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Photo by Steven Depolo

Hiring is an intimidating process for businesses of all sizes. As any hiring manager can attest, the fear of picking the wrong person for the job is as commonplace as the warnings themselves:

A good employee is as hard to find as a bad reference.

Make sure you have the right people on the bus.

One bad apple can spoil the whole barrel.

But for small and medium-sized businesses, the potential influence of a single hire can inspire or demoralize an entire team, spark or extinguish new ideas, and turn an organization around for better or for worse.

Memorable events require a variety of different resources, none of which are more vital to the overall success than the people who make them happen. Our decades of experience in the event planning industry has taught us a thing or two about the hiring process.

We interviewed our management team and compiled their most insightful lessons learned from years of experience hiring seasonal workers, event managers, and VP-level professionals alike. What follows are the top five qualities to look for when hiring employees for a small or medium-sized business of any variety:

1. Demeanor

It goes without saying that a successful hire will have the right knowhow for the job, but hard skills only go so far. As Bryan Jayne, Director of Operations, explains, “One of the most vital characteristics for a successful hire in our industry is their ability to go with the flow. When things go wrong, they can’t be overly reactive. Using the interview to try to get a sense for the applicant’s demeanor in is extremely important.” Make a list of the soft skills required for the interactions and challenges they’ll encounter, and be sure to screen for those as well.

2. Buy-in

Your company vision and values only go as far as those empowered to carry the baton. Make sure your next hire buys into the culture you’ve established. That’s more than just what you’re doing—it’s why, too. A good hire will be eager to run with the vision they’ve been given, understanding the heart and soul behind the daily operations.

3. Team fit

The best way to ensure that the person you’re interviewing will gel well with your existing people is to give them an opportunity to interact. Team interviews are an easy way to achieve this in a constructive manner. Whether in a group or in multiple one-on-ones, the feedback you glean from each member will be a clear indication of how well—or poorly—the potential addition could work with others. Then listen to your people. If a potential hire has a stellar resume but earns lackluster feedback from their would-be peers, resist the urge to overlook their words of caution. An unwelcome addition could have the potential to damage the morale and performance of your entire team.

4. Teachability

Our VP of Sales, Lance Salisbury, explains, “You need to find people who are willing to learn, eager to be involved, and can be molded into the type of employee you’re looking for.” Confidence in an interview is a win, but overconfidence can manifest itself in refusal to change and grow when needed. Finding the right balance of competence and humility is key. Your first shot at screening for teachability is during the interview. Ask candidates what areas they hope to grow in. The question will solicit much more meaningful responses than the standard, “tell me about your greatest weaknesses,” while sending up a clear red flag from those who are perfectly content with only the skills they already possess.

5. Understanding

There’s nothing worse than thinking you’ve hired the perfect employee, only to find out that they misunderstood the terms of your agreement. At NEP, we hire our fare share of season staff members, a process that event manager Elle Harala ensures goes off without a hitch: “We are very clear about start and end dates with seasonal hires, to make sure there isn’t any miscommunication.” Put important qualifiers in writing, then ask that new hires repeat their understanding back to you. With those checks in place, both parties will be on the same page.

While the insights above should empower you with some well-seasoned hiring advice, no amount of diligent vetting can take the risk away completely. As Lance advises, “Sometimes you have to take a chance on people, giving them the opportunity to fail and learn from their mistakes.”