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What are Employers Looking For in a Candidate?

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What Employers Are Looking For

When it comes to job interviewing, you know what you want: a sweet job offer. But it always amazes me how little time job seekers spend thinking about their interviewer’s motivations and and goals.

What are Employers Looking For?

Many see the interviewer as a faceless obstacle in the way of the job. However, if you can truly understand what drives the person who’s interviewing you, you’re far more likely to impress and ultimately get hired.

The Typical Job Interview Scenario

The hiring manager has a job opening and wants to find someone who can step in and excel, a star performer who is also a team player.

You, the job seeker, are looking for a position that is a perfect fit — challenging, financially rewarding and a significant step forward in achieving your career goals.

The two of you will come together for one brief meeting to decide:  Is the chemistry right? Are you meant for each other?

That’s a lot of pressure for a 30-60 minute job interview. How can you make the best possible impression during this short, often uncomfortable, discussion with a complete stranger?


What Your Interviewer Is Looking For

It helps to know your audience – who is this person across the desk from you and what are they looking for?

Most job candidates fail to think much about the employer’s perspective. They’re too busy obsessing about their own qualifications, resume gaps, strengths, and weaknesses.

You can stand out from the crowd by taking some time to consider the situation from the employer’s point of view.

As a starting point, the person interviewing you wants to hire someone who meets the qualifications for the job, will perform well in the role, and will be pleasant to work with. Hiring a great candidate is part of their job.  They want to make a successful business decision that will make them look good to their own managers.

But that’s only the beginning. In the course of your job interview travels, you are likely to meet up with people who play different roles within the organization who all have different criteria for deciding who to hire.

•    An external recruiter wants to make sure that you’re worth sending in to meet his client at the hiring organization. If you blow the interview, the recruiter looks bad and that may jeopardize future recruiting assignments and the recruiter’s income. The recruiter only makes money if you get hired, so he wants you to do well. Don’t be afraid to ask the external recruiter questions to better understand the job description and what the company is looking for. [Read Jobseeker’s Guide to Working with Recruiters for help with this.]

•    The internal company recruiter or human resources representative usually acts as a screener. Is this particular candidate worth the time of the hiring manager(s)? She wants to make sure that you meet the minimum qualifications and that there aren’t any potential dealbreakers in your background. Her job is to pick potential winners and she doesn’t want to waste time – hers or her colleagues’. Once this gatekeeper has interviewed you and approved you to meet others, she can be a valuable contact and your main resource for asking questions and following up.

•    The hiring manager will be your boss if you take the position and is likely the primary decision maker regarding who gets hired.  This interviewer will be focused on hiring someone who can make his life easier  — someone who can meet his deadlines, deliver quality work, get along with the team, and make him look good to his own bosses.  Naturally, he wants someone qualified to do the job. But he will also be wondering: Can he see himself working well with you? Are you trustworthy and dependable? Will you stick around and perform if he takes the time to hire and train you? And even if he doesn’t admit it: Will you immediately start gunning for his job if he hires you?

•    If you are invited to meet the hiring manager’s boss, you’ll know you’re doing well. Your hiring manager’s boss will have an important vote on who’s hired. She may also be a hands-on manager who will be working directly with you if you’re hired.  Her questions are likely to be similar to the hiring manager’s, perhaps a bit more big-picture.

•    You may be asked to meet a potential direct report, someone who will work for you if you’re hired. The goal here is to make sure there are no obvious personality conflicts. This type of meeting can be awkward if the interviewer feels that he has been passed over for the job or has a strong loyalty to another candidate. Focus on building rapport and showing respect for the current team.

•    Other interviewers may include managers and peers from other teams and departments. If these people have been asked to participate in the job interview process, it’s likely that you will be working closely with them. Perhaps they represent internal clients or frequent collaborators. Can they get along with you? Can they count on you to deliver what they need?

When you have a clearer sense of your interviewer’s role in the process — and his selfish and unselfish criteria for evaluating you, you’ll be able to prepare the most relevant examples and information to emphasize in each interview in the process.

An understanding of what the interviewer wants will also make it easier to develop rapport and find common interests.  After all, an interview is a conversation — an awkward and unnatural conversation, but a conversation nonetheless.

You don’t have to stalk your interviewer on LinkedIn or know her astrology sign to form a connection. A little bit of understanding can go a long way.

Written by

Pamela Skillings

Pamela Skillings is co-founder of Big Interview. As an interview coach, she has helped her clients land dream jobs at companies including Google, Microsoft, Goldman Sachs, and JP Morgan Chase. She also has more than 15 years of experience training and advising managers at organizations from American Express to the City of New York. She is an adjunct professor at New York University and an instructor at the American Management Association.

6 Comment to What are Employers Looking For in a Candidate?

  • Chad

    Like the post. What do you recommend on the eye contact front for making a connection? I sometimes have problems with that. I’ve been told that I tend to look away a lot.

  • Renee Smith-Baldwin

    “The two of you will come together for one brief meeting to decide: Is the chemistry right? Are you meant for each other?”

    Since I have not gotten a job after 5 interviews, I guess I need to work on my “chemistry’.

  • Hi Chad:
    Lack of eye contact can be a factor — it can prevent you from connecting with the interviewer and make you seem nervous or even shifty. You should aim to maintain steady, comfortable eye contact for about 70% of the interview. That may feel awkward at first if you’re not used to it, but try practicing with a friend (preferably someone whose eyes you like to gaze into) until you get comfortable.

  • Hello Renee,
    It’s a tough market out there! And it’s hard to control chemistry. The best you can do is be prepared so that you can feel confident and let your true personality come through. Make an effort to connect with the interviewer and really listen to what he/she has to say. People tend to appreciate being heard and understood.

  • Hollis Belanger

    I just like the helpful info you provide in your articles. I’ll bookmark your blog and check again here regularly. I am rather sure I’ll learn many new stuff proper here! Good luck for the following!

  • I think you hit it on the nail when you say that hiring managers are looking for someone who can make their life easier and work well with their team. If you don’t know something, you can always learn it. But if you’re difficult to get along with, that probably won’t change very easily.

    My problem is that I can be reserved with new people. I try to compensate by smiling and making eye contact, but sometimes I still get nervous. Any tips for building rapport with HR and managers for people who are a bit shy?