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5 Character Traits of a Good Employee

Recruiting can sometimes feel like Russian roulette. Finding out if a potential candidate is knowledgeable and skilled in their field is the easy part. You can judge that from a resume or a trial project during the application process. But determining if a person is a good fit for your company culture, if they'll work well with others and be dedicated to their responsibilities—all equally important factors in the hiring process—is not so easy. Hiring a candidate without the full picture of their personality can feel like a roll of the dice.

That's why it's helpful to be aware of the traits of a good employee before starting interviews. With this knowledge in mind, you can devise questions for your interviewees that will get to the crux of their personalities, and shine the light on their strengths. By the same token, an awareness of the worst employee traits will also help you identify a candidate's weaknesses during the interview. 

Here are five character traits of a good employee to look out for while hiring, as well as the opposite traits to avoid. 

Infographic - Traits of a Good Employee and Bad Employee

1. Good employees are proactive.

Bad employees are passive. 

Rather than worrying about their ego when a problem arises and defending their actions, a good employee switches into problem-solving mode. They are quick to take initiative, assess the situation before them and consider next steps. 

Questions to ask during an interview: 

  • In what ways did you take initiative in your last job?
  • Give me an example of a time when you were proactive in solving a problem before it turned into a bigger problem.
  • Tell me about the most frustrating work experience you've had and how you handled it. 

2. Good employees have integrity. 

Bad employees are unprofessional.

Good employees have standards for their behavior. They have a sense of right and wrong and see a clear distinction between the two, rather than a blurred line. They adhere to the moral standards established by their company, allowing them to be successful in striving toward the company's mission. 

While "integrity" is most often thought of as moral uprightness in a workplace setting, it can also mean the state of being whole or undivided. In this light, any action that works against the unity of a team, such as gossip, animosity, or vindictive behavior, can be seen as the opposite of integrity. An employee who engages in these unprofessional behaviors is a threat to the performance of the entire team, let alone their own responsibilities. This is not the kind of person you want to hire. 

Questions to ask during an interview:

  • Tell me about a time when you encountered an ethical dilemma.
  • How did you handle a recent failure at work? 
  • Tell me about a time that you were trusted by a manager or coworker to do something. 

3. Good employees are adaptable. 

Bad employees are close-minded.

It has never been more critical for employees to be able to learn how to react to change than in 2020. Technologies and current events are a constant source of change in the workplace. Good employees rise to the challenge rather than getting stuck in old habits. 

Questions to ask during an interview: 

  • Tell me about a time you had to learn a new skill on the job. 
  • Describe an experience that showed your ability to be flexible.
  • Tell me about a time you had to get around an obstacle to complete a project.

4. Good employees are respectful. 

Bad employees are self-serving.

If you're keeping a close eye on the bad traits of employees, you may notice a theme: bad employees focus on themselves. When a problem arises, they are quick to defend themselves rather than work on solutions. When change is required of them, they cling to old ways, thinking they know what's best. 

The same can be said about a bad employee's approach to teamwork. An employee who only seeks to serve him or herself will not be able to listen to the advice of others, use feedback to become better, or aid others toward success. 

On the other hand, a good employee is respectful of others' opinions and open to criticism. 

Questions to ask during an interview: 

  • How do you demonstrate good listening skills?
  • What does respect mean to you? 
  • Tell me about a time when you disagreed with a team member about the best course of action. 

5. A good employee is a team player. 

They admit a good idea when they hear one, even if it didn't come out of their own mouth, because the success of the team is more important than any one individual's success. Your best employees will be the ones who encourage collaboration. 

Questions to ask during an interview:

  • Tell me about a time when you had a personality conflict with someone at work.
  • How do your team members perceive you? 
  • Give an example of a time when you helped a coworker work towards a goal. 

It may not be easy to identify these traits of a good employee in a candidate, but it isn't impossible. By encouraging interviewees to elaborate on experiences related to problem-solving, integrity, flexibility, respect, and teamwork, you'll be able to spot these invaluable characteristics when you see them.

For more help hiring the right fit for your open position, download our hiring for personality guide. 

Hiring for Personality Guide - free download

Editor's Note: Originally published 9/20/16; updated 4/4/20.

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