18 ways to spot a truly exceptional employee

There are many good employees. But the truly exceptional ones are hard to find.

Wondering whether you, your colleague, or your employee is one?

Allow me to help you.

Here’s a checklist of the traits of a truly exceptional employee.

1) They actually like what they do

There’s a reason why people encourage us to follow our passion—and it’s because there’s no one more motivated than someone who loves what they do.

You don’t have to tell them to “give it their best shot”, oh they will! 

They don’t just do their best because it’s what’s expected from them, it’s because they’re truly engrossed at what they do so everything’s just effortless.

2) They find satisfaction from doing work

There are people who simply hate work—even if it’s good work. To them, any work is still work, and they’d rather be sipping piña colada or playing games all day.

But then there are those who really like going to work even if they’re doing something quite boring.

They just like the feeling of being productive— like they’re actually making good use of their day.

Exceptional employees simply find work satisfying. And so even if they’re already rich, even if they can just laze around all day, they’d rather be working.

3) They don’t complain about every little thing

Nobody likes a whiner.

Even if someone delivers excellent output, if they spit out 20 complaints a minute, then they’re not what people can call an “exceptional employee”.

Exceptional employees have a positive outlook, and even if they get a bit negative sometimes, they know how to zip their mouths. 

They’re aware of how negativity can be infectious, and they’d rather not spread it.

Sure, they’d give constructive criticism, especially if it’s related to work, but they wouldn’t rant about the colleague who chews gum or how the coffee tastes “awful”.

4) They strive for excellence

Exceptional employees find satisfaction in a job well done.

They wouldn’t stop at “good enough”. No siree! That’s because they’re allergic to mediocrity.

They have the itch to keep improving things until they’re truly proud of the outcome.

And because of this, they often get rewarded for it. But really, it’s not the awards that they’re after, they just love producing exceptional work—and nothing less.

5) They’re always willing to learn

Exceptional employees never stop learning. And I mean, never ever.

They’d take lessons (even those unrelated to work), read books, attend seminars—they’re always trying to deepen their knowledge or learn new skills.

And when there’s something they want to know about work, they won’t hesitate to ask help from their colleagues and superiors. 

They’re always thirsty for knowledge and that’s why they’re always an asset to the company they’re working for.

6) They have integrity

They’re honest, they never steal, and they keep their word.

They wouldn’t do dirty shortcuts to get to the top, either—no matter how tempting. Instead, they work hard and work their way up in the cleanest way possible.

They’re not like this just to be considered an “exceptional employee”, they’re like this because they’re trying to be good people, plain and simple.

7) They’re not afraid to look bad

When they commit a mistake—even if (or especially if) it’s a major one—they’d confess right away.

So what if they get castigated for it? What’s more important to them is that by admitting their mistake, the team will have enough time to find solutions.

They’d rather not have the whole team suffer just because they want to keep their mistake a secret. There are things much more important to them than their ego and reputation.

8) They don’t grumble when given feedback

Exceptional employees know that feedback is part of work, so they don’t take any offense from it.

They won’t get butt hurt even if their superiors and clients get so harsh with their comments because…hey, that’s part of their job! Without feedback, there will be no growth.

They’d rather hear bad comments than silence.

Besides, they’re self-assured. They don’t connect everything to their ego.

9) They’re highly organized

Good employees are organized. But the exceptional ones are exceptionally organized!

They’re quite obsessive with taking down notes, making to-do lists, and organizing spreadsheets and documents. Because of this, they never miss any deadlines or forget any important information.

They even have a very clean and orderly desk!

10) They try not to repeat mistakes

Everyone makes mistakes—even the exceptional ones.

But what makes them different is that they learn from them and try their best never to repeat the same mistakes again.

If, once upon a time, they messed up with their presentation because their file got corrupted, they now learn from their lesson—they make sure to have a backup every single time.

11) They have good manners

They know how to treat people right…even the ones who don’t deserve it. 

It’s not that they’re being “fake nice”, it’s just that they understand human behavior and they have a good work ethic.

For them, having good manners is as important as good output, if not more. They know that work becomes more fun (or at least, more bearable) when people are nice and friendly to one another.

Everyone can do great work—talent is everywhere. But when one is good with people? Rare gem!

They say “it’s all about connections”, and exceptional employees are able to have these connections because they’re good people with good manners.

12) They’re willing to guide others

Exceptional employees aren’t selfish or indifferent towards others. They truly care about their colleagues!

So when a colleague approaches them asking for help, they won’t think “Ugh, why won’t they just figure it out like I did?” or “Ugh, now they will outshine me!”

They would willingly extend help to them as long as they can. 

After all, no one lands on the moon alone. It’s all about teamwork.

13) They respect deadlines

You can’t call an employee exceptional if they keep missing deadlines.

But if they think it’s impossible for them to submit on time, they would warn their superiors so they won’t be causing major delays.

In general, though, they always finish on time. In fact, even earlier than expected, thanks to their good time management skills and self-discipline.

14) They don’t overcommit

Exceptional employees care about quality and deadlines.

And while they know that they still have energy to spare, they’d rather not say yes to another task when they’re not sure they can finish on time.

They’d rather pass the task to someone else.

They know that having limitations doesn’t make them “bad”, but not following through does.

15) They make sure they don’t burn out

You might think that exceptional employees are workaholics. Not at all!

Sure, they’d pull an all-nighter or two on RARE occasions. But in general, they never work overtime because they have exceptional self-discipline. They also know how to say “No”.

They’ll clock in when they have to, work hard when they have to, and clock out when it’s time to go.

Because of this, they don’t overwork themselves. This gives them plenty of time for self-care and hobbies.

16) They know how to meet halfway

They’re flexible and accommodating to others—even to their most annoying colleagues. And once again, that’s because they know teamwork.

When their boss cuts down their budget because they really have no choice, they’d make do with it and not blame their boss for “ruining their project.”

When a client makes unrealistic requests, they’d acknowledge them and instead of saying HELL NO, they’d suggest alternatives.

17) They know how to explain themself

They speak up when they think they should, and always in a respectful manner.

Although they’re a bit shy, they’d still express themselves whether they’re giving honest feedback or explaining why their team messed up.

They know that communication is very important to any type of work, and exceptional employees have learned this skill early on.

18) They always TRY to do the right thing

Nobody is perfect. Luckily, no one has to be perfect to be exceptional.

What makes certain employees exceptional is their willingness to always do what they’re supposed to do.

I’m not just talking about actual output, I’m also talking about being a decent person—keeping company secrets, telling the truth, not spreading gossip, and being an overall awesome colleague to work with (whatever that looks like).

Last words

If you find all these traits in yourself, then your boss should be lucky to have you. You probably should get a raise!

And if you find these traits in your employees, then you’re one lucky chap.

You should take care of them like you would a piece of diamond because they’re not easy to find these days.

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Tina Fey

I'm Tina Fey, the founder of the blog Love Connection. I've extremely passionate about sharing relationship advice. I've studied psychology and have my Masters in marital, family, and relationship counseling. I hope with all my heart to help you improve your relationships, and I hope that even if one thing I write helps you, it means more to me than just about anything else in the world. Check out my blog Love Connection, and if you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter

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