Each situation is different, but there are certain broad qualities that the best employees tend to exhibit. It is important to ask in your interview and in your first few days what that firm values. Let your boss describe his or her ideal employee and ask for specific situational examples from which you can learn. From my perspective as a manager, these are some of the most important:
1. Attitude – the best employees have a positive attitude about their work that radiates to others. They enjoy their work and maintain a good attitude even in the most difficult times when they’re not enjoying it. They look to serve their employer instead of acting like their employer needs to serve them.
2. Sense of Urgency – the best employees are always improving themselves and looking to learn. They never feel like they are doing well enough, and adjust goals and expectations upward when they are met too easily. They seek out ways to help other people and ask for new work if their current portfolio becomes less of a challenge. They meet deadlines or notify the boss with a specific reason if they can’t meet the deadline.
3. Open Mind – the best employees are humble and acknowledge that they don’t always have the right answer. They attend seminars, read the latest literature, and try new things that help them become an expert in their field. They keep an open dialogue with their colleagues and boss about how to improve. They accept feedback gracefully and use it productively instead of smiling and nodding or discarding new ideas.
4. Agreeable – the best employees are easy to be around and make the workplace fun. They care about their colleagues and find ways to resolve conflict that creates a culture of improvement and achievement. You can go to them with a problem because you know they will not gossip or spread the information you share in confidence. They tend not to speak negatively about fellow employees and keep criticism professional instead of personal.
You probably have people like this in your office right now, but the majority do not exhibit these qualities. Unfortunately it seems that most interns and entry level employees do not exhibit these qualities, maybe because they are not taught in college. Think about the person in your office who exhibits these qualities and ask yourself how you can mirror his or her behavior.
Roger Custer is executive director of America’s Future Foundation.