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The 11 green flags of a great employee, what are yours?

7 July 2023 at 5:09 am
Tracey Montgomery
The Importance of Reference Checking and Green Flags in Recruitment

Tracey Montgomery | 7 July 2023 at 5:09 am


The 11 green flags of a great employee, what are yours?
7 July 2023 at 5:09 am


Recently I was a referee for a former employee, she worked for us for about 5 years in an administration capacity and she was pretty special. Smart, competent, hardworking, caring, she is one decent human who also happened to be a tremendous staff member. She left us last year to pursue a contract role in the field she was studying and at the end of last year, with her contract ending, she was back applying for a new role and asked me to be her referee.

No brainer.

The Automated Reference Checking Process: Lazy and Lacking

She messaged me to let me know her potential new employer had my details and so I was anticipating a call. Instead, I got an email from an automated reference checking system that asked me a handful of questions allowing me to rate her from 1 to 10 with a small box to add a couple of sentences.

Anyone who knows me, knows I need more than a couple of sentences when I have something to say.

The reference was of course positive, but it lacked substance and context and did not give me an opportunity to paint our former employee in the bright and sparkly manner she so deserves.

I understand the automated process of reference checking has its place in some recruitment processes. However, I personally prefer to talk to a referee rather than document something in an email or on a standard template. Reference checking is not only what is said but more how it is said. Automated references are not my style, they don’t suit the way we work, and I find them lazy and lacking.

“Nobody ever gives a poor quality reference for a former employee”.

A quick calculation of my years in recruitment multiplied by the number of candidates I interview per year gives me a hazy estimate that I have completed about five thousand reference checks. I have also had many a conversation with people (candidates, clients, a family member over Christmas lunch) that reference checks do not really mean anything. That no one is going to provide me the referee details of someone who is going to provide a poor reference.

Respectfully I will disagree to all who say this on account of a referee I once spoke to who told me his former employee had stolen money from petty cash.

Reference checks will rarely be perfectly glowing because no one is perfectly glowy. What they should be is an insight into someone’s capabilities and character and the information gleaned can be used to set a person up for success within the workplace. They can be enormously helpful in the onboarding process. Knowing a potential employee gets anxiety when they are in a social situation does not make them an unsuitable employee, it just means that you know not to throw them a welcome morning tea on their first day.

The Competencies That Matter in a Workplace

We talk a lot about the red flags – in friendships, relationships and in potential employees. Unexplained absenteeism, persistent negativity and a habit of gossip, disinterest in learning – it is important to know and understand these red flags because they tend to be irrevocable.

There are certain competencies that are important in a workplace and these typically include a high attention to detail, solid time management and organisational skills and the ability to be proactive and use ones’ initiative. However, not all roles require initiative and not everyone has a high level of attention to detail.

My attention to detail is probably one of my ‘areas for improvement’ but I have enough self-awareness to know this and so I can put into practice certain methods to help me.

It is the self-awareness that is important here and self-awareness is what I call a green flag.

The “Green Flags” of a Great Employee

Green flags are mostly soft skills, the personal qualities and interpersonal traits that are often innate. One of the green flags I look for in my friendship group is that my friends will not roll their eyes and mutter ‘ffs’ when I suggest they listen to the latest podcast to which I have been listening. My friends also know that I am not the type of person who will turn up on someone’s doorstep with a lasagne, but I will bring hope and cake.

Optimism being my green flag.

Instead of looking out for what we do not want in an employee, we should also remember to look for the evidence of what we do want. The tell tale signs of a good employee that makes them the kind of person you want in your workplace and on your team. If I were to reflect on those 5000 reference checks and think about the green flags that have stood out, here is what has been said.

  1. A willingness to help others and to share information
  2. Someone who is open to change even if it scares them, they will do their best to embrace it and show adaptability when the goal posts change.
  3. A desire to learn from others, to ask questions, seek clarification and admit when they don’t know something.
  4. A willingness to accept feedback, especially when it isn’t always easy to hear what’s being said
  5. Accountability – taking personal responsibility when things turn to custard
  6. Resilience. A quality not to be underestimated and there is a reason why it should be taught in schools.
  7. A team player. This sounds a bit trite, but a team player is to be treasured. Someone who makes an effort to get along with others and acknowledges we are all different. A team player strives to work with others despite any differences.
  8. Someone who demonstrates strong personal values. These values might vary but have a similar theme – respect, integrity, trust, tolerance.
  9. Supportive and thoughtful of others. Only just last week I had a particular bad night (having been unwell) and though I was well enough to be at work I was visibly exhausted. Takeaway coffees kept appearing at my desk throughout the day and I felt seen.
  10. Listening skills, so cliché and yet so immeasurable.
  11. Self-awareness. My ability to recognise my shitty attention to detail illustrates this nicely.

There is no flawless employee and no faultless employer, we naturally want to hire people who have the competencies to do a job well, but the green flags are just as important as the technical capabilities, and I would argue that sometimes they are more important.

If you have your own set of green flags you look for in your team let us know in the comments so we can add them to our follow up post.

This article was originally published at Pure Source Recruitment 

Tracey Montgomery  |  @ProBonoNews

With over 25 years of experience in recruitment across various sectors including business support, finance, education, executive and not-for-profit, Tracey brings expertise to her role as co-owner of Brisbane Recruitment firm, Pure Source Recruitment.


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