for in a prospective employee. (Tweet That)

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I never formalized it, but as I progressed as a leader, I realized I always looked for the rare combination of four things in a prospective team member. I call them the 4 ‘ations’ of a job prospect.

A prospective team member must display all of these to be considered:


This does not mean “school.” Yes, generally speaking I wouldn’t hire a thirty year old without a high school diploma, but beyond that, formal education means very little to me. What I do care about is what books she’s read and what she’s learned from them. Is he attending workshops or seminars? Is the prospect meeting with a mentor or work study group? Is he listening to podcasts relevant to the work?

I want to know what he is doing to educate himself. I love to hear prospects say things like, “I have been reading such-and-such book to improve my sales skills. I know that’s a weak area for me and one that I haven’t used over the years, but I will need here.” That is a sign that he is going to do whatever it takes to gain the knowledge necessary to do well on the job.


“I’ve done it before.”

Participation simply means a prospect has experience doing what you want her to do. It does not necessarily mean she’s done that exact job or even all of the things you want her to do, but generally I prefer to hire people with experience in the skill set I need.

I would never hire a programmer with no programming experience. That job is far too technical to take that risk.

I would, however, hire a salesperson to sell furniture, for example, who previously sold something else or perhaps even runs his own landscaping business and thus has some sales experience.


This comes down to good old-fashioned hard work.

Does the prospect strike you as a hard worker? Does he work hard in other areas of life? Often prospects will give clues to their work ethic when talking about things such as success in athletics or achieving personal goals.

You can also learn a lot about a prospect’s work ethic from how she talks about others’ work ethic. Does she admire people who are known for hard work? Does she talk fondly of a parent or friend who was successful in business?

This may be controversial, but this factor, determination/work ethic, is a big reason why I often preferred to hire immigrants or the children of immigrants. I’ve found them to, generally speaking, have a better work ethic and more determination to do the job right.

8 Signs You Have a Crappy Job


How eager is the prospect to learn the business?

A prospective team member should be fascinated by your business. If not, he is probably not a good fit.

If his eyes don’t light up the room when you tell him about your company, don’t hire him. It’s that simple.

Fascination also applies to continuing education (see above). How eager is the prospect to learn new skills and techniques?

A fascinated prospect will get excited. He should be bouncing off the walls at the chance to work with you. He should be devouring new learning opportunities, asking questions about the company, and wanting to know every detail about you and the company.

That shows fascination and combined with the other three “ations,” makes for a great hire.

What do you look for in a new hire?


Text me anytime at (260) 217-4619.

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0 thoughts on “The Four Things I Look for in a Prospective Employee | Interviews

  1. Let's Grow Leaders says:

    Fascination is such a vital one… i call that “energy.” It’s something you must feel… when they’ve got it, they’ve got it. Hard to put in a competency model.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Exactly. It’s somewhat immeasurable, but you know it when you see it.

    2. Steve Pate says:

      I would add too, can they bring energy to the team and customers with their smile, tone, and actions. And so true that its hard to put it in a competency model.

  2. Keith Laskey says:

    This is a refreshing post. My wife is in the middle of looking at a career change and she is concerned that her only experience is in the insurance industry. I don’t see it as a problem based on many of the things you mentioned above.

    As far as your determination bullet point goes, I have worked in several restaurants through the years and there is no question that the hardest and most efficient workers were the ones that did not speak much English.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      I’ve worked in insurance for more than ten years on and off and it’s an easy industry to move from. I wish her well!

  3. Paige Gordon II says:

    Based on my experience, determination is now the biggest one I look for. If a person has a good work ethic they will choose to grow regardless of if they feel like it or not. I have dealt with enough people who have the ‘want’ but not the ‘will’ to decide that I look for ‘will’ first and foremost.

  4. Steve Pate says:

    Due to the age group I work with most of the time, college and high school young adults, I found a new question to ask when I’m looking for a summer assistant, “did your parents use cleaning or yard work as a form of discipline in your teenage years?”

    After I hired my summer assistant, I found he hated weeding,(that was a form of disciplined in his house hold) and cleaning, and I even asked before hand can you do these task, and he did answer yes but “I” failed to ask, do you like doing it? I for ever more will ask, “do you enjoy doing xyz?” not can you do it.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Good one Steve. It’s hard to know without asking what projects some people might see as punishment rather than just every day projects.

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