The 5 Most Important Characteristics of a New Hire – And Why Experience is Least Important

new hire

Execution requires a great team. Jim Baum, a serial entrepreneur and investor in the Boston area, has a cool mnemonic for the top five attributes to look for in a new hire:

  • E – Enthusiasm. Look for people who are passionate, excited, and energized about the team they will be joining and the work they will be doing.
  • I – Intelligence. Look for people who are smart and able to learn quickly.
  • E – Experience. Look for people with the right experience base. This one is tricky – more on this later.
  • I – Integrity. Look for people who are honest and will do the right thing. This one is immutable.
  • O – Organizational fit. Look for people who are aligned with your values and culture.

Which characteristics are more important in a candidate?

In many recruitment efforts, hiring managers place a high premium on experience – they look for the right keywords on the resume and count the number of years the candidate has spent working in the area of interest. While experience is important, it turns out that some of the other, “softer” attributes have much more impact on whether the candidate will be a good fit for the team.

Here are the E.I.E.I.O attributes again, in decreasing order of importance.

  1. Enthusiasm
  2. Integrity
  3. Organizational fit
  4. Intelligence
  5. Experience
  1. Enthusiasm is #1

Enthusiasm is the most important attribute for a new hire. If you find someone who has caught on fire about your mission, your solution and the job they will be doing for you, they will find ways to get things done and overcome obstacles much more effectively than someone who has the right experience but is feeling “meh” about your company or your mission. Also, with time and care, you can teach a passionate person to learn about a new domain or acquire a new set of technical skills. But you can never teach someone who is ambivalent about your company to feel the passion.

  1. Experience is often disproportionately emphasized

While experience is important, hiring managers often place a disproportionate amount of weight on this single metric – to the point where they will take someone with great experience and less passion over a best-athlete with great passion who is light on experience.

Granted, there are always situations where you need to import the experience quickly, or you don’t have time to teach the new employee the skills they need to succeed. By all means, do still make programmers code on the whiteboard and grill them on their technical skillset, but finding a candidate who aces a live programming test Google-style is a necessary but not sufficient condition for finding a great hire.

Generally speaking, hiring for enthusiasm with a best-athletes approach ends up paying better dividends than hiring purely for experience. The best hires are ones who take the job because they fell in love with the company, the product and the people – not those who see the compensation package as the most important determinant in their decision making.

  1. Beware candidates who are primarily motivated by compensation

When interviewing candidates, really probe into why they are interested in your company, and the job opening they are interviewing for. Are they genuinely invested in your vision and mission? Do they buy into the products or services you are developing? Are they attracted to the work content? Or are they considering your offer because you are offering $15,000 more than the competition?

People innovate and become creative not because they are told to, or because they are paid well, but because they want to. If someone is more motivated by the pay than the actual work content, that same person might not be a great fit. They could very well jump ship when they see another opportunity that pays more.

Hiring is an art and a science, and it is hard to get a good sense of the person in just a few interviews. By moving away from a ‘skills and experience’ checklist approach, and taking a more holistic exploration, the E.I.E.I.O. framework can help you improve the odds of finding a candidate who might not fit criteria but who might become a rockstar employee moving forward.

About the Author

Elaine is a startup veteran and innovation and entrepreneurship consultant who has brought numerous hardware and software products to market. As Founder and Managing Director of ConceptSpring, she works with executives and leaders of innovative teams to create product strategies, craft innovation management processes, and develop aggressive but achievable program plans to implement the company’s vision. She is also a Senior Lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management. Follow her at @chenelaine.