Why I Look for These Two Key Ingredients to Identify Star Employees

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From coworkers and clients to full-time employees and part-time interns, I’ve worked with a lot of people over the years. While the majority of the people I’ve worked with have been beyond competent, a number of them have been true superstars. In trying to decipher the qualities that enable people to become superstars, time and again, the two that rise to the top of list are curiosity and humility. People who are curious and humble, whether they come by it naturally or had to work at it, typically make for better salespeople, writers, marketers, engineers, managers, you name it.

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Someone who is intellectually curious deeply cares about understanding concepts, identifying underlying issues, and seeking the truth about things in general. These concerns will drive the curious person to ask lots of questions— particularly great questions — in their quest for knowledge. Their questions often begin with “how,” “why,” or “what,” and while graduating from MIT or a Great Books college can be an indicator of genuine curiosity, not all of us realize our insanely curious side at age 17 or 18 .

Intellectually curious people question conventional wisdom, not all the time, but when it no longer appears to be wise. They often adopt a insightful questions. Great marketers constantly test new campaigns to see which ones resonate more with their target market. Great engineers always figure out how to simplify something or make it better. Curiosity helps drive all these people to do exactly what they need to do to perform great work.

Intellectual humility often accompanies curiosity, but not always. Curious people often end up knowing quite a bit about a wide variety of topics, and many become what are commonly known as “know-it-alls”. Know-it-alls become consumed by arrogance and pride in the knowledge they have acquired. We all know at least one, and dealing with that person can be miserable. Know-it-alls lack the all-important virtue of humility. And while true humility is often difficult to spot, it does not require a lack of confidence by any measure. A humble person does not get defensive so easily. They are willing to be proven wrong if presented with the right reasons, logic, or evidence. Intellectual humility is best summed up by CS Lewis, who wrote: “true humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”

Intellectual humility is a sort of self-forgetfulness. I believe people can become self-forgetful when they have a general sense of awe in the world around them. Regardless of their reputation and their accomplishments, intellectually humble people recognize, in the grand scheme of things, we are all fairly insignificant.

It’s not difficult to see why humble people make for great coworkers. They are less focused on themselves and more focused on others. They care less about being right and more about finding the right answer. They don’t mind saying “I don’t know,” which is way better than someone trying to compensate for their lack of knowledge with excuses… or worse, fabricated answers. They often put the interests of the organization they work for ahead of their own interests. Quite simply, they work well with others, are open to feedback and criticism, and will work hard to improve where it is necessary.

As it turns out, intellectually curious and humble people not only make for rock star employees; they make for amazing people in general. I’m lucky to have numerous friends, family members, and a wife who share these virtues. And fortunately, they are common here at Capterra too.

(P.S. If you know someone that you’d consider to be intellectually curious and humble, we’re hiring.)

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About the Author


Michael Ortner

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Mike started Capterra in 1999 as the first website dedicated to helping people find the right software for their business. Today, Capterra lists over 30,000 software companies, displays more than 250,000 software reviews, and receives over 3,000,000 monthly visitors. He's been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Fox News, and Inc. Magazine, among other publications, where he's spoken on topics ranging from the business software industry to running and growing a business in the 21st century. Mike received a business degree from Georgetown University and a philosophy degree from the University of London. He lives in McLean, VA with his wife and six children.



Hello Michael,

The two may be necessary but they are not sufficient.

80% of employees self report that they are not engaged.
80% of managers are not suited to managing employees.
The two eighty percents are closely related.

Employers keep hiring the wrong people to be their managers and then they wonder why they have so few successful, engaged employees.

Successful employees have all three of the following success predictors while unsuccessful employee lack one or two and usually it is Job Talent that they lack.
1. Competence
2. Cultural Fit
3. Job Talent 

Employers do a… 

A. GREAT job of hiring competent employees, about 95% 

B. Good job of hiring competent employees who fit the culture, about 60% 

C. POOR job of hiring competent employees who fit the culture and who have a talent for the job, about 20%. 

Identifying the talent required for each job seems to be missing from talent and management discussions. If we ignore any of the three criteria, our workforce will be less successful with higher turnover than if we do not ignore any of the three criteria.
1. Competence
2. Cultural Fit
3. Talent

There are many factors to consider when hiring and managing talent but first we need to define talent unless “hiring talent” means “hiring employees.” Everyone wants to hire for and manage talent but if we can’t answer the five questions below with specificity, we can’t hire or manage talent effectively.
1. How do we define talent?
2. How do we measure talent?
3. How do we know a candidate’s talent?
4. How do we know what talent is required for each job?
5. How do we match a candidate’s talent to the talent demanded by the job?

Most people cannot answer the five questions with specificity but the answers provide the framework for hiring successful employees and creating an engaged workforce.

Talent is not found in resumes or interviews or background checks or college transcripts.

Talent must be hired since it cannot be acquired or imparted after the hire.

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