Is Your New Hire a Star or a Diva? 3 Ways to Tell

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Congratulations! You just made a great hire: a charismatic, sought-after name with a reputation for conquering intractable problems, multiple degrees from the best schools, and a shelf full of awards and accolades from past jobs.

But are you sure that you hired a star, and not a diva?

At a glance, the differences can be tough to spot. Stars work hard, but so do divas. Stars become consumed by a passion for their work, often to the point of obsession. Divas, too. Stars show up to meetings with a brilliant solution to the problem you threw at them the night before; divas, though maddening, can also be the most creative person in the room.

Yes, it’s hard to tell if a young Terrell Owens will turn into the next Jerry Rice or just another…well…Terrell Owens. When bringing on high-potential hires, you may not know right away whether you’ve drafted a star or a diva. But I’ve found 3 “tells” that may help you figure it out – ideally sooner rather than later:

1) Grabbing credit: One of the toughest days in my career was parting with someone I’d thought was a huge star, until success brought out his inner diva. The quality of his work was exceeded only by his desire to grab the limelight. Soon, he became fixated on the percentage of new deals he himself had sourced: he stopped applying his brilliance to building the business, and started using it to devise ways to soak up credit.

Divas prefer to take center stage and wave to the cameras. Stars do the opposite: when the klieg lights go on, they take a brief bow before pointing gratefully to the folks behind them.

2) The iron fist: One diva I knew told young interns slaving over a weekend project that, if their work wasn’t ready by Monday morning, they’d not only be out of a job, but they’d “never work again!”

Ruling by fear – often fear of the dramatic variety – is the hallmark of a diva. So is a taste for fear’s ugly cousin, blame. When it’s time to take responsibility for a failure, a star employee will gird herself and raise her hand. A diva, now that those klieg lights are a harsher color, will shrink to the side and point to the people around him.

3) When your back is turned: You can trust your stars, but you never know what a diva will do when you’re looking the other way. Divas, perhaps to defend a deeper insecurity, protect their reputations at all costs. That means if a diva’s image is on the line – which it always seems to be – then get ready for the knives to come out.

Even with these guidelines, you’ve got to be cautious. People can be difficult to read before you know them, especially because stars often go out of their way to be modest, and divas work hard to insulate themselves from criticism. So watch for how your young hires share credit and take responsibility – and see if you can detect whether their confidence is real or theatrical.

You’ll never have a perfectly diva-free hiring record when you’re trying to get the best people. Instead, the most you can do when you spot a diva in your midst is to ask them to exit stage left. Keeping divas means you’ll drive away the stars. Both need lots of oxygen, but only one tends to suck up all the air in the room.