Hiring managers look for different things in job candidates.
The traits they’re seeking may be determined by the role they are trying to fill, the company they work for, the industry they’re in — or just personal preference.
But there is a certain set of characteristics that almost all hiring managers find appealing.
“Managers can usually find job applicants with sufficient technical skills — or at least the capacity to acquire them. But you can’t teach, for example, honesty or character,” says Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and the author of “Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behaviour and Thrive in Your Job.”
So to really impress any hiring manager and land a job, you’ll need to show that you possess at least most of the following traits:
Honest, trustworthy, and reliable
'These are three cornerstones of good character,' Taylor says. 'You can tell a hiring manager that you are these things, but your demeanour and the conversation will be far more credible. They are critical because trust is at the core of any sustainable relationship.'
If you can't get excited about the company in the interview, then how motivated can you be once on board?
'This is standard thinking among hiring managers,' she says. 'My best hires, without exception, have always been those who are genuinely eager, energetic, and upbeat.'
Taylor says it can help to keep in mind a personal phrase that keeps you on your game, such as, 'Be amazing!' 'I'll crush this!' or 'I love this job!'
'This doesn't mean being giddy, but looking as if your cat died won't help you, either.'
Hiring managers put a lot of weight on your emotional intelligence (EQ), and rightly so.
'Do you know how to calm others and be the voice of reason? Do you tend to understand human nature and bring out the best in people? Are you prone to passive aggressive behaviour if an interview gets dicey?' asks Taylor. 'EQ isn't taught in school, yet it's so valued today. Explaining how you navigate challenges and bring situations under control can be very persuasive.'
One of the biggest deal breakers in an interview is a job candidate who is disrespectful, which can take many subtle forms (like bringing in coffee, looking at your cell phone or forgetting to turn it off, or acting haughty).
'Sometimes in an applicant's zeal to impress, they can go overboard and intimate that the employer would virtually hit the jackpot if they're hired,' Taylor explains. 'Every hiring manager wants to see some level of humility or they will fear you'll be high maintenance -- or that you'll be second-guessing them. Remember your 'please' and 'thank you's'; wait to be asked before you're seated; and offer your undivided attention.'
Are you driven and inspired or just going through the motions? Hiring managers want to know that you love your work and field, and care about outcomes. 'Let them know that you follow the industry closely, and aspire to constantly learn and contribute more,' suggests Taylor.
If you have intellectual curiosity, then you're always looking to learn and better yourself -- a very appealing trait because it suggests you're not satisfied with the status quo.
'One way to demonstrate this valued trait is to do your homework on the company and ask poignant questions that illustrate your knowledge and interest in them,' she says.
Professionalism takes many forms, but erring on the side of conservatism is always your best bet. You can and should be friendly, but don't act like the interviewer is your BFF.
Dress professionally, show up on time, be polite, and stick to appropriate topics of conversation.
Interviewers are attracted to team players; those who know it takes more than one person to get the job done, says Taylor.
'Give examples of projects where your collaborative skills were integral your success. Instead of repeating, 'I did X' and 'I was able to,' consider, 'I built a program that did XYX, with the help of a strong team.' Do take credit for your leadership, but also demonstrate that you're not a solo flyer.'
One of the best ways to be articulate is to be comfortable with your subject matter.
'Have you rehearsed your responses to the most challenging questions? Your answers must be truthful, but if you haven't considered your approach, it's wise to do some prep work,' Taylor explains. 'Try to avoid um's and uh's, and if you need a few seconds to give your answer, pause and think of a 'bridge,' such as, 'That's an interesting question ...''
This is often evaluated on multiple fronts. Are your questions clear and do they follow a logical sequence or conversational flow -- or are they all over the map?
'Give examples of how your organizational skills shined on various complex projects,' she says. 'Managers want their staff to be efficient, find information quickly, and help them do their job.'
It's one thing to talk about how great your skills are, but another to prove it.
Taylor says you should use examples of how you achieved specific results, for example: 'We increased sales 20% in six months,' or 'Turnover dropped to 5%,' or, 'I led the team that landed the XYZ account.'
'The only thing that remains the same is change, and the workplace is no exception,' says Taylor. 'If you can demonstrate that you can switch gears with poise, as circumstances require, that will advance your cause.'
Dedicated and loyal
'Having a life outside of work is critical to your well being, but this isn't the time to make a passionate speech about it,' says Taylor. 'Let the interviewer know that you do what it takes to get the job done. If you're in a managerial position, that means you may have to work longer when there's a deadline and deliver on your promises.'
If you can show that you don't give up easily, that's endearing to most interviewers.
'Why? Because you'll face obstacles every day, and success is about smart problem solving,' she says. 'At the end of the interview, show that you're interested and ask about how you might follow up. That's real-time tenacity.'
There's a fine line between appearing confident and haughty. There's also a fine line between being humble and self-effacing.
'Find a place in the middle, and speak with pride about your work without sounding like a braggart,' Taylor says. 'You can demonstrate your confidence by your posture, smile, pacing, and examples of successful projects.'
Note: Bragging about being more skilled that others or mocking other people won't elevate your status.
A sense of humour
A sense of humour is appealing to most hiring managers because they know that when the chips are down, levity can go a long way, she says.
'You don't need to take stand up classes, or try out new comedic material. But clever, well-timed humour demonstrates intelligence and that you can put others at ease.'
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