How to Spot a Self-Starter – Hiring Checklist for Managers & Execs

Self-starters aren’t necessarily selfish, but they’re not shy about going their own way.

June 15, 2017
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Self-motivated employees are better for everyone. They require less time and effort to manage. They complain less. They ask fewer questions. All other things being equal, they produce better work.

The biggest problem with self-starter is spotting them in their natural environment.

Most candidates believe they’re self-motivated, so it’s not enough to say that only self-starters need apply. You need to separate the imposters from the real thing. If your interviewees don’t check these five boxes, chances are good they don’t have what it takes to thrive in an employee-driven workplace.

They Embrace Their Personal Freedom

Self-starters aren’t necessarily selfish, but they’re not shy about going their own way. They’re confident in their own skin, resolute in their beliefs, and steadfast in their refusal to take guff from anyone.

“Freedom is not just another word for nothing left to lose,” says teacher and philosopher Arnold Siegel. “Freedom is the power to voice, and to be, who you say you are, to voice what you stand for and the courage to stand for it.”

Some managers feel threatened by free-spirited employees. If your company lives and dies by its employees’ initiative, you don’t have that luxury.

They Always Look for Ways to Stay Engaged

self-starterWriting in Forbes, human resources expert Mark Murphy advocates for a simple but effective behavioral interview question: “Could you tell me about a time when your work held little or no interest for you?”

According to Murphy, this question has an uncanny knack for extracting super-honest answers from even the most guarded candidates. If you ask this question 20 times, you’re likely to get 20 different answers, but that doesn’t actually matter.

In fact, the question itself is a red herring, a diversion designed to knock candidates off their game. The sorts of people you want working for you don’t lose interest in their positions because they’re skilled at finding new ways to challenge, grow into, and move up in their roles – pushing their organizations forward in the process.

They Always Seem to Have Side Projects Going

Self-starters love to challenge themselves with extracurricular work. There’s a reason blue-chip tech companies like Google give employees plenty of time – in Google’s case, one day per week – to work on side projects and self-driven initiatives: doing so keeps brilliant, restless workers sharp and prevents burnout to boot.

They Love Solving Problems

Self-starters never meet problems they don’t like. You want candidates who size up seemingly intractable challenges and say, “Hey, I can figure that out.” You don’t want candidates who’ll allow challenges to become obsessions, but self-starters typically know how and when to quit while they’re ahead.

They Pursue Awards and Credentials Without Prompting

Self-starters tirelessly self-improve. They relentlessly pursue professional development opportunities, from new credentials that set them apart in a crowded talent marketplace to side gigs (see above) that teach them new skills the old-fashioned way.

Before long, they’re more decorated and experienced than their peers – not because they selfishly muscle others out of the way, but because they’re insatiable in their thirst to be better than the rest.

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