The prevalence of the “keyword approach” to selecting job candidates to interview seems to leave a gaping hole in how companies recruit — and it certainly doesn’t reveal the “stars.” There is so much emphasis on “AI,” on algorithms and resume parsing that the important intangibles get lost. I’m sure you’ve seen loads of resumes. What do you look for when you judge a candidate? Is it even on the resume at all? (I’d like to ask every HR person and hiring manager this question!)

Nick’s Reply

enthusiasm persistence intelligenceSales managers, more than managers in other corporate functions, are always reaching for the stars and asking this question: What are the early signs of a star performer? The best definition of a star employee was shared with me a long time ago.

Dave Csira, the V.P. of Sales for a computer distributor, told me the three attributes he always looks for are enthusiasm, persistence and intelligence. Every year that goes by I test this combination and find that this set of attributes seems to represent value better than any other, and not just in sales.

You can build your own value by focusing on developing these three attributes in yourself.

To me, your resume isn’t on a piece of paper. (See How to Get A Job: Don’t write a resume.) It’s in your actual work and in the outcome of that work. It’s in the reputation that follows you wherever you go. So, you build value in your reputation by building value into the work you choose to do and in the ways you do it.


The first way to build value is to do work that you want to do. Choices made with enthusiasm produce value because they draw out the best you have to offer. And that’s what any employer is looking for.

Never take a job because it’s there, or because the employer “bought” you with a great job offer. Sure, you may perform well on any of a number of jobs, but unless your enthusiasm runneth over for the work, for the products you work on, for your peers and for your customers, you’ve left value on the table. You could have been doing something that revealed 110% of your talents, not just 90%.

When you describe a past job to a prospective employer, your eyes should light up with genuine enthusiasm. You should be able to describe it as an exploit and an adventure, not as just a job.


Persistence is the tool that turns a job into productive work. That’s what an employer pays for when it hires you. It’s what a good manager looks for on your resume.

The only jobs that don’t get done right are the ones people give up on. “It’s too hard. No one can do it. It’s never been done before. It won’t work. No one will buy it.” You build value on your resume by finding a way to do the job effectively.

Being persistent often means transcending the job description and re-designing the work so you can achieve the goal. You see, jobs themselves don’t matter. (That’s why more of them are eliminated every day.) What matters is work that achieves a company’s goals. Your first job is to re-design your work so that it will pay off. Make that achievement part of your reputation.


The trouble with enthusiasm and persistence is that they’re dumb attributes. You can jump up and down with glee and never stop — but you’ll never produce anything worthwhile unless you are smart. You have to know which end is up, and you have to “know sh-t from Shinola.”

If your resume reveals one thing about you, it’s the choices you’ve made. Choices about which companies to work for, which products to get behind, which people to work with, and which failures to learn from. These choices may seem minor when you’re making each of them, but on your resume the picture of your intelligence crystallizes when your choices are suddenly summarized.

Building “smarts” is largely a function of who you work with day-in and day-out. Even the dumbest among us learn by rubbing elbows with the smartest. Does your resume show you’ve rubbed elbows with the best?

Add up enthusiasm, persistence and intelligence and you come up with accomplishments. But remember: accomplishments don’t tell a story to an employer. They tell only the ending. The proof of your value lies in showing how you got there. When a prospective employer can see these three critical attributes in your reputation and on your resume— that’s when it sees a star. That’s when it knows you can help add something positive to the bottom line.

Can you point to where on your resume an employer can find enthusiasm, persistence and intelligence? Are these qualities evident in your reputation? What are the best ways to communicate these qualities? What other qualities would you add to these three?

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  1. Interesting post, while I can see what the vision is,

    The disconnect is the real issue. I work in an industry where enthusiasm is quickly replacing smarts or even knowledge. That is a dangerous game in anything machine related.

    I have found that most employers would rather have you deaf, dumb, and blind instead of being able to “see” the job. As soon as you show any real smarts or knowledge you are most likely to be pushed aside as you probably know way more than the department head, you definitely know more than the interviewer and that has a tendency to make the interviewer uncomfortable. I do wish companies would take a page from history and look at Kelly Johnson and Lockheed skunk works. A place were intelligence , enthusiasm, and persistence were promoted and rewarded.

    The way the hiring process is today is way to reliant on “tech”. This is where “intelligence” would say “well, the status quo isn’t working, maybe we should be more proactive and personal in our recruitment.”

    Just what I have seen, I’m sure someone will reply that I’m wrong and don’t know what I’m talking about.

    If you’re that person, then you have proven the point.

    • The only place where you are wrong is thinking that someone will say you’re wrong and don’t know what you’re talking about.
      You’re not wrong & thank you for saying this.
      Not only have I seen it, but have experienced it more than enough.

      This is absolutely spot on, organic intelligence is being murdered by artificial intelligence & popularity contests.

      See Nick’s previous article, “Let’s just hire ChatGPT”.

      Business owners hide behind
      “I’m too busy to go through the interview process”
      Were you too busy to start your business, are you too busy to maintain your business or have you become too big in your own head to actually care?

      “Nobody wants to work anymore”
      Never complain about what you permit.

    • @Dennis: The disconnect is a gaping chasm. The underlying message is that the employment system is fatally broken. The disconnect is in what employers and the HR profession preach and what they do. I wish I could offer a better prescription, but all I can suggest is that when someone finds themselves in a company like this, they should seriously consider making an exit. And no, it’s not at all easy to find a suitable employer — but it’s a worthy task.

    • You are exactly correct.

    • You aren’t wrong. Tis said that Steve Jobs questioned “Why do you hire people for their expertise and then not use it? Unfortunately I’ve seen this all too often.

      In my experience (& I have a lot of it) there’s a simple question that signals a brain at work. “Why?” Unfortunately too many managers take it
      personally, not as coming from the source of good input. There’s bad news & good news with new hires. The bad news is they don’t your jungle, culture,
      politics & processes. The good news is they don’t know your jungle, culture, politics & processes. Because of this they offer something the current residents of the jungle don’t have. Fresh perspective and based on same. Which can be enlightening to open minds.
      What we’re talking about is change. I’ve always kept this near me where ever I worked. Attributed to Machiavelli

      And let it be noted that there is no more delicate matter to take in hand, nor more dangerous to conduct, nor more doubtful in its success, than to set up as a leader in the introduction of changes. For he who innovates will have for his enemies all those who are well off under the existing order of things, and only the lukewarm supporters in those who might be better off under the new. This luke warm temper arises partly from the fear of adversaries who have the laws on their side and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who will never admit the merit of anything new, until they have seen it proved by the event.

      In my experience intelligence most often pops up from someone with an idea about the ways things are done (or not done). And they ask that problematic question “Why?” and in so doing threatens those with a vested interest in the status quo.

      And so smart people introduce risk, personal career risk. And risk avoidance is rife in the Corporate world. And the usual source are from people/execs who are enthusiastic, intelligent, persistent and trying to adapt new directions, poking the eyes of sacred cows.

      Years ago I read of a “study” done in the UK. I wish I’d have kept a copy.
      Someone in the govm’t noticed an unusual # of unemployed managers. So they sought them out & talked with them. They found that they had a common attribute. They challenged their respective former employers SOP, cultural behavior (aka in the UK behaviour) i.e. the status quo and got canned. The
      author or perhaps one of those managers coined the term…they were oyster grit. people who irritated the oyster. On the plus side, pearls result, in the minus side, the Oyster expels the irritant.

  2. I’ve always said I look for character, work ethic, and intelligence.

    I think my “top 3” probably relate well to yours. In character I am usually thinking about honesty/candor/courage, but enthusiasm/optimism is an important character trait as well.

    Work ethic relates well to persistence. They both speak to keeping on task until the problem is solved.

    Intelligence is not something that can be “trained” (in my experience). Someone is either willing and able to learn, or they are not.

    Anyway, no argument with you 3 traits for success.

  3. Nick, I have to vehemently disagree with you on intelligence!

    I have found intelligence to be such a severe handicap that I have removed my Master’s degree from my résumé and omit it from applications wherever possible, because it is one obvious marker of intelligence that is relatively easy to hide.

    If employers actually want intelligent employees, then why do they work so hard and so consistently to hobble and punish employees who demonstrate any scintilla of creativity or intellect???

    Why does the word “overqualified” even exist???

    Why is “tall poppy syndrome” so pervasive???

    I think this may be the one time you’re mistaken, but I would LOVE to be proven wrong!

    If anyone has a list of employers who genuinely want and appreciate intelligent, creative employees who strive to “work smarter”, please share, because I haven’t been able to find any of them.

  4. MOT, CalTech and … that’s about it.

  5. Oooops. MIT.

  6. Interesting topic. Enthusiasm, Persistance and Intelligence. To which I’d add Adaptability.

    The Overview.
    1. The Recruiting Process has always had room for improvement.
    2. It’s never gotten the respect and accountability to match the Corporate
    Mantra “Our People are out most important asset”
    3. Hate to tell you one weak link too often is the hallowed hiring manager’s aversion to recruiting.
    4. Technology has been thrown at the process to streamline it, make it easier to
    find the “right” hires. Taking us to the hated ATS to be replaced the the evil AI
    enabled ATS.
    5. Technology will change the process, but not make it better.
    6. Savvy job hunters will stop hunting for jobs and hunt for companies & savvy managers. They will learn to be their own recruiters.
    7. In so doing, they’ll be doing what this blog/Nick has been promoting for years.
    8. Crappy recruiting processes will pave the way to reach savvy managers who
    “get” networking & human contact as THE best way to recruit. It works. Go get em!

    One often hears that the recruiting process is broken. But I could argue that it’s
    always been broken. As it doesn’t reflect its importance in the scheme of things. Many companies say that their people are THE most important part of their business,
    A quick look at their org charts and how people are found, hired, brought aboard treated & grown, usually contradicts that. As compared to other cogs in the business
    wheel e.g. finance, there’s little accountability on recruiting, growth and the dark side of attrtion. Primarily because its so strongly job oriented. The Human equivalent of a
    part. Need a job taken care of? Get a person? Lose that person, get another one. A Job becomes obsolete? Remove the related person. It’s all about labor costs. As Nick
    noted, the job focus doesnt really matter, as jobs change and/or go away.

    Another often broken piece is the hallowed hiring manger. The Holy Grail of the hiring
    hunt. The inside truth is tht It’s not unusual to find HMs that don’t like to recruit. Time consuming, disruptive etc. Fertile ground for low priority procrastination. Other’s mayactually like to do it, but it doesn’t hit the same priority that ops, fire fighting et. al.

    Thus, over the years technology has been sought and sold as a means to streamline recruiting, make it easier and smarter blah blah. Taking us to the evil ATS soon to be replaced by the more evil AI enhanced ATS. The problem with Tech centric recruiting doesn’t improve recruiting and results, one can argue that it aids and abets the worst aspects of it. The procrastinating and/or the lame Managers can back off from recruiting even more. And any hope of accountabilty can be laid on tech ineffectivity.

    Adding to this is that AI tools are also available to the searchers. Which means the
    brokeness will be fine tuned. My bot will apply to your bot, and move on to the next
    level of an applicant’s anime (that looks a lot like Superman or Wonder Woman) will have a face to face with the Coroprate anime (who will look much like a wise and benevolent deity), leaving the process still busted. But more quickly be less

    So what’s an applicant and a savvy Hiring Manager to do with this?
    This is where Enthusiasm, Persistance and Intelligence & Adaptability come into play. These are the factors that drive organizational success & growth. They
    provide the foundation for those jobs and the related doers that make the difference
    between treading water and solid growth.

    Savvy Managers won’t be overly motivated by AI enabled mash. They will be keenly interested in what else the applicants are doing. And that will be to learn to be
    their own recruiters, who will apply Enthusiasm, Persistance and Intelligence and Adaptability to avoid job hunting. Sound contradictory? It is. They will instead put
    effort into finding desirable company targets, and related hiring managers of interest.
    They’ll apply their energy to find a way to “get to” that manager and in so doing differentiate themselves. Sales and business success is all about differention.
    Savvy managers will work from the other end & be receptive to such overtures. They
    know in the long run it’s the fastest way to find the kind of people to help them
    grow the company, with enthusiasm, persistance, intelligence and the adaptability
    to anticipate change and run with it.

    Busted recruiting processes will be a catalyst for those people who look for companies, instead of jobs. Those who build, maintain good networks. Which is why
    one networks. Right now AI tools are focused on jobs & will remain unfit to spot
    a candidates EPI assets.
    Note: Nick’s blog has been pointing out this kind of take charge approach to your career
    development for years. “Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to dig a well” implored Chinese philosopher Zhu Xi over 800 years ago. So what are you waiting for. It really works. And doing it gives
    meaning to another say, looking for work is work.