Characteristics of Highly Successful Employees

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When trying to fill open positions, hiring managers and HR staff tend to focus on the skill sets needed for those roles. “Must be proficient in software X” and “Requirements include the ability to multitask and delegate as needed” and similar specifications make up the bulk of most job postings.

Although certain skills are indeed vital for certain roles, companies that focus too narrowly on these types of qualifications risk hiring people who aren’t well-rounded applicants or missing out on high-potential candidates. When reviewing applicants, in addition to evaluating a candidate’s experience, education, and skill proficiencies, hiring managers who want highly successful employees should look for people who also shine in several key areas.


Top employees are always looking for ways to make improvements not just to themselves but to their organizations. They want to figure out how to make their company’s products, services and processes better, and because they want their organizations to succeed, they speak up in meetings and share ideas with others. When presented with an unexpected challenge they never say “But that’s not my job” but instead say “How can we get this done?” and leap at the opportunity to collaborate with others to solve problems.


Not only are the best employees competent in the skills needed to get their jobs done, but they also know the boundaries of their knowledge. Even though they’re confident in their abilities, they have enough humility to be unafraid to say “I don’t know” when they hit an obstacle. They’re willing to admit to their own mistakes and shortcomings because they know that addressing those issues—rather than avoiding them—is critical to their own growth, which in turn affects the growth of their team and of their company.

Social Acumen

Offices are social spaces, and knowing how to negotiate them carefully is a hallmark of most successful employees. They’re adept at avoiding conflict and know how to steer clear of office gossip and conversations on controversial topics (such as politics and religion). Through effective communication, they bring people together to work toward common goals. At the same time, they recognize that varying degrees of authority and responsibility exist within the workplace and therefore also understand the importance of getting to know—and getting along with—all of the managers and employees within their chain of command. 


Highly successful employees don’t just excel in their own work but actively seek opportunities to lead others to excel in their work as well. Not only do they know how to articulate their ideas clearly, but they also know how to inspire and lift up those around them. They understand that leaders don’t boss people around but know when to yield the floor and listen—thoughtfully and with an open mind—to what others have to say.


The best employees consider the big picture. Of course, they want their jobs to help their careers, but rather than focus on “What can I squeeze out of this job before I hop over to something else?” they also consider how they can benefit their companies. Because great employees hope and plan to stick around at their organizations for a while, they identify their goals there and seek guidance on achieving them.

If your goal is merely to find a body to fill a seat and execute a prescribed list of tasks, then limiting your evaluation to the usual stuff on resumes is probably fine. But why settle for that minimum when so much more is possible? By looking for “above and beyond” qualities in candidates, a company can increase its odds of hiring people who will be highly successful in ways that contribute both in their own careers and to the organization.