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Five Questions looks back

Five bosses tell what kind of skills they look for in employees.

6 min read
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Yellow Light Breen, president and CEO, Maine Development Foundation, Hallowell (December 2018)

Yellow Light Breen

You have to have folks who are great at building and sustaining collaborative relationships. Everything we do is in partnership. Our research projects are done with an entity called the Maine Economic Growth Council, and also more policy-oriented platforms in partnership with the (Maine) State Chamber of Commerce. Our core initiatives lately have been in partnership with many different communities across the state, in the case of our Downtown Center; with a huge cross-section of industry stakeholders and trade associations and community and research partners, in the case of our work on a comeback strategy for the forest products industry in Maine; and with a host of nonprofit education institutions and public agencies, in our work on advancing Maine’s workforce and education pipeline, especially for adult learners. We touch just a huge range of partners. Our team members, therefore, have to be great communicators and really astute at trying to understand and listen hard for the different needs and perspectives that all those partners bring.

There are certain temperaments and modalities of being that make you maybe more open and collaborative than other types of people, but there are a lot of learnable skills in terms of how to facilitate, how to shut up and listen, how to feed people’s input and data back to them so they know it was heard. There are just many, many great practical learnings and hints that make you effective if you really work hard at it. I don’t consider myself to be a great collaborator or listener, because of DNA; but when I am effective, it’s because I am practicing and working hard at it.


Eric Jermyn, president, Cross Benefit Solutions, Portland (February 2019)

Also, the ability to think on your feet and the ability to carry on a conversation. If I do a job interview and someone is not able to converse clearly and effectively, that says a lot about their ability to work in an incredibly complex industry like employee benefits.

Attention to detail — we are charged with protecting our customers in an era where the potential for error has never been greater, with the advent of the Affordable Care Act. The pressure that employers face in delivering benefits to their employees has never been greater and the risks are incredibly great, so attention to detail is absolutely essential in our industry.


Nick Alberding, CEO Pine State Trading, Gardiner (January 2019)

From left, Keith Canning, Gena Canning and Nick Alberding Nick Alberding photo

We have everything from warehouse staff to transportation drivers to IT people, finance people, customer service and so forth. We touch a lot of different skill sets. In an interview, no matter what the position, we look for people that are engaging and want to learn. No matter what position they’re interviewed for, I think we look for some basic things. Do they have a passion to learn and grow. No matter where they come into the company, are they excited about getting to another level and another level and another level? You try to feel that out through the interview and recruiting process. Every position requires different skills. But if you can find people who are driven to grow, they’ll find a way here for sure. We have dozens of examples of people who have started out in one position at the company and five years, 10 and 15 years later end up in a different part of the company. They can start at an entry level position and end up as an executive. Most of the senior people here started out years previously in a growth position. We rely on it, particularly now. We rely on that next-person-up mentality. When there’s an opportunity in the company, we usually get a multitude of interest from within the company. We do a lot of promoting from within and backfill from there.


Rob Moody, president and executive director of Good Will-Hinckley, Fairfield (January 2019)

Rob Moody

Empathy. It’s important to have that, a kind touch when dealing with our youth. That goes a long way to gain their trust and respect from our youth.

A lot of staff that come here are empathetic and kind. It wears on you when you have kids that are tougher to deal with. Staff that’s empathetic can look past it and know the kids are not mad at you. They are always there to support them and help them out.

They can learn it; a lot come with it.

It starts from me to the people who drive the bus and wash the floor. They are all here to have the chance to interact with the kids.


Bill Mitchell, president, GHM Insurance Agency, Waterville (December 2018)


Bill Mitchell

It’s a simple thing — it’s having common courtesies. The second thing is having a strong work ethic. Those two things run very parallel to each other.

My experience has been that we can teach people the technical aspects of the complexities of the insurance industry. Through a lengthy, steep learning curve, we’re able to educate and train and coach people to learn the technical side of a complicated industry. What you can’t teach people are the common courtesies and good manners — please, thank you and you’re welcome. Either you have those basic fundamentals in how you were brought up or you don’t. I was very fortunate to be brought up in a family where we were taught to respect our elders and to generously use words like “please,” “thank you,” “you’re welcome.” And they come very natural to me, and it’s just a part of my personality. In my years working with people, you see all kinds of variations of that. My sense is that you have those attributes or you don’t. We look for people who have those basic manners and common courtesies that we want our company to reflect as we’re interacting with the public.

The other is a strong work ethic. That’s a tough one; you either have it or they don’t. I was very fortunate to grow up in a house where my parents worked very hard and set a great example for me and always urged me to work hard and never quit at anything. If you want to run a business, it takes a massive commitment to succeed. I’ve tried hard to demonstrate that work ethic to my team.

When you find employees who are smart, courteous and have a good work ethic, it’s a great combination of skills that will benefit any business.

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