Exceptional employees: hard to find and easy ignore

 

Contributed by Bart Weimer, PhD

Since I have 4 students that are graduating and leaving the lab for their next adventure I’ve had many thoughts about finding new employees (students) and traits that my students might possess to make them exceptional. We even dedicated an entire lab meeting to the topic.

The concept of unicorn employees is interesting – where the skill set and contributions are so unique that they are rare and almost impossible to find. When you do find them how do you treat them and, as important, how do they treat others? As was suggested these traits come into focus for a number of areas to create your reputation: 1) knowledge of your field, 2) interpersonal skills, 3) collaborative capability, 4) ability to share and acknowledge credit, and others that impact your working relationships.

Recently, Inc. magazine published the 8 things that will get you fired (http://www.inc.com/jeff-haden/8-signs-an-employee-should-be-fired-that-never-appear-on-performance-evaluations.html) – if someone pays attention behavior and interpersonal skills. While science is focused on productivity via manuscripts there is also the need to bring focus on the ‘soft’ skills that enable people to work with others. There is an element of being a just a plain old good human being. Something that seems to be lost on many in science today.

This also applies to interviewing new students. Being a student also includes an element of being an employee. Bringing the lens of mentoring to this discussion puts a collaborative spin on bring these skills forward into the work force. It is critical that new students have the capacity to learn these skills to be successful in graduate school, but also their future career path. Knowledge of science is very important, but it is just as important as knowing how to behave and collaborate, especially in times of increased use of technology that brings barriers into place that inhibit mastering these skills.

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