04/20/2015 04:48 pm ET Updated Jun 20, 2015

How to Spot Winners

O'Leary Venture

One of the biggest lessons I learned from day one of my foray into the corporate world is that you're safe only as long as you're earning money for your company. You can be the savviest grad at your swanky school, but you're useless on the open market until you can prove your value as a moneymaker. When I lecture at schools today, I tell students that they're all "Nothing Burgers" until they earn cash for me. I tell them they have no intrinsic value until they earn me money first, then make it for themselves. That's how it works out there in the real world. They don't like to hear this. They want to believe they'll graduate into a gig with a $250,000 base salary and a company car. Many of them get a rude awakening. Here are five things I--and a lot of other employers out there--look for in prospective employees:

1. Proof you can make me money, by clearly showing me how much you made for my competitors. You have to assure me that you have a plan to secure new ways to generate even more money for me than you did for my competitors.

2. Willingness to travel far and wide, surviving (and thriving) for long periods of time away from family and friends. Regardless of our technological strides, money requires face time. I learned that the hard way.

3. Unfailing honesty about your failures. Don't candy-coat screwups. Put them on the table. I'll find out about them anyway, so you might as well fess up early. You should also demonstrate that you've learned from your past mistakes, and that they won't happen again.

4. An aura that sizzles like an isotope. Winners take on a certain electric glow; you know them when you see them. They have a certain lack of defensiveness. Combine that with a relaxed humility, and you get the sense that you just like being around these

5. Your resume's printed on crisp white paper with clean fonts, few pages, and even fewer fancy words. The more decorated and complicated the resume, the more likely it is that I'll toss it in the trash. And though I like to see an MBA beside your name, I'll hire a moneymaker over a scholar any day.

This post is an excerpt from my book Cold Hard Truth: On Business, Money & Life.