It is the first question I get at the start of nearly every interview with entry-level candidates:
“What is the number one quality you look for in a new employee?”
It’s a great question with about a thousand different answers depending on who you are, what your institution values and what the needs are of your current department.
My thoughts on this haven’t changed in the last several years, mainly because I believe it covers many areas that can lead to a successful transition and retention of exceptional employees.
My answer is: Professional maturity.
So what does that mean?
1)Be Brilliant with the Basics: The first year is about learning and mastery. Learn to do the basics of your job exceptionally well. Then teach others who are new or are struggling. Your willingness to teach others matters…and it is noticed!
2)Show Initiative: “How can I help?” might be my favorite sentence. It demonstrates your willingness to be a team player.
3)Say Yes As Much as Possible: There will always be a lot on your plate so figure out how you will manage all of the competing priorities early.
4)Be a Good Supervisee: Don’t ask what your boss is going to do for you, ask what you can do for your boss…and your department. Be a giver, not a taker.
5)Don’t Participate in Group Think: Don’t make someone else’s issue your issue. Support is one thing. Jumping on the negativity bandwagon is another.
6)Don’t Play Leap Frog: If you are upset about something go to your supervisor. If your supervisor is the reason you are upset, still go to your supervisor first. Leap frogging or jumping your supervisor to go to his/her boss is not appropriate unless there is a serious or potentially illegal situation that is affecting students. Learn to work within the system. You know how we all get upset when students call the university President to express their anger instead of simply telling their Residence Director about a housing issue? It’s the same concept.
7)Dress the part: Looking young is a blessing. Don’t make it a curse by dressing like a student. Understand that while your role may require you to be casual at certain times (especially with late night or weekend commitments) you have the opportunity to interact with parents, faculty and upper administration on a daily basis so look like the outstanding professional that you are! I could go on and on but feel free to read more of my musings on this topic here: https://annmarieklotz.wordpress.com/2012/01/12/its-not-about-you-dressing-for-success-at-work/
8)Understand email etiquette: Emails should never begin with “hey” unless perhaps you are writing to your friend or sibling. Understanding how communication should occur at a professional level and taking the initiative to form well-crafted written and verbal communication is a great way to demonstrate your professionalism as a new employee.
A few other folks (actually a several dozen!) chimed in on Facebook when I asked this question. A few of my favorite responses:
“Spend time with elders in the community and get to know the unspoken ways of getting business done.” –Jacob Diaz, Seattle University
“Higher ed is a very small world…..Play nice in the sandbox!” –Beth McCuskey, Purdue University
“Never find yourself saying ‘that’s not my job’”-Josh Gana, University of Washington
“Demonstrate flexibility, positivity, strong work ethic. Be open to new ways of thinking and approaching problems. Strive to approach your work in a way that makes your (glowing) performance evaluation easy for your supervisor to write!” –Jill Childress, Oregon State University
“Remember the concept of the honeymoon period. Once that period passes – remember that it is ok to be frustrated. The job might not be “perfect,” but you still have the opportunity to approach each day with a “can do” and a positive attitude.” –Brian Gallagher, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale
The two most frequently asked questions I receive when someone calls me for a reference check on an employee comes down to these two points:
1)Are they the kind of employee who is always upset about something or are they generally positive? (i.e. are they easy to supervise, have a good attitude and gets along with others?)
2)Do they do the bare minimum or are they always seeking to do more? (i.e. is it going to be an uphill battle to ask them to do more than the basics or are they a self-starter, team player and internally motivated?)
These questions reveal the kind of person they are seeking (or are not seeking) and speaks to several points about professional maturity.
You will make mistakes. Several, actually. We all have! Think about the kind of professional you want to become and what steps you will take to share your time and talents within your new position.
Strong starts are critical to joining any new organization. As new employees join our departments this summer what other tips or advice would you give to them?
Follow me on Twitter: @annmarieklotz