The interesting thing about hiring new employees, such as my situation, is that you have to re-emphasis what you are looking for in your new hires. As an employer, you tend to take for granted certain things about long-standing employees. For younger workers, there is a dual challenge of figuring out how to make yourself valuable to your employer and acclimatizing yourself to an environment less structured than an educational institution.
In good times, being an average employee just made you a clog in the machine. In bad times, the difference between being a good employee and an average employee could be the difference between engaging in exciting work and a number in the unemployment rate.
By no means a complete list, here are 5 things that most employers look for in a good employee:
You think like an owner. A friend who owns his own business once remarked that his right-hand man was very valuable because he spent money like he owned the business. Thinking like an owner is difficult since what you are asking an employee to do is to contextualize their duties in the larger scheme of the business and most employees only want to concentrate on the task at hand. But a good employee is always asking the following questions: is what I am doing making money or saving money? If you are doing neither, it is hard to prove value to your employer.
You learn the art of prioritization. A workplace is a like a big game of dodge ball. Lots of bodies falling around in seemingly chaotic patterns. The ball of blame hitting the worthy and unworthy alike. Lots of screaming, lots of complaining and the boss/gym teacher who half the participants hate and half are indifferent. Out of this mess, the ones who get ahead are the ones who learn to prioritize. Again, it comes down to the essential question among the many tasks given to you which one makes/saves money quickest or the most. The smaller stuff you don’t sweat as top priorities.
Learn to accept that you get paid for the grief, not the work. Some young workers think the work place is like a television show. At your first day of work, you are thrown into a room and asked to participate in some exciting project. More often than not, this does not happen. The best testing ground to see whether you are ready for the exciting stuff is to see if you can handle the mundane assignments well with initiative and a positive attitude (as a side rant, the worst thing you can do is pout and throw a fit when the work is not challenging. Your boss is not your parent or a teacher and they will not indulge a trouble-maker in the same way. Bad attitudes when faced with a challenge is more a comment on the employee than the workplace not conforming to expectations. Experience is an alternate word for failure. We learn more by failing than succeeding, something our “no one can fail” parenting has missed). Unconsciously and consciously, responsibility is given in small doses to an incoming employee as they prove their worth by doing the small stuff right first.
You don’t give up easily. My real pet peeve is that you ask an employee to do something they have never done before and, within a short period of time, they come back and said they could not do it. It shows the boss that you do not know how to think through problems and you are not good with responsibility. More to the point, if the boss has to do the work for you, why does she need you?
You are a problem solver. My partner complained to me one day about an employee. They approached him and said we ran out of ink on the “paid” stamp. Period. In other words, the employee was taking their issue (no ink) and transferring it to their boss (what are you going to do about the fact we have no ink boss?). The better approach would have been: “we have no ink. Can I order some? We have a $20 off couple at Staples.” In other words, you came with a solution which an owner would like. The boss reads this statement as: “employee solved issue by themselves, asked me for permission and is saving me money” rather than “grumble, grumble…”
I’ll end with an observation by a friend of mine who wonders if young employees, growing up in an era of text-messaging and instant messaging, even know how to carry on a normal conversation anymore? He observed that younger employees had a more difficult time piecing together consecutive thoughts coherently or having an attention span of more than 5 minutes; my friend is in his 30’s-by no means old- and I tend to agree with him. One wonders, in a world of 140 character knee-jerk pseudo thoughts/expressions, whether people are losing the ability to think deeply through issues and articulate answers intelligently in a face-to-face setting? Please prove my pessimism wrong.
Best of luck.