Quarsh Blog

As an employer, what personal qualities do you look for in a candidate?

There are three facets in any new hire – Attitude (how they approach a challenge), Aptitude (what they are capable of picking up, aka potential) and Skills (what they can do right now). Only one of these is directly measurable, and it is also the same thing that can be acquired fairly easily – Skills. The other two are part of a candidate’s DNA. Their personal qualities.

We have evolved since we were founded seven years ago. Then, we needed raw intelligence and the ability to pick up and apply new skills really fast, as we all got involved in everything. We still look for that innate flexibility and willingness to support each other. Since we’ve grown, we’ve developed a splendid harmony. Now, we look for culture fit above all else. It’s complicated, as the people who join us need to work well in our entrepreneurial culture, as well as in our clients’ culture.



So what do I need?

Our interviews are fairly relaxed, but we know what we’re looking for and can assess that with a huge range of competency and cultural questions. When weighing up, post interview, I ask myself…

  • Will they ask for, and give, help?
  • Do they have the humility to learn from their mistakes, and the ability to undertand that others make mistakes too?
  • Have they pushed against the grain?
  • Did they know when to stop pushing?
  • Do they support their colleagues?
  • Are they intellectually flexible?
  • Do they “get” bigger picture thinking?
  • Do they have potential?

Ah yes, the holy grail – what are they capable of doing. Crystal ball territory, perhaps, but not impossible. Finding that out is the subject of another blog entirely.

The overall picture contributes to how well they’ll fit into the role and team we have in mind, and gives us a good idea of their development needs. How relevant this is for you depends on what sort of awareness you have of your business. The next part of this blog will give you an idea of how we work that out.

What makes us “us”?

We work best as a flat structure, where we all rely on each other to help us get the best results for our clients. We’ve all been tall poppies in previous jobs, sticking out like sore thumbs from our colleagues because we want to do the right thing as well as the commercially sensible thing. So we trust each other as we have a commonality of experience.

In this flat structure, we debate a lot, particularly about what a solution looks like and how we can make it better. So I want everyone to have a voice, an opinion, and be able to articulate firmly held beliefs. I look for passion about an aspect of their lives. That could be a hobby or a political stance. It doesn’t really matter as long as there’s something that makes them come alive.

We run our business “lean”; this doesn’t mean we’re understaffed, rather that we want people to take on challenges instead of endlessly deferring to someone else.

We have high expectations of each other. I’ll always back my team up, but to do that I need to believe that they are doing their best and are acting in the best interests of both our clients and our business.

We need people to be pretty robust. They’ll come across challenging situations and they need to be able to cope, able to defend their position diplomatically and without flouncing off in a huff if someone disagrees. So in the later stages of interviewing, I might take the devil’s advocate position and see what happens.

…and we’re all prepared to have a go at something new. Our team away days are almost always outside – punting, go karting, murder mystery, scavenger hunts… and I can’t wait for this year’s Christmas party, although the details are firmly under wraps.


What to do when we get it wrong?

Act fast. It becomes apparent if we’ve made a bad hire pretty quickly as the harmony of Quarsh is disrupted. Those personal characteristics can be imitated at interview, but in the real world the truth outs within weeks. As they’re often onsite, this needs to be acted on fast; we need to decide whether it’s a culture thing or a capability thing. So we’ve moved people off accounts and in to other roles, similarly we’ve let people go within a couple of weeks. It’s agonising, but the alternative is that one bad hire can sink a client relationship. 


I don’t think we’ve always got it right. We’ve kept people on for longer than we should; we’ve let people go more quickly than we’d have liked. I do know that the whole company gets on and shares my vision that we’re here to do the right thing, even when it’s uncomfortable or difficult. There’s not a single person in my business I wouldn’t welcome as a friend. And that’s a marvellous thing.