6 things to look for in a rockstar employee

6 things to look for in a rockstar employee

We all need ‘em. Those team members whom you can trust to handle things if you’re not there or to lean on when you need some extra support on a project.

They’re the rock-solid, unwavering, go-getting, right-hand men and women that you’re so grateful to have on your team.

Maybe you feel like you’ve won the recruitment lottery but, there are ways to spot these folks and make sure they end up on your team. Instead of a happy accident, you can build a team of rockstars.

Here are six traits to look for to get more of these people on your side.

1. Track record of progress

This may seem like a no-brainer but there are plenty of people who are content exactly where they are. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But, when you find an employee who is consistently looking to grow and improve, they’ll not only look for opportunities for themselves but for opportunities for progress for the organization. They’ll see a system that could be better, they’ll see a failure as a learning opportunity, and they’ll seek communication with others that supports their goals for improving.

What this might look like in tangible terms is someone who:

  • Takes professional development courses without prompting.
  • During a project debrief, might say, “Next time, we could…”
  • Goes out of their way or job description to suggest a thoughtful improvement.

2. Accountability

When something hasn’t gone according to plan, there’s nothing worse than someone who tries to place the blame instead of focusing on the solution. Solution first, regardless of the cause, then reflection on how the situation could be avoided next time. Rockstar employees will be the first to jump in to offer a solution and then talk about how they played a role in the outcome good or bad and what they might do differently next time.

So how do you recognize accountability when you’re hiring someone?

  • Ask them about the biggest mistakes they’ve made and what they learned from them.  Questions like this are best asked with, “Tell me a time when…” rather than a hypothetical, “What would you do if…” The latter tends to result in textbook answers that make you think they’re a rockstar, whereas actually describing where they made a mistake and what was the outcome, helps you see how accountable they were, and what they learned.
  • When asking about a project or situation that had its challenges, listen for “I’ and “We” language as opposed to, “They” language. An intentional distinction between the employee and the issue is a red flag that they don’t see how they contributed to the challenges. Taking ownership of the good and bad things that happened while on a team is a good indication that they’ll be accountable when things go sideways.

3. Intrinsic motivation

Not to get you off the hook for providing rewards, encouragement, and recognition but employees who are intrinsically motivated are going to continue to progress towards organizational goals whether or not the carrot is dangling in sight .

Their purpose isn’t exclusively connected to the reward of pay or validation. They have their own reasons for working hard and doing great work — they have their “why.”

What might this look like in practice?

  • They have personal values that align with those of the company. For example, if you’re an organic baby food company and your potential employee is a health conscious mom.
  • An intrinsically motivated person will not seek personal reward or validation as a primary focus. In the interview, for example, the questions will fall more around the actual work and how that is connected to what they are personally passionate about.

4. Self-awareness

Self-aware employees will be the first to tell you when a task is not well-suited to them. Not that they aren’t willing to give it a try, but they can tell you that it might take them a little longer or they’ll need support.

They know what they’re great at, how they best work, and what they need to be set up for success. And, as a sub-point, to this trait – they have confidence that while they aren’t good at everything, their strengths can play an important role that complements others on the team.

How does this show up in a job interview?

  • They’ll likely admit their non-strengths and look for others to work with who have complementary strengths.
  • When asked about areas they might like to improve on, the list is succinct and within the realm of their strengths – they’re not trying to be everything to everyone.
  • They’re also interviewing you. If they have self-awareness, they’ll be asking questions to make sure the job is also a good fit for them. They won’t be interested in wasting time in the wrong position.

5. Diplomatic bravery

Rockstar employees are not afraid to speak up, but they do so with thoughtfulness and taking their audience into consideration. They know when to address an issue and how to do with it the outcome in mind as opposed to expressing themselves for the sake of expression or simply to vent emotion.

Because of this, conflict is no problem — they can navigate it with a rational and thoughtful approach. They see conflict around ideas as a necessary step in resolution and they value differing perspectives as a way to arrive at the most well-rounded decision or outcome.

To spot this in an employee or potential employee look for:

  • An example of a time when they had to assert a viewpoint and consider multiple perspectives without ruffling feathers.
  • They use inclusive and neutral language when telling stories. Again, do they use “we” to describe their team and do they describe all sides of the issue calmly.
  • A preference to listen as opposed to being right

6. Popularity

Ok, that term does remind me of highschool but there’s no question that when someone is popular, it means that they’ve been successful at navigating the myriad social hoops and thus people respect them, like them, and will be happy working with them.

Look for:

  • An ease when discussing past employers, perhaps even a hint of a friendship or mutual respect – a willingness to hand over contact details to former employers.
  • In an interview situation, ask the person who greeted them their first impressions. Or, the person who scheduled the interview. Were they friendly and engaging to everyone they crossed paths with in the organization?

Coach’s Question: How can you foster more of these rockstar traits in your current staff? How can you start implementing some of our suggestions in your hiring process?