Nothing is more important to your organization than hiring the right talent, but many companies are surprisingly bad at identifying candidates with the potential to become high performers.

Nine times out of ten, when hiring, businesses look at hard skills and industry experience, but these things are not always predictive of talent. A far better indicator is a person’s character.

After analyzing the common characteristics of top performers in a variety of industries—from the business world to US Special Operations—we have identified nine universal traits of talent.

To hire the right talent, these are the traits you should look for.

#1: Drive 

Drive is the need for achievement. An individual with high drive wants to be the best, has a desire to grow and push themselves, and is willing to take risks.

Those with high drive are always looking forward to the next goal and challenge. If someone with low drive makes a million-dollar deal, they might pat themselves on the back for months. For someone with high drive, it will be just hours or days before they start asking, “Alright, what’s next?”

High drive is a strong indicator of high performance because it results in self-motivation and continual improvement.

#2: Resiliency

Resiliency is the ability to bounce back from stress quickly. An individual with high resiliency resists quitting and is focused on completing goals.

Essentially, resiliency is how people handle setbacks and persevere in the face of challenges. They accept failure as part of the process and use it as an opportunity to learn and grow.

Setbacks and failures are inevitable. How people handle those challenges is what truly matters. Someone who can fall down a hundred times and still get back up is exactly the kind of talent you want in your company.

#3: Adaptability

Adaptability is being able to adjust one’s behavior and actions according to what the situation requires.

Adaptability is critical in the business world because job functions are always evolving. The world is changing at an unbelievable pace, and you never know what’s going to happen next. You need people who can adapt to whatever changes may come.

The job you’re hiring for today will look different three, five, or ten years from now. So you don’t want cogs in a machine, capable of completing a single task. You want adaptable people who can step up and do whatever is needed.

#4: Humility

Humility is the belief that, however talented you might be, you do not have all the answers.

People with appropriate humility understand that the aggregate intelligence and experience of everyone below and around them always far outweighs their own knowledge and experience. As such, they’re willing to ask for help, and they tend to be selfless, placing the needs of the organization and others above themselves.

They’re also less likely to become complacent, as they understand victory is never guaranteed and there’s always room to improve. This leads to people with humility accomplishing more than those without it.

#5: Integrity

Someone with integrity understands what is legal and what is right and aligns their actions and words with both.

High performance without integrity is dangerous and will backfire eventually. Just look at Enron. Due to a lack of integrity, the company hid billions of dollars of debt and ultimately had to file for bankruptcy.

Somebody who is going to step on others or break the law to succeed is not somebody you want in your company. While they may produce results in the short term, their lack of integrity can irreparably damage your organization in the long term.

#6: Effective Intelligence

Obviously, you want smart people at your organization, but more than IQ, what you should search for is effective intelligence.

As Marine Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC) defines it, effective intelligence is the ability “to solve practical problems when a ‘book solution’ is not available” and to “learn and apply new skills to unusual problems by making sound and timely decisions.” 

Effective intelligence is a person’s ability to problem-solve and apply their knowledge to real-world scenarios. Someone could have a genius-level IQ, but if they don’t know how to apply their knowledge in a conscientious way, it’s useless. 

#7: Team-Ability

Whether it’s putting a man on the moon or consistently meeting your company’s profit goals, the greatest successes require that we work together. That means the ability to work in a team—or team-ability—is critical. 

Teams aren’t additive; they’re multiplicative. If you have three people acting as individuals, they will output the work of three people. If, on the other hand, you have three people acting as a unified, cohesive team, they’re going to output the work of more than three people. 

For the greatest company productivity, team-ability is a key trait to search for in talented individuals. 

#8: Curiosity

Curiosity—exploring the unknown and questioning the status quo in pursuit of better, more effective solutions—is key to high performance, especially innovation. 

People without curiosity stick to the status quo, with an attitude of “This is how we’ve always done it, so it must be right.” Curious people understand that there’s always a better way of doing things, and they explore and experiment until they find it.

Curiosity is also correlated with personal and professional growth. When you hire someone with curiosity, you’re hiring them not just for who they are today but who they will become in the future.

#9: Emotional Strength

Emotional strength is far more important to professional success than many people realize.

People with emotional strength have a positive attitude and high empathy, which are both critical to creating a healthy company culture. Additionally, it helps in forming genuine relationships, which makes for strong, connected teams.

Emotional strength also means being able to regulate one’s emotions to remain logical under stressful conditions. People who are able to remain cool, calm, and collected in the face of challenges and the unknown are people you want in your organization.

This article was adapted from the book, The Talent War, written by Mike Sarraille and George Randle with Dr. Josh Cotton.

For more advice on building an effective hiring team, you can find The Talent War on Amazon.

Mike Sarraille is the CEO of EF Overwatch, an executive search and talent advisory firm, and leadership consultant with Echelon Front. He is a former Recon Marine and retired US Navy SEAL officer with twenty years of experience in Special Operations, including the elite Joint Special Operations Command.

George Randle is the Managing Partner at EF Overwatch, former US Army officer, and Vice President of Global Talent Acquisition at Forcepoint, a human-centric cybersecurity company. George has more than two decades of experience in talent acquisition at Fortune 100 and Fortune 1000 firms.

Dr. Josh Cotton is an expert in talent assessment and employee effectiveness. He has designed scientifically valid candidate selection practices for the US Navy SEALs and Fortune 100 companies and has advised leaders at DuPont, Omnicom, CSX, and Flowserve.

About the author

Dr. Josh Cotton
View Bio | More From the Author

Dr. Josh Cotton is an expert in talent assessment and employee effectiveness. He has designed scientifically valid candidate selection practices for the US Navy SEALs and Fortune 100 companies, and has advised leaders at DuPont, Omnicom, CSX, and Flowserve.

George Randle
Managing Partner & Co-Director of Talent Advisory | View Bio | More From the Author

George Randle is an experienced talent executive, veteran, coach, mentor, and leader known for selecting, building, and reorganizing teams to reach their full business potential. George has 20+ years of Fortune 100 and Fortune 1000 global Human Resources and Talent Acquisition experience building elite teams. George began his professional life by enlisting in the US Army Reserves.  While serving in the USAR, he received his bachelor’s degree from Missouri State University and was commissioned an officer. His career assignments included Berlin, US CENTCOM, and III Corps with deployments to Africa (Somalia and Kenya), Central America, and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Following his successful military career, George transitioned to the corporate world, experiencing many of the same challenges the Military and Veterans face today. These challenges along with the recognition that building elite teams are his true passion, George ultimately transitioned to the Human Resources and Talent Acquisition function. He later went on to create one of the largest and most successful Veteran Hiring Programs for a Global Fortune 50 firm. Collectively, the teams George has built have hired over 85,000 professionals, including over 2000 executives. He is also a Hogan (HPI, HDS, and MVPI) Leadership Assessment Certified coach.

George currently resides in Austin, Texas, and is the co-author of the best-selling book, “The Talent War: How Special Operations and Great Organizations Win on Talent” and the Host of "The Talent War" Podcast.

Mike Sarraille
Founder, Managing Partner & CEO | View Bio | More From the Author

Mike Sarraille is a retired U.S. Navy SEAL officer and a former enlisted Recon Marine and Scout-Sniper. A graduate of the University of Texas McCombs Business School, he is the founder and CEO of Talent War Group, a specialized executive search firm, and talent advisory that finds high-performing business leaders for senior, executive, or other critical leadership positions. He is co-author of ‘The Talent War: How Special Operations and Great Organizations Win on Talent’ and a columnist for Men’s Journal and Men’s Fitness under ‘The Everyday Warrior’ column. He founded and served as a board of directors for the VETTED Foundation, a cutting-edge executive-level transition program.

Mike enlisted in the Marine Corps and later became a Recon Marine and also served as a scout sniper. He was selected for a Marine officer program, but after finishing his bachelor’s degree at Texas A&M University, he sought a commission in the Navy to try out for the SEAL Teams.  He is also a recognized keynote speaker and subject matter expert in leadership development, talent acquisition, and talent management.

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