There is much debate among employers as to whether or not college qualifies people for useful employment. With the high cost of obtaining a degree, universities are anxious to prove their value in preparing graduates for the roles they’ll play in the working world. Now 200 colleges have committed to offer a voluntary test called a Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA+) in Spring 2014. You can see a sample test question here.

The pros and cons of this approach are still up in the air, but it raises plenty of questions: Will good test-takers be able to demonstrate consistent behavior? Can one game the system? Does it even test for the qualities that employers are seeking?

Ultimately a solid interview process and thorough onboarding program will make for the best employees in the long term. Rather than depend on a single data point, companies should forego shortcuts and commit to careful screening for skills and character. Here are the 5 most desired employee traits from my expert colleagues and me–and how you can test for them.

1. Accountability

Employees can be smart, likeable and talented but, if you can’t trust them to do what they say they’ll do, you and everyone else will constantly waste time and energy checking up on their work. Great employees find their own path to success without being micromanaged. This can be tested early in the interview process. Simply create tasks in the application process that require detail and organization. If applicants can’t be thorough and diligent for their own sake, they’ll never step up and be accountable for yours.

2. Flexibility

When the position requires consumer interaction on any level, understanding a potential candidate’s flexibility is crucial to providing stellar customer experience. If a job candidate isn’t comfortable with the unknown, he or she won’t be a good fit. To test for flexibility, I establish a scenario that has a set of rules but introduces a variable that means one of the rules must be broken. I am interested in uncovering two things: 1) if the candidate will break a rule, and 2) if by breaking that rule they still end up with a favorable result.

3. Creativity

The first time I hired a researcher, I had a large group of candidates, at least four of whom seemed great. I picked the one who had started a business while in college selling cheap computers he’d built from cast-off parts. I knew his entrepreneurial spirit and creativity would be valuable to me, and I was right. Can you spot that on a test? Maybe–by looking for someone who makes unexpected connections or asks unexpected questions. Or simply ask for a description of his or her favorite project. That should tell you volumes.

4. Communication

Monetary and human resources are at risk when communications go awry. It’s important to know that your new hires are willing and able to communicate important information, ideas and challenges effectively. Ask applicants to describe the work environment or culture where they’ve experienced communication at its best. What did they like? What didn’t work for them? Does their description fit your ideal communication style? Pay attention to non-verbal skills as well. Do they use active listening skills? What do their facial expressions convey? Lastly, is your candidate comfortable with eye contact? Poor eye contact is often a sign of a poor communicator.

5. Passion

I personally believe that an employee needs passion–a true excitement to be a part of an organization. Unfortunately, true passion is in short supply; many people are working for a paycheck, not because they love what they do. The good news is that passion is pretty easy to gauge when you’re hiring someone. Carefully observe during the interview how excited they are (or aren’t) when they describe what kind of work most interests them and why they want the job. People who are passionate will be genuinely enthusiastic about the position and what they will bring to the table.

via 5 Desirable Traits of Great Employees |