[The Hiring Hunt] What’s The One Sure Quality Employers Want?

A recent post for would-be Chief Financial Officers on this site gives a great overview of what sort of attributes financial types who aspire to be CFOs should have.

But what about the rest of us non-CFO types? What’s the one sure thing employers want from employees and candidates?

First a caveat – the “take this with a grain of salt” advice: if you ask 100 career coaches you’ll get 100 different answers about THE skill to have. The difference is that this advice is based in part the work of executive search consultant Karen Quint – who works in blue chip search firm Spencer Stuart’s practice – and what their research show about what’s wanted at the executive top.

Second, employers say they want the same list you see everywhere else. For example, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) reported in January 2010 that in order these are the top 5 skills that employers seek:

  1. Communication Skills
  2. Analytical Skills
  3. Teamwork Skills
  4. Technical Skills
  5. Strong Work Ethic

A longer list – similar idea – can be found here from Quintessential Careers.

The real kernel of what employers want is buried in a post by author and speaker Scott Berkun titled Why You Should Be a Team of One.  I quibble with the direction of Scott’s post, which is based on a presentation by Leah Buley of Adaptive Path.  As a team coach (and somebody who knows that teams are particular types of creatures), I noted that there is no “I” in Team,  not even a team of one as I’ve noted here.

But Scott and Leah’s thoughts lead you – and any smart employer that I know –  to the one sure thing that employers want.

They want employees who are good business people.

So what does that abstract notion – “good business people” – mean?

In the work by Karen Quint (highlights here), what comes out loud is clear is that employers want specialists –  financial types in this case –  who can think like business people (generalists). They want employees who know how the business operates, where the dots connect between their speciality of finance, tax and accounting, and the rest of the business. The same, by the way, is true for any other functional specialty: marketing, information technology, HR, Legal: you must know your domain well and know the business of the business.

Employers want people who can be proficient in their functional area and also be conversant in not just business as a whole, but the business sector in which they compete.

For line managers, the converse is true. Employers want line managers – generalists- who are good in their own areas, such as operations, manufacturing, etc. and are also be conversant and competent in things like Finance, HR, Marketing, etc.

The team of one that Scott and Leah talk about is really specialists who think like line managers, and line managers who know the big picture aspects of the functional areas which are parts of the business.

Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive and team coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above.