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Teams SOPs

Building the Ideal Team: Key Traits to Look for in Every Candidate

I learned how to hire the same way I’ve learned how to do pretty much everything in my life: I started with absolutely no idea what I was doing, and failed and fumbled my way to something approaching competence.

Here’s what I’ve learned to look for in candidates, no matter the role:

Rule 1: Don’t Hire Assholes

It baffles me how often companies put up with assholes. To me, you can’t be smart enough, or curious enough, or contentious enough to make up for being an asshole.

In the excellent “No Asshole Rule" Robert Sutton explores the negative impacts toxic people can have on the workplace:

  1. Negative Impact on Team Morale: Disrespectful or aggressive behavior can demoralize other team members, leading to a decline in overall morale.
  2. Reduced Collaboration and Creativity: In environments where people feel threatened or belittled, collaboration and creativity often suffer. Since marketing relies heavily on teamwork and creative thinking, such negative behaviors can be particularly damaging.
  3. Increased Turnover: Teams with toxic members experience higher turnover rates. The cost of recruiting, hiring, and training new employees is high, not to mention the loss of institutional knowledge and network connections.
  4. Lower Productivity: Negative behaviors can lead to increased stress and anxiety among team members, which often results in lower productivity and a decline in the quality of work.
  5. Legal and HR Issues: No one wants to spend time and resources on HR interventions and legal matters.

Rule 2: Hire all the smart people

Borrowing from Ken Norton’s classic essay(, hire smart people. This is the number one rule I follow when hiring for any role. Ken writes, “I’ll take a wickedly smart, inexperienced person over one of average intellect and years of experience any day.”

(Obviously there is a caveat to this, which is that for some roles there’s no getting around training and experience. No matter how “wickedly” smart a person is, you don’t want an inexperienced person performing surgery, or flying a plane, or leading a team. )

The rule to hire smart people is backed by research. Frank Schmidt and John Hunter conducted meta-analytic studies( that analyzed decades of research on employee selection methods and what they found was that General Mental Ability (GMA), or cognitive ability, is consistently one of the best single predictors of job performance, especially for more complex jobs.

Rule 3: Hire Curious People

For a while I figured that hiring smart people meant you automatically got curious people as well. But this isn’t true: being smart doesn't automatically mean you’re curious. Curiosity is about a person's inclination to seek new experiences, knowledge, and understanding. Smart people have the capacity to learn and understand, but they might not have the desire or motivation to seek out new information or experiences.

This rule is also backed by research. Dr. Patrick Mussel, a professor in the Personality Psychology and Psychological Assessment division of the Freie Universität in Berlin found that curiosity, defined as a desire to acquire new knowledge and experiences, plays a significant role in how individuals perform in their jobs. Curiosity is a predictor of many positive outcomes including enhanced learning, adaptability, problem-solving skills, creativity, and overall job performance.

Rule 4: Hire Conscientious People

Conscientiousness is a personality trait described in the “Big Five” model, which proposes that there are five major dimensions of personality, each representing a range between two extremes (the other four are Openness to Experience, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism)

In my opinion high Conscientiousness is important for any role, but was especially important to inside sales. SDRs have to track of hundreds of outbound communications, create and manage A/B tests for their messages, ensure the right message is being used for particular personas, reporting results, responding quickly to inbound signals, and a hundred other things.

The qualities of a highly conscientious person:

  1. Responsibility and Reliability: They are often very reliable and take their commitments seriously. High conscientiousness is associated with a strong sense of duty, responsibility, and dependability.
  2. Organization and Attention to Detail: Such individuals tend to be well-organized and mindful of details. They are good at planning, scheduling, and ensuring that tasks are completed thoroughly and efficiently.
  3. Discipline and Self-Control: High conscientiousness is linked to strong self-discipline and the ability to regulate and control impulses. People with this trait often exhibit a strong work ethic and the ability to persist in challenging tasks.
  4. Goal-Oriented and Achievement-Focused: They are usually driven and determined to achieve their goals. This often translates into a proactive approach to work and personal projects, with a focus on setting and accomplishing objectives.
  5. Perseverance: They often show a high level of perseverance, especially in the face of obstacles or difficulties, and are less likely to give up when faced with challenges.

It’s relatively easy to have rules for hiring; identifying candidates that fit the rules is something else entirely. I’ll outline some thoughts on that next.