In this series, I've been discussing managers' thoughts on qualities that comprise a "dream employee." In Parts 1 and 2, I talked about dedication, attitude, intelligence, good communication and the importance of being the real deal. In this post, I want to talk about the importance of being well-rounded and knowing how to add value to an organization.
Conventional wisdom says that to succeed in a corporate career you need to be a specialist, and this is true. Most of my clients ask job candidates who are experts in a given area. But they also want those candidates to have a wide breadth of secondary experience and knowledge. As one HR manager put it, "Someone who's a B- in functional area knowledge outside their immediate role." In essence, managers want people on their team who can draw on knowledge beyond the edge of their focus, which allows them to think more broadly and creatively than someone whose knowledge is entirely specialized and too narrow.
For example, a manager at a software development company stated she likes hiring someone who doesn't wear blinders. As she explained, "Just because you are a Database Administrator, doesn't mean you shouldn't at least have some idea of how to read an annual report." Regardless of the specific role she's hiring for, the HR manager quoted above likes candidates who have a broad knowledge of business in general: markets, trends, how products are marketed, SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis, financial statements, and customer support.
Naturally, what constitutes relevant secondary expertise varies from job to job. In some places, international experience or knowing a foreign language is helpful. The key is to think of additional strengths a team might need and to make sure you are working on those skills as well as your core skills.
These days, it seems everything is measured in terms of return-on-investment. And yes, your boss is evaluating how much a return he's getting out of his investment in you. This value can be measured in terms of new revenue, cost-savings, increased productivity or other things, but it all boils down to how much you contribute that's tangible and visible. If you're not sure what your ROI is, ask yourself the following questions: What would happen if you were not there tomorrow? Would anyone miss you? Would your absence hurt the company? How do you protect the company's interests?
A good way to add value is to routinely look beyond your daily responsibilities (which a well-rounded person can easily do). A senior leader in supply chain program management shared with me, "One of the top things I look for are people who don't adhere to a defined list of job responsibilities. I don't want people who say, 'That's not my job.' I want employees who identify areas requiring attention and take steps to get them addressed."
Another manager sees value in someone who can collaborate with a team. She said that when she interviews she is trying to find out, beyond the obvious skills, "What else do you bring to the party? How are you going to help my organization grow and change?"
One CIO shared his insight with regards to the age-old struggle between getting it fast versus getting it done right. He said, "I always want fast. But I will always take thoughtful, careful, quality-obsessed work over speed."
As you can see, what managers see as valuable traits can vary greatly. Usually they "want it all." They know that's not necessarily realistic, so they set priorities when selecting team members. If you're working towards joining another team in your company, take the manager to lunch to discuss what they need and what value-add they're looking for. If you're interviewing with a new company, network with people who know the hiring manager to find out what he values most beyond the basic requirements for the job.
The bottom line: To be a value-added employee you need to think beyond your job description. Just doing your day-to-day work is not enough. As a leader of a health care provider related, "you must have an appreciation for how your contribution fits into a larger scheme."
Read the Entire 'Dream Employee' Series:
- Part 1: Servitude, Attitude, and Intelligence
- Part 2: Good Communication and Being the "Real Deal"
- Part 4: Forward Thinking and Cultural Fit