Hiring for Support: 8 Essential Traits and 10 Critical Questions

7 min read

It is a job seeker’s market right now. Good talent is hard to find. But if you “treat your recruitment process like a sales process,” (asKathleen Votaw puts it), you can find and attract the best talent today. In this “Guide to Hiring,” we’re going to cover everything from the job description to onboarding. And just as you have a process for marketing, qualifying, and attracting the right type of customer, so should you have a process for marketing, qualifying, and attracting the best candidates. And we’ll help you build it.


In our previous post, we talked about How to Hire for Sales, and we shared resources, interview questions, and tips to optimize your sales recruitment process.

In this post, we’ll focus on what to look for when hiring for your production team. These are typically roles that are comprised of project managers and your internal admin. We cannot overstate it that these members of your support team are the backbone of your operation, without their incredible work at seeing projects through to completion, your efforts at sales would collapse, their work is what keeps your hard-earned clients loyal.

Our friend Donnie Browne, the Chief Operating Officer at Icebox, once told me that he didn’t like considering these roles “support” roles and I agree. The best of them are project managers who are ingenious problem solvers, and the word “support” tends to relegate these roles to some imaginary hierarchy of importance.

In our combined years of working with promotional products teams, we’ve discovered that there are six similar traits that the most skilled production team members possess, traits that you can identify through the combination of assessments and (mostly) your interview process.


Following are the eight essential traits:


  1. Curiosity: They will need to learn about a thousand different decoration methods. A hundred different shirt options. A thousand cup styles. A curious mind will guide them and keep them engaged.
  2. Flexibility: Pivot power. Your team will need to be able to pivot quickly. Supplier out of stock? Pivot. Missed ship date? Pivot.“Flexibility is a mental process which results in an action that tests a possible solution”* Pivoting away from problems towards solutions is a special kind of mastery the pros know.
  3. Respectful Tenacity: Sometimes, these folks will have to get very direct with manufacturers and clients, and they need to be able to do so tactfully and respectfully. They need to be able to affect change with the convincing force of a hurricane but through the sweet disposition of a gentle rain. Sounds strange, but, the best of them convince kindly, but with authority.
  4. Exactitude and Thoroughness: A detail-oriented mindset tempered by deadlines. Obsessiveness about getting it right.
  5. Patience. Grace under pressure. There will be high pressure in these roles from time to time, make sure they can handle it.
  6. Conscientiousness: Give-a-shitted-ness. They need to care, strongly, about the outcome of each transaction.
  7. Interdependence: Working on a team, sometimes with headstrong salespeople, requires an interdependent attitude: all parties must possess a confident humility and deference toward one another. “There’s not one specific thing or skill people have to have to work for us. But I can tell you why we fire people: soft skills. We hire for hard skills. We fire for soft skills. The ability to interact and communicate with others or behave ethically and take responsibility for things tends to be where people tend to break down.”
  8. Initiative: Enough said.


The interview process is an effective way to identify these essential traits, mainly by exploring their previous experience. In reviewing a candidate’s resume, I like to ask the candidate about work that might contain similar experiences to our industry, for example, if they ever worked in the fast-paced hospitality or restaurant business, I like to ask contrasting questions about that experience, looking for skills they already possess that would serve them while working for us.

Also, remember that a set of questions serve as a guide toward a conversation that reveals.

Ken Burns, the celebrated documentarian, was once asked what his favorite interview question was and he replied that the key is not necessarily in one question but in the listening. A lot of people come with a set list of questions, but it’s when you hear something new from an interviewee, that follows a tangent, that you might actually be given something. Questions spark dialogue and lead to a natural revelation about a candidate’s experience and how they respond in high-pressure situations.

Following are ten questions to begin your exploration:


The 10 Critical Questions


  1. [After reviewing their resume for experiences that might closely relate to experience in our business]: Tell me what you enjoyed the most about your experience working at _____; also, tell me what you liked the least.
  2. Which previous job experience do you think best forced you to become more organized? What details did you manage? Can you give us an idea of the complexity?
  3. Have you worked in a deadline-driven business before? Tell us about that experience.
  4. Are you naturally organized or do you work at it? This is not a trick question: If you’ve had to work hard at it, it means that you’ve recognized its importance, can you give me an idea of how you came to be organized and example of your organizational habits?
  5. Tell us about one of the biggest mistakes you’ve made with a customer and what you did to try and fix it? If not the biggest mistake, what was one of the most memorable?
  6. In your experience, have you ever had to work with others to meet a seemingly impossible deadline? What was that like? Who did you work with? How did you meet the deadline? How resourceful were you?
  7. Have you had to work with difficult or demanding customers before? Tell us about that experience. How did it shape you?
  8. What has been the most stressful situation you’ve ever had to work under?
  9. Tell us about a time when you had a project or situation that ran into trouble and had to be completely reimagined to be seen through to completion. What did that experience teach you about being adaptable?
  10. Tell us about the most rewarding experience you’ve had working with others? What were you doing? How did you accomplish your work? Why did you enjoy it? Were there difficult team members to work with? What was your role?


Bonus: An Imagination Exercise


An imagination exercise for you: Immediately after you’ve interviewed a candidate, one of the simplest and most powerful things you can do is a quick imagination exercise; this exercise is something that famous restaurateur Danny Meyer discussed in his book Setting the Table:

Fire up your creative powers and imagine this person working on the most complicated, multi-product order you have while working with your most demanding sales rep, who works for your biggest client. Can this person handle the complex details of the order? Can they handle gracefully the difficulties of seeing multiple products through to completion with multiple supplier partners, bringing order to chaos? Can they work in sync with your damn good (but sometimes obsessive) sales rep? Can they communicate with your busy client in a way that exudes calmness and provides assurance?

Lastly, a word of caution: Most often, when someone in our industry is faced with a hiring decision, particularly in a production role, they are under the gun, someone has quit or business has ramped up so quickly they have to hire fast. While a fast, mediocre hire is expensive and painful, delaying a hire is costly too, the key is to remember that you can hire quickly but you must also be prepared to inspire quickly.* Half of a successful recruitment process is about finding the right candidate, the other half involves your onboarding and training methods which we’ll cover in a subsequent post so stay tuned!

This post is one of a series in our new Guide to Hiring. For previous installments, check out How to Write Dynamic Job Descriptions that Actually Work and How to Hire for Sales: Resources and Interview Questions.


commonsku is an effortless business management platform that empowers you to process more orders and handle more business. Learn more at commonsku.com.


*from Scott Wintrip’s book High-Velocity Hiring: How to Hire Top Talen in an Instant