A wise mentor told me early in my career that I should always hire people who know something I didn't know. Considering how much I respected that person, I started following that philosophy right away, and it has stayed with me over the past 25 years.

One of the first times I used my mentor's advice was when I was managing a product development group for a new consumer service and I had a team of creative, editorial staff that was critical to our launch. I quickly realized that we were missing the discipline of a classic marketing person and added one to the team.

Today, as CMO of a B2B marketing department with a diverse range of talents, we are light in the area of ad concept development and creative. The same advice I was given 25 years ago applies, but with a twist: It's not necessarily about hiring people who know something I don't know but, rather, about getting them on the team—whether via partnerships with agencies or working with consultants and freelancers.

When looking for the missing piece in the quilt of talent on my team, I search beyond the a good marketer's traditional skill set—typically the list of skills and experience outlined in position descriptions or marketing job postings. Those skills are an important consideration in the hiring process, but there are traits that set apart the good from the best. Some of those most-important traits are behavioral, some are attitudinal, some are inherent, and some are learned and honed.

Every great marketer doesn't need to have every single skill or trait. Rather, it's the mix of each marketer's skills, experience, and traits blended with those of others on your team that produces success for the business. (Think Yin and Yang, micro and macro, parts and then the sum of the parts.)

Here are the four traits that, in my experience, the best marketers have in common.

1. Curiosity

What distinguishes a smart person from a brilliant person? Curiosity. What questions does the candidate ask? When given a challenging task in past jobs, what was the candidate's initial approach to the task? That approach is a good indication of curiosity: Did they ask questions, do research, talk to the right people, or did they dive right into the tactical plan?

2. Challenging Convention to Pursue New Ideas

Employees who are willing to challenge convention can make a difference. There is a huge list of business success stories that resulted from an employee's challenging the norm and thinking outside the box. There are questions we can use during the interview process to get at whether or not a candidate is willing to challenge convention and think differently. You can also get at it by finding out how they approached a problem, challenge, or opportunity in a previous job. So I ask candidates to talk about their biggest success and also their biggest failure.

3. Passion

If you don't look for passion in the people you hire, you could end up with employees who never engage especially deeply, according to a recent Harvard Business Review article.

The simple fact is that people are better at their jobs, and more creative, when they feel passionate about their work. Regardless of the drivers—interest, enjoyment, satisfaction, or a sense of personal challenge—passionate marketers are more likely to take risks, look for multiple solutions to a problem, and seek out the best solution rather than the easiest. Passionate people also encourage passion and enthusiasm among your other team member.

It's usually pretty easy to tell whether people are passionate about their work. Ask them why they do what they do, what disappointments they've had, what their dream jobs would be. Listen to how they talk about their work and the excitement and enthusiasm they project. See it in their eyes and body language. In addition, if the word "passionate" is used by others to describe the candidate, you have a candidate worth considering.

4. Open-mindedness

In my experience, the most effective marketers are usually the most open-minded. They find ways to deal with unexpected situations.

It's one thing to know ahead of time and be able to plan, and it's another to deal with the unexpected. The difference between someone who only follows preset plans and one who is flexible and adaptable is that with the latter you really learn how the person thinks, how they handle stress, how resourceful they are, and the kind of judgment they exercise in circumstances they may not have experienced before.

High performers will not miss a beat; they will quickly grasp the situation, take stock of resources, make decisions, and take action. It may not be a perfect solution, but they will deal with the problem. Facing unexpected situations requires resourcefulness, thinking fast, and courage. Those are the traits of high-performers.

Another distinguishing characteristic of open-minded marketers is how they deal with ambiguity and uncertainty. By accepting the uncertainties associated with ambiguity, they draw upon their abilities to improvise, to adapt to the circumstances, to be open to alternatives, and to make decisions, all of which involve risk-taking and sound judgment—all of them hallmarks of a great marketer.

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image of Susan Pechman

Susan Pechman is the chief marketing officer of market research company The NPD Group. Susan has over two decades of strategic marketing and management experience.

LinkedIn: Susan Pechman