Getting a highly qualified candidate with the most in-depth knowledge about your company’s chosen technology is the most valuable potential employee right?

From experience, this turns out not to be true. When I first started my own business, I got two valuable lessons by the Marketing whizz Felix Clarke and the POS guru Graham Atherton:

1. It’s easier to teach technical ability than attitude, and
2. Staff are your most valuable asset, bar none.

Other than qualifications what elements do you need to be looking for from candidates who don’t come with certificates? In other words, what are the top ten answers you need to get from interviewees to see if they pass the No Talent Test?

I was sent this by my colleague Neil Cosgrove after a lunchtime discussion on what makes a great team member – these ten points while unlikely to be found in everyone are a wish list (some have a certain level of overlap).

If you can get them on top of experience or qualifications, you’ve got a potential employee you’re not going to want to lose.

1 Being on time

Punctuality is, out of all these elements the easiest one to handle, and in some ways the hardest to ever justify failing on a regular basis. Company policies vary, but many have flexible working to allow for those with child care responsibilities, rely on public transport or are traveling any distance.

Not turning up to work on time or being late for meetings is highly disruptive to collaborative teamwork, morale, and internal stakeholder attitude. It is detrimental to the quality of work outputs and therefore should be dealt with swiftly.

Would staff who pitch up late often mind if the Board of Directors decided that payment would be a bit late on payday? Nope, there would be righteous indignation.

2 Work Ethic

Having a strong work ethic links into all the other points here and can be seen as a pervasive element. It is the nexus between “non-talent” and “talent.”

It could also be called professional competence. Individuals with a strong work ethic don’t just coast along, they pick up and own issues that are at the edge of their ability and will make sure their work is the best quality they can produce.

3 Effort

There’re many definitions for effort – I like to think of it as the amount of work needed to reach an individual’s potential.

Putting in effort and trying hard is a key indicator of a positive attitude.

4 Body Language

A lot of people don’t realise how much they’re communicating when they’re not saying anything at all.

While this sounds romantic, in a commercial environment when there’s pressure on and minimal time to get a point across nonverbal communication can swing a quick one to one, client pitch or meeting.

5 Energy

Energy, like passion, is infectious. It can drive people to put in extra work and allow staff to reach their potential through coaching.

Managers do need to wary though as even the most energised individuals will run dry if pushed too far. Negative energy is if anything even more infectious than positive and can spread like wildfire.

Energising your staff members with new and exciting work, rewards for success and honest roadmaps for progression can have a positive impact on the team.

6 Attitude

Defined as “a settled way of thinking or feeling about something”, attitude encompasses the very being of a person when it comes to work and is a distillation of most of the points on this list.

A poor attitude can spread fear, drop morale and create issues on the simplest of deliveries. A good example is:

“I didn’t know when the deadline was” (even though the project plan has been shared, run through and broken down in the project dashboard).

My answer has been:

“If you had a lottery ticket which might be the winner, would you wait for someone to tell you, you’d won and potentially lose it by the deadline passing, or would you take ownership and find out for yourself.” The question answers itself, sometimes team members don’t always think outside the box and need to learn to help themselves.

With the right attitude, individuals can not only solve challenges they thought were impossible but more importantly can help other people overcome obstacles.

7 Passion

I’ve had many discussion with colleagues about if “caring” (i.e. having an emotional attachment) is essential for project success. The jury is out still, but what we do agree on is having a passion for your work is necessary.

Loving what you do means you’re happy to take on extra work, be prepared for meetings and have a great attitude.

Passion is a real emotional driver to getting work complete (and like so many of these points) is infectious among teammates.

8 Being Coachable

Businesses, technology and ultimately client goals are changing all the time. The end result is processes need to evolve or become obsolete. The ability to be flexible and run with modifications is in itself an important skill.

Self-appraisal and the acceptance that you can always strive to be better are the first steps, but the ability to take criticism and change by coaching is highly desirable.

9 Doing Extra

Probably the least important out of the ten, “Doing Extra” doesn’t mean “putting in tons of overtime.” It is the ability to look at the project landscape and see if you can help above and beyond the remit of your job role or tickets.

This could be anything from helping a colleague fix a minor computer issue to taking a call on someone’s behalf while they’re away from their desk. Doing extra is a result of passion and attitude and is what gels teams together and creates great results.

10 Being Prepared

Everyone hates it when you turn up to a meeting, and the person chairing it hasn’t got their notes in order, given you an agenda or isn’t able to fully go through the agenda. But this door swings both ways, being prepared isn’t just a chairperson’s responsibility.

Often agendas and document are shared before meetings, to make them more efficient but the uptake on staff running through these beforehand is very low. It’s everyone’s responsibility to make projects a success.


While having individuals who are at the very least competent in the area they’re working is a must, it’s pointless having the world’s best coder if they’re constantly late, little code output and can’t work with others.

I’ve worked with team members who have excelled academically and talked the talk in interviews – but when it comes to “real life” situations they either fall apart or are unable to be that essential gear in the machine.

Even if the misdemeanors are minor they create extra work for the team and in the end, the disengagement always results in the loss of staff.