Research strongly suggests employers should look for certain emotional traits in hiring employees in service industries, where greater emphasis is placed on social and interpersonal skills. Psychologists suspect that such traits cannot be taught in the workplace; employers must screen and select for them via the hiring process.

The four key traits are:

Optimistic warmth: The individual should have a positive attitude towards the work itself, and be able to project this in conversation. This sometimes translates into a tendency to ‘see the glass as half full’. Optimistic people score higher in resilience and cooperation than others of equal talent and dedication. Customers usually prefer someone who projects warmth to an employee who doesn’t, despite comparable skills.

Suggested interview question: “Describe how you feel about your last job,” or “Describe how you feel about working with addicts and alcoholics.”

Intelligence: Not necessarily mean ‘book smarts’ — The desirable emotional trait is eagerness to learn new things. Curious, questioning persons stay at a job longer and are more likely to put in extra effort to learn new skills.

Suggested interview question: “What interests you most about the possibility of working here?” “Is there anything in particular you would like to learn while you are here?” “Any skills you would like to develop or improve?”

Empathy: The ability to identify with others and to see things from their perspective. This is crucial to both staff teamwork and customer service. It is surprising how many talented people lack basic empathy for the customer or their fellow employees. A smart, energetic individual who lacks empathy can actually become a problem in the workplace.

Suggested interview question: “How would you deal with a difficult or demanding client/ customer?”; “How would you deal with a difficult or demanding coworker?” (Individuals with empathy begin by trying to see things from another’s perspective.)

Excellence: The best employees demonstrate from the outset a clear desire to improve themselves. They want to be (and want the workplace to be) better, more consistent, and more effective. They complain less because they are preoccupied with solutions.

Suggested interview question: Give the applicant a real-world, everyday problem from your workplace and see if he or she immediately starts trying to solve it. An applicant who appears at a loss or comes up with an impractical or unworkable solution will probably not be flexible or creative enough for the demands of a service business.