Of the 3 Traits to Look for in Every Hire, This One is Forgotten Most

July 5, 2016

No matter what your hiring philosophy is, no matter what role you are hiring for, there are three traits you need to look for.

The first is integrity, for obvious reasons. The second is passion, aka an excitement to do the job. And the third, which is often neglected, is just as critical – curiosity.

Why curiosity?

Because there’s ample evidence jobs today are increasingly fluid, thanks to the advent of technology. Just take marketing for example – a few years ago, the position of social media marketer didn’t even exist.

Now, social media is a key part of any marketer’s job.

In a practical sense, that means for virtually any job, a person is going to have to be able to consistently learn new skills to do them well. However, if a person exhibits little curiosity, and therefore little willingness to learn those new skills, they are going to fall behind, fast.

This isn’t just a theory – here’s the evidence to back it up.

Korn Ferry is one of the most prestigious executive recruiting firms in the world. To ensure success for their customers, they studied what skill correlated highest to success in an executive role.

Their findings were interesting – that skill was “learning agility”. And what exactly does that mean?

“It comes down to people’s willingness to grow, to learn, to have insatiable curiosity,” Korn Ferry CEO Gary Burnison told The Wall Street Journal, when asked to describe the term. “Think about the levers of growth that a CEO has. You can consolidate, or tap [new markets], or innovate. When it comes down to the last two, particularly innovation, you want a workforce that is incredibly curious.”

Here’s something worth mentioning – some people would argue that intelligence is more important to learning a new skill than curiosity. That’s not necessarily true.

A study published in the journal Neuron found that our brain’s chemistry changes when we are curious, which allows it to learn new information, faster. The study went on to find that people who are inherently more curious learn faster and faster.

In other words, a curious mind is the equivalent of an active body. The more curious the mind is, much like the more active a body is, the stronger it’ll become over time.

Therefore, if you hire curious people, you are hiring people with “in-shape” minds that are groomed to learn new information. Conversely, regardless how intelligent a person is, if they are never curious, there mind will be more out-of-shape and therefore less able to learn new information.

Okay, so how do you screen for curiosity?

Andrew Felev, the CEO of Wrike, is a big believer in screening for curiosity when hiring. Hence, he always asks candidates this one question – “What is the last thing you’ve learned on the job?”.

And what does he look for in an answer?

“I would listen for whether it was two years ago or yesterday, and I would listen for how challenging it was,” Felev told the New York Times. “And was it a requirement of the job, so that everybody else in their position had to learn it, or do they go beyond what was required?”

Straightforward, yet effective.

Kristen Hamilton, the CEO of Koru, is a big believer in hiring for curiosity as well. To screen for it, she asks the candidate to describe “the last thing they’ve really geeked out on.”

“I interviewed someone the other day who told me he was his friends' go-to when they bought anything,” Hamilton told First Round Review. “He was famous for researching guitars down to the type of wood they were made of, for example, and he knew every part in a ’67 Mustang. If someone doesn’t have that quality — if they don’t need to learn every single detail of the topic in front of them — they’re probably not going to reflect that level of engagement in their work, either.”

Hamilton is also interested in hearing the questions the candidate has for her at the end of each interview. If there are none, or if the questions feel as if they are asked out of obligation, it’s a clear indication the candidate lacks curiosity.

Tying it all together

You absolutely, positively wouldn’t want to hire someone without integrity. You wouldn’t want to hire someone who isn't going to love the job they are being hired into.

And, you also should never hire someone who isn’t curious. After all, your organization has to constantly adopt to thrive, and you need someone willing to adopt with it.

*Image by Snowmanradio

Hiring curious people isn’t enough. To keep your workforce curious and their minds active, it’s critical to create a culture of learning at your organization. Click here to download our free ebook today on how to do exactly that.