If you read books or blogs on hiring, you might be led to believe that there is a magic set of top attributes that make a difference for a hire or that play a critical role in predicting the success of a team member in a company. After hiring (and sadly having to let go) many people it is clear that there is no single set of attributes that predict anything close to success.
If you say that the best attribute is how knowledgeable they are, then the ability to work well and being flexible turns out to be more important. If you then search for someone who has experience and is also a good team player, then it appears they don’t have the motivation or the burning desire to do well. So if you look for knowledge, ability to work well in a team and good motivation, the hire can turn out to not have good judgment. Or low energy, or not aligned or not being engaged. And so on and on it goes. As a hiring manager you are doomed to play whack-a-mole as you try to optimize for more and more ‘good’ attributes during the hiring process.
So does that mean one simply gives up and checks for nothing? Not really. The best advice I have seen that seems to work came from Joel Spolsky. He basically said look for people who are ‘smart and get things done’.
Typically, you have a conversation during the hiring process and usually you can determine the general level of smartness by the ideas they bring or consider. You can determine whether they get things done by the amount of actual accomplishments and the interest and passion in a given subject area.
If any thing blocks them from getting things done they are disqualified, but everything else you really can’t say till they have been working in your team for at least 3 months.