Employers are looking for more than just good answers in your job interview.
Based on my experience as a recruiter, I’m going to share everything an employer looks for in a job interview when they decide who to hire… so you can prepare better, feel more confident, and land the job.
The three main qualities that employers look for in every interview are whether you can do the job, whether you want the job, and whether you are likely to enjoy the job and stay.
Those are the basic pieces that hiring managers are evaluating, yet there’s far more that employers look for as well, like body language, confidence, soft skills, and more.
Below, I’ll dive deeper into the areas above and share even more of what employers are looking for in your job interviews.
The first thing employers will look for and notice in an interview is your confidence. The interviewer will note your body language, eye contact, and overall demeanor.
They’ll notice whether you seem at ease or nervous overall. They’ll also note whether you’re talking at a comfortable pace or whether you seem to be anxiously rushing to speak.
While confidence alone won’t get you the job, it’s worth practicing before your interview.
Your confidence and presence in an interview does make an immediate impression on hiring managers and sets the tone for everything else in the conversation.
Next, employers in an interview will look for evidence you can step into their job and succeed.
Ability to perform the job is the single most important factor that the majority of employers look for in candidates they hire.
The only exception to this rule may be if they’re hiring entry-level candidates and recent grads, in which case they may look for intelligence, enthusiasm, and a great overall attitude.
Otherwise, those three qualities are lower on the list (and I’ll discuss them soon), and the main factor employers look for when hiring for a position is whether you have skills and experience that will help you perform well in the job.
This is true whether you’re talking to recruiters, HR staff, or hiring managers in the interview, so always prepare to show how your past experiences have helped prepare you for their position.
You do this by researching their organization and noticing on the job description what they seem to need.
Then, highlight key experiences and accomplishments as you answer their questions. Tell stories of how you helped past employers and what successes you had on former teams, etc.
Your interviewer will also look for general signs of research, effort, and preparation. They’d like to hire someone who put time into preparing for the conversation and isn’t just “winging it.”
Always prepare for your interview. Know the company you’re talking to. Look up the interviewer on LinkedIn to get a general sense of their background.
The bottom line is this: If you can demonstrate that you’ve prepared ahead of time, the employer is more likely to hire you because your preparation and effort shows what type of person you’ll be after joining the team.
Employers don’t just want to hear that you have knowledge or experience in a skill. They’d rather hear a story or example of how you used that skill successfully.
As you prepare for your interview, practice telling one or two stories about what you accomplished in your last one or two roles.
Here are some articles to help you generate ideas:
When telling stories in the interview, be brief/concise while also being specific in terms of your key accomplishments. In the interview, it’s more important to talk about specific results than the process you used to achieve those results.
If the interviewer wants more info on the process, they can ask (or ideally, hire you).
Next, be prepared to talk about your job search and answer questions such as:
If companies get the sense that you haven’t put serious thought into your job hunt, or that you’re hiding some type of personal or professional problem, then it’s going to hurt your ability to get hired.
You want to seem like a person who has a clear sense of what they want to be doing next, and why they’re looking for a job right now.
If you can communicate those points, you’ll get hired much faster and often for better jobs.
Whereas, if you seem like you’ve put no thought into your current job hunt or you’re hiding something and being dishonest in your responses, it can cost you job offers even if you’re 100% qualified.
I’ll talk more about honesty coming up because it’s something that all companies care about when hiring.
Employers will also ask questions to determine whether you’re a fit for their company culture. This is important to companies when hiring for all jobs, and especially leadership roles or roles that they hope will grow into a leadership position.
They may ask questions like:
Be honest in the conversation. You don’t want to lie and end up working at a firm that’s a terrible cultural fit.
But do prepare ahead of time by researching the firm so that you can highlight the personal traits that you feel fit best.
And don’t be alarmed if the employer asks a question or two about your personal interests, like “What do you do for fun?”
Good hiring managers want to know you and don’t just see you as a worker. This is a good thing, and working for a supportive boss who cares can help you develop your skills faster and advance your career further.
Employers want to hire an employee who is honest, accountable, and upfront, and they judge this in the interview.
You should take responsibility if they ask a question like, “Tell me about a mistake you made at work.”
It also means being honest if you’re not sure how to answer a question and simply saying, “Sorry, I’m drawing a blank on this one,” or, “I’m not sure.”
A good hiring manager will not fault you for doing that once or twice in an interview, and they’d almost always prefer to hire that type of employee onto their team, rather than someone who tries to hide their lack of knowledge.
Knowledge and skills can be taught. Honestly and integrity, combined with an upfront communication style, cannot be taught.
So your interviewer will value these factors tremendously.
Depending on the job, the company may even see these traits as being more important than job-specific skills (this is particularly true in an entry-level interview).
Next, the company is looking for a candidate who demonstrates an open mind and willingness to learn new skills after they’re hired.
Every hiring manager appreciates a humble and open attitude toward learning.
You need to find the balance between seeming confident in your interview but not seeming like a know-it-all who isn’t open to feedback or adopting new tactics.
Each company has a certain way of doing things. They love it when a candidate comes in with prior experience… but they also want to be sure that the candidate will be able to adapt.
A company does not want you to start the job and then argue when you’re asked to do something, saying, “Well, here’s how we did it at my old company…”
Instead, show the interviewer that you’re going to balance the experience you bring with a willingness to learn this new company’s operations. Show that you’re flexible and not stuck in your old ways, and that you’re starting their job ego-free and ready to fit in.
If you present yourself like this, you’ll see more interview success.
Interviewers love when you show enthusiasm and excitement in the interview.
You don’t have to go over the top or act fake if you’re a generally quiet, introverted person. I’m an introvert myself.
But as you learn about the job in the interview, if something sounds exciting or interesting, say so!
In my career as a recruiter, I routinely saw that most candidates didn’t grasp how much a company cares about the questions you ask them.
Asking about the role and company shows effort, interest in the position, preparation, and intelligence/thoughtfulness. Employers do NOT want to hire someone who says, “I don’t have any questions.”
If you don’t ask questions in your interview, you are shooting yourself in the foot and it’s a likely reason you can’t find a job.
Interviewers also take note of your communication skills and whether you can answer concisely and stay on track when speaking.
This is especially important when answering broad, open-ended interview questions like:
If you seem unable to tell a clear story and stay on-track, the interviewer will worry that you may struggle to communicate in the job as well.
Practically every job involves internal communication with your boss and team. So even if you won’t be talking to customers/clients in a job, showing good communication skills is critical.
The company isn’t waiting until the interview to start gathering the first impression. And they haven’t made a final decision by the time you leave the interview room, either.
They still need to sit down as a team and compare all of the candidates (I’ll talk more about this in the next point).
For now, know that if you learn to communicate well throughout your career, you’ll get more job offers from top companies.
Be professional and polite, but also clear and direct in your emails.
When scheduling interviews, try to avoid back-and-forth, and think ahead about what info the employer will need.
For example, if they invite you to a phone interview, respond by offering up multiple times that you’d be available, and include the best phone number to reach you.
Include the time zone, too, if you think there’s any question or potential confusion about what time zone you’re in.
Use the following resources to ensure you’re communicating well in your job search:
There’s one more piece that hiring managers are evaluating — one that you won’t see when you’re interviewing.
Each hiring manager is comparing you to the other candidates that they’ve been interviewing or will interview.
The typical company interviews many people for each job.
So don’t skip out on preparation, and don’t assume you can cut corners and still get hired, even if you’ve got a great resume.
At the same time, don’t get discouraged if you felt you had a successful interview, left excited, and then didn’t land the role.
It happens to everyone, and it’s not possible to know every little factor in a company’s decision.
You never know who else you were up against as a candidate or exactly what the company prioritized in their decision, so if you face job rejection, keep going.
As you’ve learned above, employers look for far more than job-related skills and knowledge in the interview.
Fortunately, you can use the points outlined in this article as a preparation guide to give hiring managers what they want and land the role.
Practice the tips we covered and you’ll impress hiring managers and land more job offers.
For more help with step-by-step interview preparation, read this article:
Biron Clark is a former executive recruiter who has worked individually with hundreds of job seekers, reviewed thousands of resumes and LinkedIn profiles, and recruited for top venture-backed startups and Fortune 500 companies. He has been advising job seekers since 2012 to think differently in their job search and land high-paying, competitive positions.
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