Gini Dietrich

Good to Great: How You Can Become a Level 5 Employee

By: Gini Dietrich | November 8, 2010 | 

I first blogged about this for Becky Johns on her “Required Reading” from PRWeek blog. So if you read it over there, move along. There is nothing new to see. Unless you feel like visiting the comments, which are always interesting and don’t always have anything to do with the post. I can’t help it. My friends are crazy. So enjoy reading, join the conversation, or just hit “mark all as read.”

A few months ago, Courtney Dial riffed on a post I had written about my own growth as a business leader by writing “Level 5 Leaders Need Level 5 Employees.” She challenged readers to think about how you can become a level 5 employee, even if you’re not at the top of your game yet.  And so began a conversation between Becky Johns and me about what it takes to be a level 5 employee and how we interview for that kind of person.

We don’t interview people – we interview leaders. And leaders come at every level – not just at the top (and, sometimes, the people put in leadership positions aren’t leaders). Sure, every business needs followers, but we look for people who have leadership skills in various areas; areas that complement where we have weaknesses on the team. Because not everyone is a leader in everything.

Unfortunately, we can’t interview people in social situations to see whether or not they’re wallflowers or light up a room when they walk in. What we can do, though, is interview for skills and talent that exceed the 9 to 5 work day.

So, what do we look for?

We want to know:

  • If you push yourself to learn more.
  • If you do, how so.
  • What you read and what you subscribe to daily.
  • Which conferences you attend and what you’ve learned.
  • Examples of times you’ve been innovative and creative.
  • Examples of when your creative ideas have been squashed and how you’ve handled it.
  • Whether or not you are self-motivated, driven, and a self-starter (we’re not micromanagers).
  • Whether or not you “steal” your colleagues’ ideas as your own.
  • How you inspire the people above, at your level, and below you.
  • What you do very first thing when you go to a networking event.
  • Whether or not you’re involved in our industry organizations.
  • Examples of taking one for the team or sticking up for a colleague.
  • How you handle conflict.
  • Examples of when you’ve asked for additional responsibility.

This may seem like a crazy long list, but I can tell you what this kind of stuff tells us:

  1. If you read and subscribe to blog posts, articles, videos, and podcasts, we know you’re continually learning.
  2. If you attend conferences, networking events, and are involved in the industry organizations, we know you will always be asking for more responsibility.
  3. If you participate online through your own blog, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, iTunes, and/or LinkedIn, we know you aren’t a believer in the 9 to 5 day.
  4. If you can give examples of how you handle conflict and taking one for the team, we know what kind of communication skills you have.

Granted, Arment Dietrich is a digital marketing firm so we look for people who can already use web and mobile technologies. But every business looks for people who can add value, both financially and emotionally. And people who act like they own a piece of the company, have accountability, are exceptional team players, and never talk down to others are the ones all of us are excited to work with every day. You can’t always choose your co-workers, but you can choose the way you behave. Behave like a Level 5 employee.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

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Great post, Gini.

Many years ago, I was treated to a laundry list of questions during an interview. The questions ranged from, "What books have you read recently?" to "Are you a cat person or a dog person?" (no kidding)

I think I legitimately offended the interviewer when answering "What books have you read recently?" At the time, my first-born was 18 months old and I was working long hours and had a long commute. When I wasn't working, my family was my priority. I couldn't remember the last book I had read.

Purpose matters. People without purpose cannot lead, although purpose alone is not enough to succeed in business. Purpose plus goals is a formidable combination, and if the goals of that prospective employee align with the goals of the organization, both parties benefit.

As you illustrated in your post, your questions are aimed at discovering the candidate's purpose and goals to see if those are in alignment with yours. It's important for all interviewers to remember that the answers to the questions are a means to an end, not the end itself.


I really liked this post. It shows how social media and the internet have changed hiring practices; 5 years ago these questions wouldn't have been asked during a typical interview.

Leaders are rare and valuable. Working on your ability to spot them will prove to be incredibly important and give you a definite edge over the competition.


I feel pretty special you dropped this knowledge on my blog first :)

But really, this is phenomenal advice to any job seeker. Or really, anyone working at becoming a better employee, better mentor, better leader. The things you've highlighted that you look for when hiring are really qulities indicative of people that are going to be successful in business. These things are indicators of personal and professional growth.

I try to help/mentor college students with interview skills and packaging a resume to showcase what they've learned, how they've grown from their experiences and what they've contributed....rather than just what they've been assigned to work on. I've shared your advice with many of them. Thanks for being willing to share what's brewing inside that head of yours.

ginidietrich moderator

@beckyjohns You're right about it being any employee. I started asking, "Who is your favorite author" when I was a shiny new account executive and I'll never forget the man, who had 20 years of experience, who told me Steven King. I nearly died. I recommended we not hire him because of that. A communication professional whose favorite author is Steven King? How about, "Well, I really love Steven King for mindless stuff, but read The Pope to stretch my brain."

And good for you for mentoring college students! There isn't enough of that going around!

HowieG 1 Like

Last week I changed my resume completely. It has one line after my name, address and phone number. It says I Read

That was to fill your crazy friends point of reference =)

A wise person once told me observe people who are successful and mimic the things that make them successful. And to observe those who aren't and don't do the same things. And an Accounting Professor in college said in an interview to find out if Employees sit on the Asset or Cost sides of the balance sheet. And a Business Management Professor taught me the structures of Low Cost Providers and Value Addedd Providers. And a Finance professor taught me how to value all this properly so that when I interview I can prove at my previous employments I added a positive Net present Value and Internal Rates of Return.

And I can see why you are a successful, value added provider who places Employees on the Asset side of the balance sheet and seek Employees who will increase Value to your firm and I am sure be justly rewarded for doing so. Well done.

ginidietrich moderator

@HowieG OMG! I AM PEEING MY PANTS!!! LOL!!! Hang on...I have to read the rest of your comment. Man! That was funny!

Holy cow! I think you must have had the best education of any of us...either that or you really paid attention in class. This is a really great comment full of a TON of fabulous advice and insight. Thank you!

lesmckeown 2 Like

Great, great post, Gini - exceptionally well thought through way to apply 'Level 5' to employees as well as 'leaders'.

I particularly like that you don't fall into the trap of equating ambition with level 5 ability. A lot of founder/owners/C-level types make this mistake, and as a result either miss out on, or seriously undervalue true level 5 'artisans' - people who want to make a real difference by doing a spectacular job every day, and who have made a conscious decision that they don't want want to become managers.

Excellent stuff.

ginidietrich moderator 1 Like

@lesmckeown I almost wish I'd had the forethought, when I started my business, that I didn't want to manage people. I can communicate vision. I can lead. But I cannot manage...and I don't like it. Rather I'd like to empower my colleagues to enhance their own leadership skills and, sometimes, that means they're much better managers than I. Thanks for the feedback!


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Gini Dietrich, donhornsby and j.d. kimple, Kristen Daukas. Kristen Daukas said: RT @ginidietrich: Good to Great: How You Can Become a Level 5 Employee via @SpinSucks […]

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