what do interviewers really want to know?

When you’ve been job-hunting for a while, it’s easy to become frustrated and wonder what on earth employers are looking for.

The answer is that in this economy, it’s not enough to just have the basic qualifications. Employers are flooded with resumes, so they’re narrowing the applicant pool down by looking for traits that go well beyond the basics. Here are 10 things that interviewers are seeking to find out about candidates:

1. Beyond just having had experience doing the key tasks of the job, how well did you do them? It’s not enough just to mention that you were responsible for a particular task; employers want to know that you excelled at it. Did you do the minimum needed, or did you surpass expectations? Did you bring something new to the work that was different than what was being done before? Did you make improvements to existing processes? What kind of results did you achieve?

2. What would your previous managers and coworkers say about you? Would people who have worked with you in the past just say that your work was fine, or would they rave about you? Do they sound genuinely regretful that you left and like they’d love to have you back again? Or did you not make much of an impression?

3. Do you get along with others? Are you easy to work with, or do interpersonal problems tend to follow you? Employers want to hire people who aren’t going to be difficult to work with – high maintenance, or a jerk, or adversarial.

4. Do you pay attention to the little things? Do you arrive on time, follow up when you say you will, send that document you said you were going to send, and so forth? Paying attention even to small details says that you care about your work and how you come across to people – and not paying attention often says the opposite.

5. Do you have integrity? Are you ethical? Do you keep commitments? Do you badmouth previous employers or exercise discretion? Are you looking purely for what you can get from an employer, or do you want to make a fair contribution as well?

6. What’s your work ethic like? Employers want to hire people who care about getting things done, and who are motivated by seeing things happen. The most attractive candidates bring excitement and energy and ideas of their own to the position — from an administrative assistant who’s thinking about a better way to organize financial files to a communications director who obsesses about creative ways to get a message into the news.

7. Are you resourceful? Employers are looking for candidates who are resourceful, who get excited rather than discouraged when something’s a challenge, and who have a sense of possibility rather than of limitations (and yet of course who are still grounded in reality).

8. Do you know how to get things done? There’s nothing more annoying than someone with lofty ideas who has no clue how to implement them, so you need to show that you understand the nitty-gritty of what it takes to make things happen.

9. Are you self-aware? Do you know what you’re good at and where you’re weaker, or do you think you’re fantastic at everything? People who have a realistic understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses tend to be better at what they do, and are certainly easier to work with.

10. Do you want the job? Employers want to hire someone who wants the job—someone who’s going to be excited to get an offer, who would enjoy coming to work, and who isn’t going to leave in six months.

These are the people who employers are still rushing to hire. Find a way to demonstrate these qualities to a hiring manager, and you’ll go right to the top of their list.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 9 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous

    Great article! Covers a lot of the things that cross my mind as I’m reviewing applicants.

    Our company (a creative agency) has recently been flooded with applications in response to a job posting. Most of the applicants have all the basic qualifications covered, but, just like your article mentions, we’re looking for the standouts.

    Our new approach is to send an email to the applicants that made to the 2nd phase of our review process with 2 or 3 simple questions to allow us to learn more about them. We usually tailor the questions to each applicant as much as possible. We think of it as a pre-interview. We don’t need to worry about coordinating schedules, and the candidate doesn’t have to take time off work.

    Some applicants don’t bother responding at all. Some completely forget to proofread before clicking the “send” button. Some impress us with their responses. It’s been very helpful in figuring out who is the best of the best and fully interested in the job.

    1. fposte

      That’s a really interesting step, and I can see it having a lot of advantages for both sides. How do you handle rejections based on the responses?

    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      I do something similar too for every position I hire for! I do it a little differently though; I send an exercise that relates to the work they’d be doing on the job and that’s designed to give me some insight into what their work is like. Gives them a better idea of what the work would be like also.

      The idea of asking questions that are tailored to them is really interesting though — like these exercises, I could see it saving a lot of time on both sides.

      1. Anonymous

        fposte, we send the same rejection email that we would normally send to all candidates. We also make it a point to response to all candidates, even the ones who don’t take the time to reply to our questions.

        AAM, sending an exercise that relates to the work is a great idea! When it comes down to it, the way a candidate approaches an assignment is the most important thing.

        1. Susan

          This is a phenomenal idea! It’s obviously providing you immediate insight on the candidates (specifically the ones who don’t reply) but what a time-saver on both sides! It gives the candidate time to formulate their thoughts and shows you their writing skill. Both sides get an idea of appropriate job fit, especially if the questions relate to a portion of doing the job. All around a practice every hiring employer should embrace.

  2. Kelly O

    I do wish more companies would ask questions directly related to the work you would do in the position you’re applying for; it helps both sides of the table get a better idea of fit, and I think it could open the door to some really interesting conversations.

    (And to be clear, I’m not talking about the Citrix/ProveIt!/YourSoftwareHere program to test your Excel skills in formatting something for a fictitious company. I mean things as straightforward as “if you were presented with X project, how would you begin/set your goals/do whatever.” Actual action. Because at this point, I would never go to Lake Havasu. I picture some sort of Half-Life scenario with killer aliens and scientists.)

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