Gini Dietrich

Qualities of a Prospective Employee

By: Gini Dietrich | May 12, 2015 | 

Prospective EmployeeBy Gini Dietrich

When I taught Kelli Matthews’s strategic social media class last week, she presented a list of questions that the students asked me.

There were more than 100 questions and, like any content marketer looking for new ideas, I asked her for a copy of the questions.

I was scrolling through them this morning to see if inspiration would strike and found a question that Sophie Lair asked a couple of different ways. Then I found some of her peers asked similar questions.

She asked:

When interviewing/hiring, what qualities do you look for in prospective employees?

Because we are soon upon graduation, I thought it was a good topic to focus on today, but it isn’t focused on just graduating seniors. This is what we do and look for in any prospective employee.

Qualities of a Prospective Employee

We actually spend less time on your expertise and more time on whether you’d be a culture fit.

That means everything from how well you juggle multiple projects at once, how quickly you can work without many errors, what your passion is for ongoing learning, and how curious you are.

We also spend a lot of time on ethics asking questions such as, “If you were asked by one of our clients to create fake reviews online, what would you do?” because, as I say pretty consistently, “We can’t have a blog called ‘Spin Sucks‘ and have unethical people working here.”

Yes, we want to know you have the raw talent (if you’re graduating) or have experience doing the work, but culture fit is a much bigger concern for us.

There are lots and lots and LOTS of talented people who have opted out of our culture. As one person told me, “You and your team seem to replicate your time. I can’t do that.”

(I think that was her nice way of saying our 24/7, robotic culture isn’t a good fit for her and I totally respect that.)

So, from a qualities perspective, it’s way more important a prospective employee fit our culture than have so many years of media relations experience combined with writing an award-winning blog and have 20,000 fans and followers on the social networks.

We’ll look at that stuff and we’ll interview against case studies and experience, but we also know passion for the industry goes much further. The expertise can be crafted.

Interview Process

We have a pretty robust interview process that we’ve implemented just this year, both to save time on both sides and to hire as slowly as we can (we try to follow the “hire slowly, fire fast” mantra).

To that end, this is our process:

  • You interview first with Laura Petrolino, our director of operations. This is a quick interview (only 15-20 minutes) and it’s a gut check. It’s to make sure there aren’t any red flags and that the understanding on our side is the same as that of the prospective employee.
  • Then the real interviews begin. We create a team of people you will interview with, at varying levels inside our organization. Sometimes that two people and other times it’s four or five. Those interviews are all done via video Skype (virtual company, FTW!) and can last anywhere from 30-45 minutes.
  • That team of people meets with Laura and provides a list of pros and cons. If everyone agrees the person should move forward, there is a test.
  • The prospective employee is asked to block off three hours for our writing test, which is sectioned into three, one-hour blocks. The test is customized to the job you are interviewing for and includes things such as writing, editing, review of current strategy, response to case studies, and more. This is where we want to see how well you work under pressure, whether you can accomplish many things in a short amount of time, and where your strengths and weaknesses lie. This also tells us if you can make ethical decisions when under a really short deadline.
  • If you pass all of that, you then interview with me. If you’re just graduating, that interview is done via Skype. If you’re interviewing for a senior-level position, I fly you to Chicago to meet with me in person. For the most part, many of our team don’t meet one another face-to-face but once a year (though I can think of a couple of situations where some never met in person, which is kind of crazy to consider).

One question that kept coming up last week was timing so I want to reiterate this: If this process takes a really long time (as in, months and not weeks), it’s not a function of the prospective employee.

For instance, I know there are three candidates my team is ready for me to interview, but because of my May travel schedule, it’s impossible for me to get to them until June.

So they’ll wait most of the month before I’m ready to talk to them. That’s all on me, not them.

We have lost a couple of really talented people because of our interview process, but it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make to find people who will stay for the duration.

The last thing we want is for someone to figure out 90 days or a year in that the culture isn’t right for them and vice versa.

A Few Other Things

There are a few other things we take into account when interviewing a prospective employee.

  • Did you do your homework? Do you know who our clients are and what we do for them? If you don’t ask us questions about the work we’re doing, we’re going to assume no, you don’t know those things.
  • Do you read Spin Sucks and comment on or share the content? We know who you are, if you do, and you’re always going to have a leg up on your competition because of that.
  • Have you read Marketing in the Round and Spin Sucks? Neither are required reading, but I’d consider it a negative mark if you can’t at least talk to what’s in the two books during your interview.
  • Do you read fiction? This is a big one for me. I want to know that you are well-read and that you read a variety of things. This is the only way you can become a better writing. If you don’t read (lots of people say they don’t have time), you’re not getting a job here.
  • Can you list the five blogs you read every day, without having to think about it (a la Sarah Palin and Katie Couric)? We want to know you’re staying current on industry trends, too.
  • Do you ask questions? You are interviewing us as much as we are interviewing you. If you don’t ask questions—even if you’ve asked the same questions in other rounds of interviews here—I’m going to assume you don’t really want to work with us.

Of course, a lot of it is subjective. There are lots of things that go into interviewing a prospective employee.

So now I leave it to you to answer Sophie’s question, “When interviewing/hiring, what qualities do you look for in prospective employees?”

image credit: iPlace Connect

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. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • Drive, that´s the first thing I look in a future employee. Then I want to find out what motivates them, what “moves” them and how they solved a difficult situation in a previous job or while in school.
    In my experience, no matter how good an employee is, as in experience, background, if he/she doesn´t have the drive to help take your company to the next level, then he/she is not a good fit.
    It still surprise me that some of the prospects don´t have questions to ask me about the company, culture, business, nor do they do their homework. Of course, not all of them, but I am surprise that in this century it still happen.

  • Love your transparency as usual Gini. Great points to consider for both the potential employer and employee. The right fit both ways is so important.

  • jenzings

    And here I thought that the most important thing is the font used in the resume (this was an article that hit big around two weeks ago, and the shallowness of it about made me weep).

    This is an excellent list. When I was in the position of interviewing prospective employees, I always asked what the most recent book they’d read was, as I’m a BIG believer that strong readers make strong writers. It was a little depressing to hear some of the responses (“oh, I don’t read much, no time” was sadly common). 

    I think your focus on culture is critical. I also really sort of love the time replication comment–that’s a very insightful way to put it!

  • decillis

    I remember this one time I interviewed for a position and one of the questions the guy asked me was what sports I played during high school. I was almost 10 years out from high school with a double degree and some major work history. Plus I lived in the music department in high school. We parted that day knowing we would never see each other again.

  • whitney_fay

    I feel like fiction books always get pushed to the side and so many people don’t consider them important if you aren’t writing fiction specifically. I think reading anything (fiction, biographies, whatever) is vital to any writer. How are you ever going to improve if you don’t get a glimpse of how others do it, whether it be better, worse or the same?

  • whitney_fay I knew someone who always asked prospects about the last fiction book they read, and if they answered, “I don’t read,” they were out! Once they get over that hurdle, just hearing their analysis of a book reveals a lot.

  • jenzings

    whitney_fay Gini’s focus on fiction makes perfect sense, and should be more widely adopted. Much of communication is storytelling, whether it’s a client’s story or conveying complex issues in understandable ways. Reading fiction has also been proven to make an individual more empathetic, another key skill in PR.

  • LSSocialEngage Really? I can’t get through it! I keep going back to it, but I’ve gone back and forth at least four times now. It’s unlike me to do that, but I just can’t get through it. I’ll give it another shot. After I finish Nightingale.

  • So you don’t ask, “What’s your biggest weakness?” I actually got asked that in an interview years ago and was so dumbfounded that people still ask that question I completely blew it. My biggest weakness is I’m TOO COMMITTED TO MY JOB! I CARE TOO MUCH! I WORK TOO HARD!

  • whitney_fay

    RobBiesenbach I absolutely hate when people say they don’t read! I agree with the person you know; they would be out for me as well.

  • whitney_fay

    jenzingsI have always found that avid readers are able to connect with their audiences more because they’re able to turn something mundane into an interesting story.

  • whitney_fay Even worse when they say, “I don’t read fiction.” Oh, so there’s no value in Shakespeare? Hemingway? Austen?
    I usually learn more from fiction than I do from any self-help “13 steps to an amazing life” type book.

  • I read All the Light and was surprised that I did not love it (based on how much others loved it).

  • whitney_fay

    RobBiesenbach And not to mention that there’s something to say about being able to lose yourself in an entirely made up world. That in itself can be therapeutic!

  • whitney_fay RobBiesenbach Amen to that! I always lose myself in the books I read and come back fresh and with new ideas.

  • RobBiesenbach Ha! I’ve always thought about those questions the same way you do. I can DEFINITELY make a weakness a strength.

  • whitney_fay Exactly!

  • Corina Manea whitney_fay RobBiesenbach I once had someone tell me they read People and US Weekly. Um, not exactly what I had in mind.

  • decillis Wow. I know team sports goes a long way for collaboration and teamwork, but you can do that through other activities. What a bummer!

  • jenzings I literally laughed out loud at the font size comment. Ha! And I am totally with you…”I don’t have time to read” signals, “You won’t be a good fit here” to me.

  • biggreenpen That makes me feel better!

  • Corina Manea It surprises me, too! And it happens more often than not. I’m sorry, but if you haven’t taken the time to figure out questions to ask me, you’re not going to be a good fit here.

  • ginidietrich whitney_fay RobBiesenbach Yeah, really inspiring!!!

  • whitney_fay

    Corina Manea ginidietrich whitney_fay RobBiesenbach But the Us Weekly crossword puzzle… I mean, that’s worth something, right?

  • whitney_fay

    ginidietrich Says the girl who writes about doors and locks every day! 😉

  • For us, cultural fit is much higher on the priority list than experience, too. The experience shown on the resume might get their foot in the door, but if they don’t fit culturally, they’re out. (We’ve learned this the hard way.) And sometimes that easier said than done. Even if we think someone may add something to our team which might be lacking and we get excited, it’s important to step back and think about the fit. This happened within the last year when it came down to two candidates. When we reminded ourselves it’s culture over skill, we ended up with the best person for the position. 

    All the questions we ask are behavioral – walk us through a project, overcoming challenges, how they work with others, etc. Listening to what people have to say about past coworkers and bosses is often eyeopening. 

    Asking us questions is a big deal for me as well. When someone says they don’t have any or only asks about the benefits, a big red flag goes up.

  • ginidietrich How about The Enquirer while in the checkout aisle?

  • whitney_fay ginidietrich ….all the more important to craft a compelling story! 😉

  • Use the GOOGLE! Anyone who hasn’t researched things is unprepared. In my interview with the City I had done a ton of research. When they said ‘Your proposal is not what we are looking for’…and I said…’Yes it is based on your RFP’. Which it was. But once I knew what they were looking for I was fully prepared (even if caught off guard) to answer all their questions competently.

    I suggest to any future applicants they find and read this post. Where I moonlight the unisex bathroom door handle broke. It was horrible for a time. We had a chain latch people wouldn’t use then we would walk in on people with their pants down. It now has one of those twist latches that says ‘Open’ green or ‘In use’ Red. The handle doesn’t turn it says PULL. My joke with everyone is it is an IQ test. Some people sit waiting and waiting and waiting not knowing the bathroom is empty. It is a minority but telling. And now you have a big one just like that!.

  • KateNolan

    ginidietrich You can hire me and I will do all the reading. Wait… there’s work, too? I knew there was a catch…

    That final point about asking questions? Yeah, if you can’t “show your work” a la Austin Kleon in how you got to the point of wanting to interview with a company, you’re better off moving on. Though I know some companies seem to prefer you don’t ask questions, because, you know, you are just a minion.

    P.S. Hi, Crazies!

  • KateNolan ginidietrich interesting point Kate. So many businesses want minions …obeyers who are doers as told to without question.. not thinkers. And that sadly is half the jobs out there. One reason I think the GOP has eagerly dismantled our education system. If we were all thinkers I think our businesses would be so much stronger. Improvements in processes and eureka moments come from always questioning vs shutting up and keeping that head down.

    I feel that way today with many ‘thought leaders’ who blog because when I question their thoughts or call out things that are wrong they get very upset. ‘Shut up say great post or we will block you’. Thus  I am proudly banned from commenting at Mashable..still! 5 years strong. 

    In fact if I was Gini I would say ‘What was the last 3 articles you read on Mashable’. If they don’t respond ‘I don’t read Mashable’…..NEXT thank you for the interview. I actually unfollow people who link their articles because that says ‘Not worthy of my follow’

  • kmatthews

    You forgot to mention “has a degree from the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication.” Oversight, I’m sure… 😉

  • ginidietrich RobBiesenbach I was asked that the other day but I didn’t answer with a quality about me…and responded with the areas of expertise needed that I had to learn on the job. It is a bad question. Careful btw I know businesses that will not hire anyone who works non-stop. When I was graduating I read a great Business Week article. It said many companies will not hire entry level sales reps with 4.0 GPAs because that means they had no social life and spent college studying and chances of them being good as sales people (vs Engineer or stock analyst or Doctor) is lower than someone with a 3.0.

  • Corina Manea ginidietrich whitney_fay RobBiesenbach Lord of the Rings. Hired. SciFi Foundation or Dune. Hired. Harry Potter or Twilight I might take a pass. If they can prove the read War and Peace cover to cover I might have to hire them as my boss.

  • Kara ginidietrich famous fantasy publications? Enquirer for sure. Mashable. Forbes. Washington Times.

  • whitney_fay jenzings yes because when you miss a deadline you get a free pass is you have a great story. Dog ate my IPad doesn’t work at this level. But a 500 word essay on how you ran to save a baby in a burning building then found a cat on the next floor needing saving which led to a quick flight to a crisis area to deliver water and food….

  • ginidietrich Corina Manea what moves me?
    And yes THAT IS ME at 1:20 with the red fedora!

  • kmatthews I will not tease you since to be honest I was pulling for the Ducks to win it all after ASU fell flat and being a Pac 12er we have to stick together.

  • kmatthews You won’t put in writing that I am the favorite EIR. It was not an oversight!

  • Howie Goldfarb Leave kmatthews alone!

  • KateNolan We miss you!

  • whitney_fay The crossword puzzle is DEFINITELY worth something.

  • Kara Hmmmm…I guess it depends on what else you’ve read.

  • Kara I also try to get people in social situations. How they treat waitstaff or the bus drivers tells me a TON!

  • Howie Goldfarb It’s like that cartoon where the sign says, “School for the Gifted” and the door says “pull,” but the kid is pushing.

  • KateNolan

    Howie Goldfarb ginidietrich “Sit down. Shut up. Move the widget.” is what they learn now, right?

    And, what’s Mashable?

  • KateNolan

    ginidietrich And I miss the Crazies and the A/D team! I took a break from the web for a couple weeks to clear some of the noise. I’m now strategically adding some back in. So, hi! 🙂
    Also, I’m returning “A Little Life” by Hanya Yanagihara to the library today. I’m only a third of the way through. It’s like watching a horror movie and knowing something is coming, but not knowing when. I’m not up to that at the moment! (Though it has beautiful prose. If I could separate that from the plot, I might be able to make it through.)

  • danielschiller

    “Do you read fiction?” – and what are you reading?!

    If you really want to learn what motivates people, reading fiction is essential. When those slippery unethical requests arise, you’ll see what’s behind them. Macbeth much?

  • Howie Goldfarb kmatthews A Pac12’r?  I knew there was some reason I was fond of you (besides being really, really funny). Who’s your team?  *cough* Fight On *cough*

  • ginidietrich biggreenpen wow really eh! Maybe I am the exception but  I read recently that it did win the Pulitzer for fiction this year. How is Nightingale?

  • KateNolan I should check that out! I just finished The Nightingale on the plane. And had to stop myself from breaking down and crying.

  • danielschiller Remember when Katie Couric asked Sarah Palin which newspapers she read and she said, “All of them”? That says A LOT, too.

  • LSSocialEngage It did, indeed! EVERYONE I’ve talked to has loved it. Maybe I just need to keep with it. 

    I didn’t love The Nightingale until about halfway through. Then I had to stop reading on the plane because it was going to make me sob. It was really compelling and interesting look at women in Nazi-run France.

  • danielschiller

    ginidietrich danielschiller – Ha, ha! Well, there’s that too. Sometimes you can judge the merits of a concept by where it isn’t. One thing that might be interesting for an interview process — and let me say I find most silly— is the ability to argue both sides of an issue? That implies stronger advocacy for your chosen cause.

  • Howie Goldfarb What´s GOOGLE????

  • KateNolan ginidietrich Hi Kate! Welcome back!

  • Good idea to stop reading it at that point. I’ll check it out. Thanks.

  • SFerika

    ginidietrich I always ask where they go/what they read for profdev to keep current.

  • danielschiller ginidietrich I always ask this question, and the more general “what are you reading?” It’s very telling on multiple levels

  • The research and the questions are two big ones for me. 

    I’m also impressed when people improve with each interview. I give certain “hints” in early interviews about what’s important and where they might want to read to brush up on their knowledge base in certain areas. Those are my cues to try to support candidates in learning how we do things as they go along, and what we value. When they take those cues, do their research, and come back the next interview clearly having studied up it tells me they are the type of employee we want. Nobody knows everything, and we approach PR/Communications in a very different way– but being able to take feedback and learn is key!

  • ginidietrich

    SFerika And are you amazed at the “nowhere” answers?

  • SFerika

    ginidietrich It makes me sad! If you aren’t curious and interested in improving your skills, are you in the right career field???