What Should You Look for in the People You Hire?

Most leaders I’ve met want to build a high-performance organization. Instinctively, they know that this requires great people. But few of them have ever taken the time to define exactly what they are looking for when it comes to the ideal candidate.

A Super Hero Candidate - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/emyerson, Image #1785848

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/emyerson

Good leaders begin the recruiting process with a written job description. This generally includes the required educational experience and technical skills. But great leaders need to do more than this. They must take a step back and look at the baseline qualities of the candidate.

They should ask,

  • What kind of prospective employees are we trying to attract to our organization?
  • What kind of people will it take to get the results we want and others expect?
  • What kind of people do we want to surround ourselves with?
  • What kind of people will contribute to the culture we are trying to build?

“Warm bodies” are obviously not enough. “Better-than-average” won’t get you there either. Even “really good people” are insufficient. You need higher standards if you are going to achieve your mission.

As I have thought about this, I have reduced these high standards to a sort of formula: “H3S.”

I want to fill my company with people who are humble, honest, hungry, and smart. The “h” in the word “high” represents the first three attributes. The “s” in the word “standards” represents the last attribute. All are equally important, but let me expound on each of them separately.

For simplicity sake, I’m going to use the masculine pronoun below, but it should be understood that the ideal candidate may, of course, be either a man or a woman. Gender is irrelevant.


A humble person has a good sense of himself. He doesn’t think more highly of himself than he should (pride), nor lower of himself than he ought (poor self-esteem). He is sober-minded, having a realistic grip on his strengths and weaknesses.

He does not exhibit self-ambition. He might be ambitious for the cause, for the company, or for the team, but he is not ambitious for himself. He isn’t overly-concerned about his title, his status, or his position relative to others.

In conversation, he assumes the posture of a learner. He doesn’t pretend that he knows it all or even more than he does. It would certainly never cross his mind to assume that he is the “smartest person in the room.”

He respects other points of view and asks questions to make sure that he understands the other position before criticizing it. He makes other people feel smart and competent.

He is other-centered, no matter who the other person is. He acknowledges “the little people,” those that are easily overlooked by everyone else. He values them and treats them as peers.

Whenever I hire an executive, I always like to take him or her to dinner. I am always interested to see how he treats the hostess, the waiters, and even the busboys. Is he curt? Is he demanding or brusque? Does he treat them with dignity? Is he appreciative? Does he even notice them?

I am always leery of people who “suck-up” to people they want something from and disrespect everyone else. There’s no explaining it away. This is a character flaw. I don’t want someone like this working in my organization. I have no patience for it.

A humble person is open to correction and not defensive. He is quick to admit mistakes and apologize. He knows how to say, “I am sorry. What I did was wrong. Will you please forgive me?” Everyone makes mistakes. The truly humble know how to make it right. Usually, they have had plenty of practice.

He is conscious of the contributions others have made to his life, his projects, and his career. He is quick to give credit to them and express sincere gratitude. Conversely, when others compliment him, he offers a simple “thank you,” without making a big fuss about it.

Finally, he does not consider certain jobs “beneath him.” He sees what needs to be done, pitches in, and is just happy to be part of the team.


As Dr. Stephen R. Covey points out in The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People:

Honesty is telling the truth—in other words, conforming our words to reality. Integrity is conforming reality to our words—in other words, keeping promises and fulfilling expectations. This requires an integrated character, a oneness, primarily with self but also with life” (pp. 195–196).

When I use the term “honesty,” I am referring to both honesty and integrity.

At the most basic level, an honest person does not lie. He does not exaggerate or misrepresent the facts. “Spin control” is a foreign concept. So is bragging. If anything, he is given to understatement, especially about his own accomplishments.

He does not withhold negative information. He gives you “the good, the bad, and the ugly.” He has the courage to face reality head-on and make his words conform to it. He would never ask someone else to lie on his behalf or to cover for him.

He is also honest in giving others feedback. He is able to be direct without being hurtful. He doesn’t create unnecessary drama. He doesn’t say anything about those who are absent that he wouldn’t say if they were present.

Finally, an honest person keeps his commitments, even when it is difficult, expensive, or inconvenient. If he said he would do it, he does it. You can take it to the bank.

Early in my career, I was able to land the job as a marketing director at one of the larger publishing houses. The only problem was that I didn’t have any experience. None!

So, my new boss put me on a kind of “90-day probationary period.” He said, “Look, I think you will do fine, but let’s agree to a 90-day trial run. If everything goes as planned, I will give you a raise equal to 10% of your annual salary. If not, we’ll shake hands and part company as friends.” I enthusiastically agreed, rolled up my sleeves, and got to work.

Knowing that this was an enormous opportunity, I read everything I could on marketing. I worked hard. I got to the office early and left late. I was determined to prove to my boss that he had made the right decision.

At the end of the 90-day period, I was actually looking forward to my review. I knew I had exceeded his expectations. I was confident I would get the raise.

My boss called me into his office. After the usual pleasantries, he said, “Mike, you have done an outstanding job. You have exceeded my expectations in every way. I am very proud of you.”

“But I have one problem,” he continued. “Last week, our parent company instituted a salary and wage freeze. They have refused to consider any exceptions.”

My heart sank. Though I tried to appear professional, I’m sure that my disappointment was written all over my face.

Then he handed me an envelope and said the most amazing thing. “In that envelope is a check for the amount I promised you. It’s not from the company, but from me personally. I have discussed this with my wife, and we are both in agreement. You don’t have a choice about whether or not to accept it. So don’t even think about it. I made a commitment to you. You lived up to your end of the bargain—and then some—and I want to live up to mine.”

As a young businessman, that act made an enormous impression on me. Not only did it bond me to my boss—still one of my best friends—for life, it has provided concrete guidance in every tough decision I have ever made.


A hungry person is someone with an appetite. Metaphorically speaking, his last meal is already a fading memory. He wants to eat, and he wants to eat now. All he can think about is food!

In other words, he doesn’t dwell on his past accomplishments. He is never satisfied. He is always reaching for more—setting higher goals. He is driven to exceed whatever expectations have been imposed upon him. This is just a part of his make-up.

A hungry person is intellectually curious. He reads constantly—newspapers, magazines, and books. Lots of books. He loves learning new things and sharing what he is learning with others.

He doesn’t get stuck in ruts. He is open to new ideas and new ways of solving old problems. He is always looking for the best solution and embraces change if it will take him—or the company—to a new level.

He comes to meetings prepared, having completed his homework. In the meeting, he is an active listener, asking lots of questions and taking notes. After the meeting, he follows up. He completes his assignments on-time without someone having to prod him to do so. He is relentless when it comes to execution.

In short, a hungry person “plays full out,” holding nothing back. More than anything, he wants to win and is willing to pay the price to do so.


A smart person usually scores high on traditional IQ tests. But not always. You have to be careful. Some people are book-smart but street-stupid. I’d like to have both. But if forced to choose, I’ll take the street-smart candidate.

A smart person is a quick study. He can “connect the dots” without a lot of help. He has a natural ability to “think laterally,” that is, across disciplines. He can apply what he learns in one field or category to another.

He is comfortable using metaphors and analogies. He knows how to make complex subjects simple without confusing himself and everyone else in the process.

I was a philosophy major. Some of the books I had to read were really difficult. I remember reading, re-reading, and then re-re-reading some particularly tough passages. Then it dawned on me. If this guy is so smart, why can’t he explain this in a way that is easy to follow? Maybe this is a case of “the emperor has no clothes.”

In my experience, confusion sometimes masquerades as complexity. Listening to an explanation, you might be tempted to think that you’re just not smart enough to understand the issue. But in reality, the presenter doesn’t understand it well enough to make it simple. I want people working for me who are smart enough to work through the complexity in order to arrive at simple explanation.

A smart person also asks thoughtful questions. He sees connections between topics that others miss. He is aware of nuances. He has diverse interests, which come in handy when he is trying to understand new information.

He is also able to focus mentally, for long periods of time if necessary. He doesn’t give up quickly. He keeps pressing until he gets the insight or clarity he needs. He is a creative problem-solver.

Finally, smart people have cognitive intelligence. That’s most of what I have covered here. But that alone is not sufficient. In my opinion, a successful candidate also needs emotional, relational, and even spiritual intelligence to succeed.


It’s hard to find the buried treasure unless you have a map. It’s difficult to win a scavenger hunt unless you have a list. And, it’s impossible to hire the right people unless you know exactly what you are looking for.

In my company, I want to hire people who are H3S: humble, honest, hungry, and smart. If I can do that consistently, I will build a great and enduring organization.

By the way, I have also developed a list of 25 questions to ask candidates. These questions help you discern whether or not he or she is the ideal candidate.

Question: What are you looking for in the ideal candidate? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
Want to launch your own blog or upgrade to self-hosted WordPress? Watch my free, twenty-minute screencast. I show you exactly how to do it. You don’t need any technical knowledge. Click here to get started.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are snarky, offensive, or off-topic. If in doubt, read My Comments Policy.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=668327770 June JD Wilson

    Can we see a reverse process to see who should stay? ;-)(I’m serious.)

  • Anonymous

    Michael — Very incisive post. Excellent.

    In an earlier comment I mentioned I made a run at standup comedy. I was also a member of an improv troupe for 3 years, and that illuminated some aspects of the human character that have informed my work life. From my improv background, here are (additional) characteristics worth seeking:

    • FUN — Light-hearted, funny, able to put things in perspective. Great improv people can take the darkest situation and find some way to ‘laugh it off.’

    • QUICK STUDY (ABLE TO ‘READ THE ROOM’) — Very important. Improv people live and die with their ability to ‘read the room’ — get an intuitive understanding of the audience, and how to make them laugh. This is a GREAT quality to have when presenting to clients. Does this client want exuberance, or quiet competence? Where is the power in the room, and how can that person be targeted without causing the others to feel slighted?

    • COOPERATIVE — The first lesson of improv is that you MUST say “yes” to whatever is said on stage. No arguing! Go with it! Improv folks “get off it” quickly and move on. This has really helped me in my own career. My boss loves the fact that — no matter how much time and effort I put into an idea or a proposal — if the client says no, I give it up and move on to the next thing.

    NOTE — These qualities complement “humble, smart, hungry and honest.”

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Love it. Very interesting parallel.

  • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

    Do I get points off humility if I say, “You want to take me to lunch!”

  • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

    From the start, since I’m not working within a business context, I thought in terms of ideal reader versus ideal hire. I know, as an author, I’ve heard about the need to describe your ideal reader. John Locke did the best job of describing this in his book about his ebook success. You’ve done an excellent job of describing the people I’d love to work with, whether as publishers, worshipers, or good friends.

    Your story about your boss went straight into the Evernote file. Excellent!

  • http://About.me/marcmillan Marc Millan

    Incredible post, i love how you broke each quality down. This works for me, I believe it’s a bit more relevant to what I’ve been used to from Bill Hybels the 3C’s.

    • http://brandonweldy.wordpress.com Brandon Weldy

      What are Bill Hybels 3Cs?

      • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

        Character, competency, chemistry.

  • Yvonne Seballo

    This article was very interesting to read. I shall apply the knowledge to myself. Thank You!

  • http://struggletovictory.wordpress.com Kari Scare

    Because I work alone and from home, hiring people is not something I do. However, I have several people in my life who do have to hire and manage people, and I will share this post with them. You have said so well not only what to look for when hiring people, but also what expect from current employees. I think managers would do well in talking to their current employees about these traits and using them in training. For me, I want to have these qualities simply as part of my character because I feel they are so important. Great post!

    • http://brandonweldy.wordpress.com Brandon Weldy

      I am also in no position to be hiring, but I have enjoyed looking at this list to see areas that I can improve!

  • http://www.CrazyAboutChurch.com Charles Specht

    A good list, indeed.

  • http://twitter.com/wonderwomanimno Wonder Woman I’m Not

    Along these lines I also look for the candidate with “a fire in their belly”.  The burning desire to do what’s best for the company, even when it’s uncomfortable.  The desire to do a good job and look for ways to leave their position better than when they found it. 

    We’re having a terrible time right now filling a couple of open positions in my department.  The hiring manager is getting so down about it he’s ready to “settle” for a candidate but I won’t let him.  I told him that settling now will only bring you heartbreak in the future.     

    Excellent post, I can only add that holding out for the perfect person can be difficult but will benefit you in the long wrong.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Brownlee/1659996906 David Brownlee

    Hello Michael,

    I very much enjoy reading and learning from your blogs. Awesome material! One slight sticky point with this. The blog starts out “Most managers…” How about rephrasing this to “Most leaders…”

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Great suggestion. Done!

  • http://twitter.com/DrJackKing Jack King

    Michael, this post struck me as hypocritical and power-full (not a good thing).  For example, great leaders would never refer to people who work with them as ‘employees.’  Moreover, greatness is derived through serving, not leading.  Additionally, anyone who looks at those who work with them as something ‘less’ than them (leader versus employee) is nothing more than a manager, and a poor one at that.  Finally, it’s child’s play for a ‘leader’ to surround themselves with ‘good’ people; such a ‘leader’ is 100% focused on achieving their own dream (many call it their ‘vision’) and, as such, lacks the moral courage to face an uncertain world as a leader who willingly lifts others within reach of dreams of their own.  It seems to me the only thing one need to look for in those who want to work with them is love.  Find that and you’ve found the right person.  Of course, you won’t find it unless they first find it in you.   Putting the organization, even if it is great and enduring, ahead of the people does not strike me as an act of love. ~Jack

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Interesting. What kind of work do you do, Jack? I would be interested to understand your experience.

  • http://golfwisdomlife.com Larry Galley

    Hi Michael, this blog has immediate significance to our household.  We have a young man who can benefit from, and take confidence in, the reality that getting a start on a career is every bit as much about H3S as it is about grades or the particular school he went to.  I particularly appreciated your comments about “street smarts”, a commodity I feel often gets left in the dust.  Candidly, by way of example, if I were looking for someone to help me navigate the bayou swamps of Louisiana I’d be much more inclined to select a good o’ boy from the area over a fresh trained Harvard Lawyer. I’d much prefer to catch lunch than be lunch.

    Thanks again,

    Larry Galley

  • http://KatieAx.blogspot.com Katie Axelson

    As someone who is job-searching, thank you for showing the world from the other side of the desk. It helped me see what I do well and where I need to improve.


  • http://twitter.com/peteccsb Peter Guirguis

    This is a great article Mike!  I’m about to hire an employee myself and I’m going to be re-reading this article before I conduct the interview. Do you have any suggestions on interview questions to ask to find out if people meet the H3S standard?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      In fact, I do. Stay tuned for my post tomorrow, and I will give you 25!

  • http://www.itsworthnoting.com Levi Smith

    Humility is a big one for us too. It makes everything else so much easier.

  • http://www.flavors.me/jasmine84 Jennifer Rowsell

    How come your candidate is always a he?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Perhaps you missed the paragraph in the intro that said this: “For simplicity sake, I’m going to use the masculine pronoun below, but it should be understood that the ideal candidate may, of course, be either a man or a woman. Gender is irrelevant.” Thanks.

      • http://www.flavors.me/jasmine84 Jennifer Rowsell

        Yep, missed that. That’s what happens when you scan Google Reader super quickly. My apologies. :)

    • http://www.johngallagherblog.com John Gallagher

      Jennifer,  Mike addressed that before he went into the H3S when he states: “For simplicity sake, I’m going to use the masculine pronoun below, but it should be understood that the ideal candidate may, of course, be either a man or a woman. Gender is irrelevant”

  • Karen

    you have one of most consistently excellent blogs and I look forward to reading it

    today was no exception with one big exception….it isn’t enough to say gender is irrelevant and take the masculine as a reference for leaders as a short cut…found it difficult to read such great information and experience it with one “her” and at least 94 male references…yes, it is awkward to alternate male and female, but it works and sends an important message


  • http://www.johngallagherblog.com John Gallagher

    Mike,  This is one of the longer posts I have read of yours and every word is needed!  These 4 criteria are great.  I would try to add “Attitude”, but it looks as though that could be covered in Hungry.  These are so important AND so difficult to identify in the interview process.  Another reason to promote from within.

  • http://twitter.com/robynbcollins robyn blaikiecollins

    I like to hire people that i would want to have lunch people. I like to work with people that i like. 
    (the perfomance is implied)

  • Quills1

    I would like to find a company were everyone is hired with and demonstrates the 3Hs   rather than the current  3P1 x3
    Which stands for :  having to juggle 3 positions rolled into 1 under 3 managers  to save the company the expense of honestly hiring enough staff.  Where  very” hungry” workers then demonstrate the ” every man for themselves trait” and  bullying of the meek and humble is rife and where  “Smart” is keeping a low profile in the mail room not in the boardroom.

    So where are the workplaces full of  happy golden labradors then, seen any lately?  

  • http://RichardBurkey.wordpress.com Richard Burkey

    I look for the 5 C’s (most of these I got from Bill Hybels): Chemistry, Character, Competence, Christ, Commitment. 

  • http://tonychung.ca tonychung

    Michael: As I read this post, I found myself resisting the response of the rich young ruler within me. He kept trying to get out, yelling, “I do that! I do that…!” Then I realized that the only reason I tracked with you is because several of my pastors up in the great wet north shared the same principles. Why, this message is tried and true, practical, and applicable in every situation–it’s downright biblical!

    Thanks again for your consistency and straight shooting. The leadership world is a better place because of you!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Tony. I appreciate that.

  • Pingback: 25 Interview Questions for the Ideal Candidate | Michael Hyatt

  • http://www.realchaseadams.com/about-the-real-chase-adams/ Chase Adams

    I agree Chris. I started reading this and immediately thought: This is a great list for the new hire/leader in general to implement in life!

    Michael, I’ve often had trouble putting into perspective what humility really looks like, it was a huge take away for me to see that it’s okay to be confident in your ability (with a sharp eye on feigning cockiness). 

  • Mona Mikhail

    I am an HR manager in a  small christian school and your article was forwarded to me by the Headmaster.
    I thank you so much for this eye opening simple article and appreciate your insight. The big question for me is: how to gauge that in a resume+interview process? I know reading through the resume’s lines and being a good observer / asking the right questions in the interview helps a lot, but it is still a challenge.

  • http://uma-maheswaran.blogspot.com/ Uma Maheswaran S

    I look primarily for integrity,  right attitude, average Intelligence Quotient & Emotional Quotient, excution skills among the new recruits.

  • http://www.meeklabs.com meeklabs

    Humble and Smart have a hard time going together.  Even better is Humble + Smart + Experienced.  Especially in the Tech industry.  If you can find them, hire immediately!

  • Pingback: The Challenge & Resistance of Raising Up Leaders « A Sista's Journey

  • http://www.SevenPillarsOfSuccess.Net Louise Thaxton

    What a great model for that “ideal” hire!   I like the way you define “smart” also – and looking for someone with emotional, relational and spirtual intelligence is something I think is extremely important. 

  • Tricia Dempsey

    Loved your blog and am curious – do you have a behavioral interview guide for these characteristics you would be willing to share?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I don’t. Sorry.

  • Teddy Ray

    This was a very helpful article. It was so on target that I began searching for anything you had written on performance evaluations. Alas, I can’t find anything. Have you written about how to conduct a performance evaluation? If not, would you consider it?

  • http://twitter.com/stephsday stephsday

    I’m particularly glad that you included humility in your list of ideal qualities. Your definition was among the best I have read. 

  • Pingback: The Saturday Summary – 12/3/2011 — The Crossing of Marketing and IT

  • Pingback: Switching Roles | Coffee Shop Communication

  • Pingback: What Should You Look for in the People You Hire? | TagReel

  • http://profinitydevelopment.com Dr Hosley

    I appreciate your perspective on and have referred back to it several times over the past few days.  I work in developing people and helping companies get the most out of their investment in people. 

    A common question I encounter is how do I not only find people with the H3S qualities but are also a great fit for the position?  I have started using and advocating a technology called the Core Values Index that seems to be emerging as one of the best assessment tools on the market for matching the nature of an individual with the requirements of the job.  For those of you looking for a tool I suggest you check it out. 

    What is your take on assessments for hiring?

  • http://specializingintheimpossible.wordpress.com/ Laura Johnson

    I love your list.  I don’t have the final say on hiring at our company, and our hiring pool is small enough my boss isn’t picky. 
    BUT this list definitely inspires me to be a better employee and person!

  • Pingback: What Should You Look for in the People You Hire For Your Business? | Bizcus

  • Judy Dobles

    When hiring an experienced person, I look for people who have accomplished things in complex organizations.  That tells me two things: [1]  they know how to work with people across multiple functions and [2] they have a basis towards action.  There are a lot of smart people who cannot turn ideas into action.

  • http://www.loripotter.com/ Lori Potter

    Thank you so much for this list!  As someone searching for a new job, this information really helps me gather my thoughts and prepare more effectively for future interviews.  Much appreciated!

  • Pingback: What “They” Look For In People “They” Hire | Job Coach HQ

  • http://www.MissionMusings.ca Michelle Porter

    My top three hiring traits are:
    1. Attitude
    2. Loyalty
    3. Teachability

    I have often thought about this subject, so wrote a more detailed response on my blog: 


  • Steve Choi

    3 C’s

    Great post Michael

  • Peter Reoebert

    Are there any online “tests” for prospective employees to take, to determine if they are right for the position and have the qualities that you are looking for, I am aware of Strengthfinder and DISC, any others?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Almost all the test are online if you search. I also like Myers-Briggs. There are numerous, online versions, many of them free.

  • TheIntersexion

    This is a great post. As I read I realized that I have these qualities, with some space to grow no doubt. However, given the reality that these qualities are not things that can easily be shown in ones resume, I wonder if you have any suggestions for how one can show/display these three qualities in the initial submission of cover letters/resumes. It seems that an employer would not be able to make these determinations about a candidate unless there is an interview. How do candidates with limited experience who yet have these foundational character qualities get a foot in the door of organizations?

  • http://christopherbattles.net/ Christopher Battles

    Thank you.
    You implemented the smart part by being able to easily summarize this and also really expand upon each point.

    K, bye

  • Pingback: What Should You Look for in the People You Hire? «

  • Pingback: Not Just Experience: Look for Enthusiasm for a Successful New Hire | Intuitive Strategy

  • rama d

    Love it! It was a great read. Interviews come and go, but
    it’s landing the job that matters at the end of the day. I’m currently looking
    for a job and I came across a site that asked some leaders about what they
    consider when hiring. It gave me great insight on how managers think. Here’s
    the link to the article: http://blog.bayt.com/2013/09/do-you-have-what-it-takes-14-leaders-tell-us-what-they-look-for-in-a-new-hire/.
    Happy reading! :)

  • Henry Huang

    Very insightful – what about how to become and grow in these characteristics as a candidate? I’m fairly new to the workforce (didn’t work through college) and I’d love to be able to grow in these ways even in the job that I’m at now.