Humble, Honest and Hungry. The 3 Hs of Hiring

By Maren Hogan

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There are 3 Hs to Hiring. Skills are important, but if you don't hire out of pure desperation, it's easy to train on skill in many cases. What's not as easy is training on crucial elements... I have hired my share of employees and many of them have been under my direct management, so I know where I speak. I'd much rather hire someone who has zero marketable skills (save the ability to write, that can't be overlooked) with a character and desire to succeed, than worry about turning a lazy superstar with a solid pedigree around. 

These three Hs of hiring are so important, I want to break them down for you.

Humble: Humility is an oft-overlooked quality in a new hire, but it’s such a dealbreaker when candidates or employees don’t have it. Being humble doesn’t mean self-effacing or down on one’s skills, it simply means that when you have humility in your work, you’re willing to roll up your sleeves and help, even if it’s not your job. What else?

  • Humility means remembering to share the credit with your team.
  • Being honest about your successes and your failures.
  • Taking both criticism and praise in stride.
  • Being able and willing to learn new tasks and processes.
  • Learning how to communicate kindly, even when you’re correct.

And so much more! Figuring out who’s humble before you hire them, however, is a little tougher. So how do you know if you have a humility superstar? Look out for these signals:

Humble Harbingers:

  • They use “we” and “ours”, instead of “me” or “mine”.
  • Humble candidates tend to show rather than tell on a resume or in a portfolio.
  • They’ll listen to each person politely from the front desk admin to the head of their future department.
  • They wait for the interviewer to finish before speaking.

On the other hand, you may have someone who has zero ounces of humility in their body and that’s no good. Can you tell a pompous braggart?

Braggadocious Buzzers:

  • They’ll talk over those they think are less important.
  • Braggarts will almost always use “I” or “mine” when describing accomplishments, but team verbiage when discussing past failures.
  • They may point out the failings of others (bosses, former colleagues, professors, etc).
  • Pompous folks will often start answering a question before you’ve finished asking it.

When you hire someone who’s humble, you are making an investment in someone who wants to work on a team, wants to learn and understands his or her role in a company.

“Researchers already know that integrity can predict job performance and what we are saying here is that humility and honesty are also major components in that,” said Wade Rowatt, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor University.  This study shows  that those who possess the combination of honesty and humility have better job performance. In fact, we found that humility and honesty not only correspond with job performance, but it predicted job performance above and beyond any of the other five personality traits like agreeableness and conscientiousness.”

But humility, while fantastic, is just one marker of great character, especially when it comes to your future employees.

The next H is HONEST. We all think we want honest employees and we do. Here are some amazing things that honest employees bring to the table:

  • Honest employees won’t allow colleagues or managers around them to be dishonest.
  • Honest employees will give critical feedback you may not get elsewhere.
  • Honest employees understand the social contract between company and employee and hold up their end of the bargain.

All that and they won’t steal from the supply closet! Trust is becoming an ever-larger part of the workplace these days and honest employees help everyone walk the line. Honest employees are also the very best people to represent you to clients and maintain your hard-won brand image. So how do you KNOW you’re hiring truthful employees?

Take the hiring off ONE person’s shoulders. Ensure a team of your best people is on the case! Honesty seeks out honesty, so include some of your employees with the highest standards to weigh in on new hires.

Say so! If you aren’t telling candidates you want honest, truthful employees, that’s one thing to implement right now. For many of us, we think it goes without saying, but if you believe in it, say so! If needed, conduct background checks and screenings to make sure applicants are honest.

Take to the resume. If you see long periods of time (unexplained) on a resume or multiple jobs in a year, take note. Another red flag? Job progression that looks more like regression, smaller roles in smaller or less reputable companies, the longer the applicant has been in the workforce. See a superstar VP at 23? That’s a red flag.

Grill them on your values. Once you’ve put your values front and center on the site, encouraged applicants to study them through your job advertisements and explained them to your hiring team, go ahead and ask your interviewees about your company values and their feelings on them. Pay close attention to how they answer.

If you’re in sales or marketing and you look at this list, you might be wondering if humble and honest are quite enough to win in the cutthroat world of business. The answer is….maybe, but the third H really brings out the best in the first two.


Hungry, the third H, is KEY. You can have a skilled entry-level kid full of humility but if he has no hunger for:

  • Your company
  • His role in it
  • Your industry
  • Your values
  • His career

Then nothing you do or say is going to make him stay. Hunger feels almost unidentifiable sometimes but most hiring managers will tell you they know it when they see it. Hunger is what drives an employee to get up every day and do their job. Whether it’s hunger for their own career ambitions or hunger to be part of a company that represents her values, there must a HUNGER inside that employee to keep them motivated and engaged.

Identifying those who are hungry is the one H that is NOT hard to come by. Hungry candidates and employees let you know it. However, recruiting for them is not something every company understands. AB InBev does though:

One video features Stephanie Danner, a senior retail sales director in Los Angeles. “At a lot of companies, especially big established ones, they treat your career like a ladder, and you have to wait for the next person to get a rung up before you can,” she says in the video. “At Anheuser-Busch your career is much more of a jungle gym. You can jump around, bounce around between functions, departments and even locations,” says Danner, noting that she studied economics and French at University of California Berkeley and now is in charge of all sales for California, Arizona, Nevada and Hawaii.

The company’s employer branding strategy was spearheaded by the company’s 31-year-old HR pro and exemplifies the typical AB InBev employee: Young, ambitious, and learning on the fly at a breakneck pace. While there are downsides to having a company culture that’s described as “sink or swim”, the company understands that THAT IS the culture, and are choosing to celebrate and recruit to it.

So those are the three H’s of hiring, as I see them and how to try to seek out these qualities during the branding, recruiting and interviewing process. What is one character quality you seek out when hiring new employees? 

About Maren Hogan:

Maren Hogan is a seasoned marketer, writer and business builder in the HR and Recruiting industry. Founder and CEO of Red Branch Media, an agency offering marketing strategy and outsourcing and thought leadership to HR and Recruiting Technology and Services organizations internationally, Hogan is a consistent advocate of next generation marketing techniques. She has built successful online communities, deployed brand strategies and been a thought leader in the global recruitment and talent space. You can read more of her work on Forbes, Business Insider, Entrepreneur, and The Red Branch Media Blog.

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