Most young job-seekers have a distorted sense of an employer’s priorities in making hiring decisions. That’s my conclusion after having seen tens of thousands of resumes and conducted several thousand interviews as a corporate recruiter. Too many applicants put the emphasis on educational credentials and ignore the qualities we seek with the keenest interest. Knowing our real priorities won’t let you display qualities that aren’t there, but it will help you present your strengths more intelligently.
Here are the qualities experienced employers look for, roughly in order of importance.
1. Maturity and Stability
The spate of recent headlines about employees going berserk and turning automatic rifles on co-workers has undoubtedly brought emotional stability into sharp focus. It’s a trait we HR types have always valued. Experienced interviewers typically value them more than even specific experience or skills, as important as those are. The way an applicant relates to the interviewer and the way he handles interview questions, follow-up calls and call-backs present opportunities for us to observe and evaluate these subtle but critically important “intangibles”. These are qualities that can’t be taught and there’s no substitute.
Even loyal people switch jobs from time to time. But we also believe that people who switch jobs once a year for no compelling reason lack loyalty to the companies that took a chance in hiring them. Yes, exceptional circumstances warrant quick job switches, but a pattern of short stints is a dead giveaway of a lack of loyalty. Employers simply can’t afford to invest valuable training time, resources and compensation on workers who routinely stay less than two years. Our eyes light up at people who consistently stay three or more years.
3. Honesty and Sincerity
Mutual trust is the ingredient that elevates an employer-employee relationships to a mutually profitable win-win proposition. It’s a chemistry that happens only through demonstrated honesty and sincerity. Employers perk up and turn over a lot of conversational leaves if we sense that an applicant possesses this quality in abundance. Statements you may toss off as mere conversational throwaways may be turned over for signs of honesty and sincerity. Avoid making insincere or dishonest statements at interviews or in your resume. Most will be seen through right away.
4. Diligence and Reliability
These qualities hardly need explaining. What you may find helpful is to know how we go about assessing them. Telltale signs include arriving on time for the interview, calling at the promised time or day, conscientiously following up in providing promised information. There are, of course, the references willing to vouch for these qualities, but we take their recommendation with a grain of salt as we know how personal relationships can distort an honest appraisal.
Prior experience in handling specific tasks and responsibilities provides valuable savings in terms of training time and lost productivity. We do take the time to assess what level of experience you have had with the tasks you will be performing.
6. Sense of Humor
I am not talking about wit or the ability to keep the interviewer in stitches. As a matter of fact a joker is definitely not a personality type most employers are looking to hire. But a sense of humor is critical in anyone whose position involves any degree of stress. The ability to keep a sane perspective in the face of insane demands, to preserve a certain congeniality and equanimity rather than snapping at those around them is what I mean by a sense of humor. We like people who know that, in the end, maintaining positive relationships is the most important goal.
7. Personal Grooming and Dress
How you groom and dress is an excellent indication of your level of self-respect and respect for a professional business environment. Also, we’re human — we’d much rather work with clean, neatly-dressed people than with slobs.
8. Well Organized Resume
Your resume reveals your personality and your ability to organize and present information. A crisp, well-organized resume can help you get an interview. A sloppy, poorly organized one will make sure you don’t get one.
Yes, we do notice if you got top grades or went to a top university. But the importance of these factors drop sharply over time. If you just graduated, we have few other bases for judging your performance, but if you have been out of school for five or ten years, your school and grades matter far less than your character and work experience. That is why the silliest mistake you can make is to lie about your education. You would only help yourself marginally if your lie is believed but would destroy your chances completely if it is found out.
10. Hobbies and Personal Interests
We do care if you are a well-rounded human being. That is one of the things we are assessing by the way you present yourself and converse during the interview. On the other hand, we don’t care much if you speak three foreign languages (unless it’s a job requirement), have been a cheerleader, can play musical instruments or have traveled all around the world. Devoting too much space to listing personal interests and hobbies is more likely to raise questions about your priorities than to impress a prospective employer with your lifestyle.