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Eight characteristics to look for when hiring

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Exciting change can include leaving something special behind. In my case, this meant saying goodbye to a boatload of memories and a block filled with great neighbors. The change? I sold my house and will be closer to family. I was eager to downsize but not eager to deal with moving. Wading through mountains of “can’t-get-rid-of stuff” my kids had thrown in the basement for 19 years was a big emotional adjustment, as was saying goodbye to wonderful friends on my cul-de-sac.

We all know what terrific neighbors look like. They have one another’s backs. House and pet sitting, collectively digging out of massive snowstorms or enjoying a glass of wine while chatting on the porch. Top-notch neighbors generate a strong camaraderie and work as a first-class team, much like exceptional employees.

Because most managers are running their marine businesses with fewer people per revenue dollar than ever before, it makes sense to search for above-average employees when you have an opportunity to hire. How do you spot a potential new team member who is exceptional, if not remarkable? Jeff Haden, in an article in Inc. magazine (Feb. 21, 2012), shares super starting points for the hiring mission with his “Eight Qualities of Remarkable Employees.” In a way, the list reads like a roster of personality traits that great neighbors share, too. I’ve grouped Haden’s eight elements into the core characteristics a remarkable employee brings to the team. Let’s look at how they stack up and promote individual, team and company success.

Gets things done

Particularly crucial with small businesses, the above-average employee readily pitches in to do what needs to be done and consistently goes above and beyond the straight and narrow line of assigned tasks. In large organizations this is likewise valued because this is the employee who never drops the ball, doesn’t blow off deadlines and shares information that’s helpful to everyone. These team players further know how to throttle up and throttle back by inserting their personality when appropriate and, conversely, being all business when needed. Haden’s remarkable employee traits that fall into this area include:

• They ignore job descriptions. The smaller the company, the more important it is for employees to do whatever it takes, regardless of their role, to get things done.

• They’re eccentric. Being a bit quirky in a good, unusual way shakes things up and brings flair and flavor to the team.

• They know when to dial it back. Unique personalities can be fun, but they can be out of place when major challenges arise. The best employees know when to play and when to be serious.

Open and closed

The benefits that remarkable employees bring to managers and the entire team are further magnified by their willingness to openly praise peers and quietly grouse about complaints. What makes this exceptional? This behavior propels teamwork forward — it’s the high-five that makes everyone feel good and work harder knowing that co-workers respect each other enough to openly share positive feedback.

These employees also bring up issues to help the broader group, stepping in and speaking up when those who are more cautious may be afraid to voice their opinions. On the other side of the spectrum, when things aren’t so rosy the above-average team member knows when to quietly help out the manager by complaining to the boss in a side conversation, where potential embarrassment or piling on by others is unlikely to occur. Here’s how Haden calibrated these traits:

• They publicly praise. Praising their peers in front of a group is yet another hallmark of the exceptional worker.

• They privately complain. They bring problems to the boss in a private setting before or after a meeting to avoid what might otherwise be a barrage of blazing comments in a group situation.

• They speak when others won’t. They step up to ask questions or raise tricky issues when others hold back.

Perpetually taking the plunge

We already know the remarkable team member is super at crossing the finish line for project milestones and program marathons. They’re similarly talented at pushing themselves to the next level. Self-motivation is a strong suit. This same drive has them plunging into pristine approaches by first dabbling in a little of this or a little of that until new ideas take shape. They think challenge and change are a blast, ways to stretch beyond the current routine. For the manager with many problems to solve, it’s easy to see why this trait is considered remarkable. Haden espoused this thought with these exceptional employee qualities:

• They like to prove others wrong. Drive is crucial. To prove wrong the doubters or those who said it couldn’t be done, remarkable employees have a deeper passion to do more than an average job.

• They’re always fiddling. They like to doodle and tinker with the status quo, go beyond following current process and make it better.

Neat and tidy, don’t you think? Eight great traits tied to remarkable employees. Find these eager workers, make them an offer and bring them onto your team to swiftly start making an impact. Now, a trick question: As a manager, would you be open-minded enough to recognize and embrace all of these attributes if you saw them? Certainly the employee who is always generating accomplishments would be effortlessly spotted, but are you a mature enough leader to equally entertain hiring the employee who might challenge your decisions with respectful questions or diplomatically voiced complaints? Think before you answer because many of you may say “yes,” but in practice your actions may later speak “no.”

The intriguing realization these eight qualities bring to light is that there is often comfort and discomfort when dealing with anything exceptional, including remarkable employees. Workers who are getting things done without fail, being appropriately open and closed with their input, and perpetually pushing themselves to the next level of improvement and opportunity help to produce a valuable phenomenon: progress and exciting change.

Exciting change was a big part of selling my home and leaving my neighbors behind. I knew I had to be open and ready to forge ahead. How about you? Are you a marine business manager who is ready for a remarkable employee to make you shift in your chair, clear your throat and take a hard look at something you may not have previously considered? The first step is to recognize and encourage the remarkable employees you may already have in the ranks and purposely seek more of them the next time you have an open slot. As you’re mulling the possibilities, think about exceptional people you have worked with in the past, as well as how these same qualities appeared in excellent neighbors you’ve had the pleasure of knowing.

Watching each other’s back, working as a finely tuned team, promoting individual and group success — sounds like an exceptional place for remarkable neighbors, employees and even managers to live.

Mary Elston has spent more than 20 years in management in the transportation, consulting and technology industries. She is a member of the National Speakers Association and author of the book, “Master Your Middle Management Universe, How to Succeed with Moga Moga Management Using 3 Easy Steps.” Contact her at

This article originally appeared in the October 2012 issue.


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