What Do Employers Look for in a Candidate? 5 Qualities to Showcase at Your Job Interview

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Job interviews are tough, and even seasoned professionals get jittery as the big day approaches. It’s all about selling yourself as the ideal candidate for a job, and to be able to do that, you need to know exactly what the role requires and what the company expects from you. That’s why the top piece of advice we can offer is to prepare, do your research, and practice. 

Regardless of whether this is your first or 20th job interview, you need to be ready to answer some hard questions and prove yourself if you want to convince the interviewer that you’re the right choice for the position. Even if you have a lot of experience with job interviews, it’s always worth it to run through a mock interview (or several) to warm up for the big day and refresh your interview skills.

A well-prepared candidate exudes confidence, speaks eloquently, provides thorough yet concise answers, and shares interesting stories that paint them in the best light. In other words, the ideal candidate is a well-prepared candidate, so make sure you're ready to impress before your job interview. 

Many different factors affect job interview preparation, and ample preparation equips you with the confidence to navigate a job interview smoothly and impress the hiring manager. If you know yourself and your job history well and have picked examples and anecdotes that showcase your skills, experiences, and achievements, then you’re already halfway to being the kind of candidate your potential new employer is looking for. 

Practice does make perfect, so rehearse your answers to common interview questions, record yourself practicing, and do it again. You may think it’s pointless to practice answering specific questions since you don’t know what the interviewer will ask, but most interviewers will chase the same sort of information with different questions. Therefore, learning to recognize what information a question aims to extract and being prepared to answer it is critical. Also, recording yourself is important because your body language and mannerisms may differ significantly from your idea of them—the objective eye of a camera will give you a clear picture.

You don’t want to over-prepare, but it is important that you feel confident in your answers and in yourself so you can project positivity and enthusiasm when you meet your interviewer. Don’t memorize scripts and recite them because you’ll sound robotic and inauthentic, but do hone your interview skills so you can smoothly and confidently answer whatever question the interviewer throws at you. 

If you’re feeling unsure about your interview skills, set up a mock interview with one of our job success experts, who will offer valuable feedback and help you address any issues you may have before the big day.

So, what are some of the qualities employers look for in a job candidate? 

1. Employers want a candidate who is well-prepared 

It should go without saying that being well-prepared is paramount for a successful job interview. Preparedness will show the interviewer that you’re the kind of person who will do their due diligence and take their tasks seriously—it shows your commitment to the process and the job, which will help you stand out from the crowd. It also highlights your interest in the position, and hiring managers will often choose a passionate candidate over one who’s more qualified but lacks enthusiasm for the job.

Doing research on the company and the position you’re hoping to fill is one of the best ways to prepare—not only does it help you determine how to best align your answers with the company’s goals and signal to the interviewer that you know what you’re talking about, but it can even help you assess whether you actually want to work at this company. 

In addition, consider what outfit to wear on the day and how to make sure you’ll arrive 10-15 minutes earlier than the scheduled time. That includes studying the route beforehand, checking the weather and traffic outlook, and ensuring you have a full tank of gas (if you’re driving to the interview). In case you’ll be interviewing virtually, clean up your space, verify your internet connection, and check your mic and camera. Know your resume and job history like the back of your hand, and be sure to rehearse your answers to common interview questions with a friend or a professional. 

2. Employers want a candidate who is competent

One of the most important qualities employers look for in a job candidate is competency. They need to make sure the person they’re interviewing has the skills required to do the job and will thrive in it—anyone can make things up on their resume to get through the door. In theory, a candidate’s competency is their most important attribute in a job search, and while your confidence, attitude, and appearance can have a massive impact on the success of your job interview, it’s ultimately all about highlighting your competency. 

Keep in mind that employers want someone who has the right experience and technical skills plus the right transferable or soft skills to do everything the role requires. It’s not just about your education and experience—employers also care about how you work with other team members, interact with customers, stay focused, and navigate less technical aspects of the job. 

Responsibility, leadership, problem-solving, teamwork, organization, and trustworthiness are essential for nearly every job, so make sure you highlight which of those you possess and prepare examples or stories that illustrate how you’ve used them. For instance, simply stating that you’re trustworthy isn’t the same as telling a story that proves your trustworthiness. In short, be ready to demonstrate both your technical and soft skills. 

3. Employers want a candidate who has strong communication skills

Speaking of competence, good communication skills aren’t important just at the interview stage. Most jobs require people to interact with colleagues and customers and to work with teams, leaders, and subordinates. That’s why being able to clearly communicate your needs, problems, and goals is incredibly important: Once communication breaks down, especially in a team setting, it’s hard to keep morale and motivation high. 

Regardless of the industry, you need more than purely technical skills and knowledge to succeed at a job, so employers will generally favor a well-rounded candidate with good communication skills, even if there are other applicants with better technical skills.

Good communication also speaks of self-awareness and respect for others, especially if you remain mindful of the fact that communication can be non-verbal—it’s not always about the words coming out of someone’s mouth. Communication skills also encompass your body language, the way you phrase your comments and the tone you use to express them, and your ability to read others’ non-verbal cues and understand the nuances of a given social context. Good communication requires clarity, empathy, open-mindedness, and careful listening, so start practicing! 

4. Employers want a candidate who has clear goals

Having well-defined goals—both professional and personal—and being able to communicate them clearly is highly valued by interviewers. However, it’s important for them to determine whether your goals align with the company’s—even if your qualifications are perfect, unless your vision for your career matches their objectives, they won’t consider you a good fit. 

Employers also want to see that you are a highly motivated, focused, and goal-oriented person who knows what they want out of life and work and who will care about their job. Don’t make up goals and aspirations to impress the hiring manager—you should always be honest, but if you’re not sure what your long-term goals are, do some thinking before the interview and tap into your ambitions.

5. Employers want a candidate who is confident

A confident candidate is personable, well-spoken, comfortable talking about themselves without sounding arrogant, and aware of their body language. They make good eye contact, use appropriate vocabulary, behave politely, and speak about their goals clearly and concisely. Confidence plays a huge role in shaping the impression you leave on the interviewer—if you appear confident, they will assume that you have the skills to back up that confidence. 

A confident attitude also signals that you don’t crack under the immense pressure of a job interview, which suggests you can perform well in a high-pressure environment. Even if you’re not feeling too confident right now, you can get there by practicing your answers, choosing an appropriate outfit you feel great in, and reminding yourself why you’re the best candidate for the job. The more you practice, the more comfortable and confident you’ll be during the interview.

When the meeting is over, send a follow-up letter to the interviewer thanking them for their time. Doing this will reinforce your professionalism and help you stand out from the crowd—some hiring managers even admit to disqualifying candidates who don’t send a thank-you note. If you’re not sure what to write, check out our professionally crafted letter templates

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