Employee Traits That Employers Look For, Part 1

Julie Shenkman
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There are two different sets of skills that candidates must possess if they want to be among the ones that employers consider for job openings. The category often referred to as "hard skills" includes the college degree, other educational attainments, general communications abilities and those precisely defined job-related skills that define the specialty. There is a second, increasingly important category of qualities that employers wish to examine, and they often examine these just as closely as the hard skills. Known as "soft skills," these are such personal values, critical thinking tools and character traits as you will need for success in the specified career. Some may be innate abilities while other soft skills can actually be cultivated and refined throughout a lifetime. Numerous studies and years of business questionnaires have identified the leading soft skills that top employers seek in an employee. You should honestly assess your own strengths and weaknesses in these areas. Clearly, the more of these essential characteristics an employer sees in you, and reads about in your resume, the better your chances of landing the job you want. Communications skills The very first "personal asset" listed by the majority of employers today is "communications skills." An employee able to listen attentively, speak precisely, read fast and write well is highly valued in every line of business these days, as communications skills seem to have eroded in the last several generations. Hard lessons were learned about this basic skill set when it began disappearing, for a time, from our nation's college graduates. Based on the notion, once popular in the 1970s and 1980s, that high-tech workers didn't need English grammar if they knew the C++ and Java programming languages, the trend toward "focused training" as opposed to "general education" held sway with professional educators for a mercifully short time. The notion that language skills were expendable was debunked long ago. If anything, basic language skills support the acquisition and retention of other complex "languages" used for programming and computer security. Solid foundations Without clear communication, no aspect of a business enterpriser will work effectively, not sales or service, certainly not advertising or management. If you are an "exceptional listener and communicator who clearly, effectively conveys verbal and written information," then you should say so, in a similarly succinct fashion, on your resumes and applications. As far as general high-tech skills are concerned, even fast food restaurants require employees to have at least basic computer skills and enough technical aptitude to learn an in-house system. Just about every white-collar office position requires a degree of computer hardware and software familiarity, too, particularly with word processing, database, Internet browser and email applications. Flexibility and insight There is a lot more managing going on in companies, both large and small, than can be handled by people with "manager" in their titles. Employees at all levels are now responsible for managing multiple tasks, adjusting to changing work conditions, setting priorities, coordinating team efforts and targeting (and retargeting) a constantly shifting set of goals. What employers are looking for, at all levels of responsibility, are natural-born, decisive leaders who can quickly assess a situation, figure out what to do and when to do it, juggle simultaneous tasks and do so, day in and day out, without undue stress. While employers certainly want workers who can use their heads on technical issues, they also want people who can analyze situations, assemble the information necessary for making "people" decisions and target key matters that need priority attention. This skill also manifests in an employee's ability to see the simple, straightforward steps that may be obscured by overly complicated procedures and processes. Interpersonal and leadership skills The catchall term, "interpersonal skills," describes the manner in which you relate to people, resolve conflicts and, if you are a supervisor or manager, encourage, motivate and lead others. Companies of every kind benefit from having "relationship builders" who can help achieve consensus and deal with abrasive personalities in a firm but sensitive manner. Some say that leadership is a quality you are born with, while others make a good case that it is a set of learned habits. If you are able to take charge in confusing and critical situations, and have always found a way to bring squabbling co-workers together again, then you were born with it - or learned it along the way! Who can say? What one can say is that goal-driven leaders create and maintain environments of productivity. If you can motivate, mobilize and mentor others in the pursuit and attainment of high performance standards, then you are a leader, whether born or bred. If you have the important traits, that somewhat mysterious mix of experiences and insight, you will be in great demand from the growing number of companies that are learning to hire "attitudes and aptitudes" instead of merely "resumes and references." Part 2 of this article discusses the work ethic, and a way to embrace it with both passion and professionalism. After founding his first security firm in 1990, Scott McQuarrie built several security-related companies into regional and national powerhouses over the ensuing years. Since 2000 he has focused his sales and marketing efforts on the Internet, which opened up a virtually unlimited, international market for his flagship product line, EZWatch Pro. The EZWatch Pro brand has come to stand for world-class expertise in electronic security, video surveillance and the myriad technologies involved in both fields. From small houses to gigantic international airports, there is an EZWatch Pro solution to meet any and every residential, business, commercial and government security challenge.

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  • Theresa
    This has made my day. I wish all postings were this good.
  • Kaeden
    Sounds great to me
  • KM Farrier
    KM Farrier
    Richard Kennedy, you rock!
  • Kailene
    What do I tell an employer who asks why I left my last position, when I have been fired.
  • Ann
    I recently had an interview with a company I would love to work for.  However, the only problem is that I'm not fluent in Spanish.  The meeting went good with the HR representative, however when I met with the Sales Manager of the Dept he appeared to be extremely tired from traveling and the first question he asked me if I was fluent in Spanish.  If they were truly looking for someone with the language skill why was I called in to meet with them.  I have the work experience they are looking for along with the software skills required to do the job.I truly think it was bad timing.  The gentleman appeared very nice, however I didn't really have a chance to speak only after he asked me if I had any questions. It was nice to have a conversation with someone who didn't interagate you and ask a lot of questions in which would make you feel unconfortable. Half way through his discussion I went into my quiet mode and I feel my personality didn't shine through this time. My summary of this matter is that if they cannot find a bi-lingual rep I may be considered.   What are your thougts on this situation?
  • Kathleen
    Richard,  The VP of Contracts sounds a little odd, especially in his question. My response would have been, "since I have no experience in this area I would contact someone who does for the answer." Good luck with the position.
  • arlette
    good to know
  • thomas birke
    thomas birke
    Often I am sent to interviews with descriptions from a recruiter.  I get to the interview and suddenly some not previously mentioned hard skills are required that I am not stong in.  Do I write the situation off or try to finess my way around it?
  • Anica Ioanas
    Anica Ioanas
    Hello, Thanks a lot for all the information you provided here. I think that all are very informative and helpful for me too. I wish to be able to get them earlier, even that,  I hope that is not too late so I can take care of  my credit issue.  The previous questions/answers were extremely helpful too. There is another problem that is affecting me:  my communication. I’m an ESL speaker, with English pronunciation issues, that are concerning me most of the time. What should I do?  Please advise.  Thanks again.
  • Barry Wood
    Barry Wood
    After jumping through many hoops I got a overseas job that required experience and a secret clearance, when I got to the job there were so many young people there that had a clearance but no real experience so these HR's are filling a need with unqualified personnel and the pro's are picking up their slack. then these HR's are black listing some of the more experienced people, this will only drive up the cost of construction, not having qualified people will be the downfall. I was there I saw it myself, no skills just a clearance, and then the supers are stuck with them so they end up sweeping floors for 36.00 $ an hour. HR's need to do their job a lot better than they are, a lot of talent is being wasted because they are giving the jobs to the people that don't come close to qualifing for it.
  • liz kennedy
    liz kennedy
    To Patty Burton,  Remind that head hunter about the inter-personal skills you must have to deal with stressed out parents, Attention seeking children,  employee's etc.  Kids period are tough, much less all the adults you must deal with.  All with a smiling face, I'm sure.
  • Patricia
    Very informative! Thanks for answering the comments and questions. My dilema is this..I was recently fired from a position that I held for 7 years. The company said it was due to complaints about me but would give me no details. I wrote the HR Director for details as instructed and he told me " freedom to pursue other job opportunities" then blocked my unemployment due to "misconduct". The unemployment office gave me the documentation they had and I filed an appeal stating that the complaints were incorrect information and explained my side. The HR director said in his letter that they would only give references to future employers about how long I worked and what my title was. I think they usually answer questions about rehire as well. Should I trust them? What are my options...not getting answers to my resumes/applications.  
  • Lucienne
    In an interview, when they ask you a question like:  How do you manage the stress?  What will you answer?
  • Roger Glubis
    Roger Glubis
    Those 'way out there questions' that have no right or wrong answers are common amongst skilled interviewers.  You're right, Terry, on the surface they have no bearing on the position ... but they do.  The interviewer is not looking for the solution, but in how you react to the question / problem.  Do you get flustered, or do you approach it with some a calmness that will indicate how you work under pressure.  
  • Barbara Schultz
    Barbara Schultz
    Richard, thank you for stepping up to the plate and responding to all. Great job, thank you! NOW if you would answer Terry Boone's re: the garden hose. I'd like your insight. I have 4 45min interviews on Tuesday w/the same company - I need to see how to answer that off the wall question before I get to the interviews scheduled! thanks!!
  • Toubie Jack
    Toubie Jack
    A great read, thanks! And thanks to Richard Kennedy for a very insightful reply too.
  • Darnell
    I just wanted to say thank you to Richard.  I have an AAS in Early Childhood Education. I am a Phi Theta Kappa member, as well as the VP of Scholarship for this society. I am a member of the Sigma Kappa Delta, which is the English Society.  Whenever I have interviewed for jobs, I am often told the classes I took were probably easy ones and that is why I am a member of these two Societies.  I have been very frustrated with that remark, as it has come from several HR people.  One thing I have decided I am going to say from this moment on is exactly what Richard pointed out...that I have been entrusted with the most precious part of many people's lives which is their children..that I have had to go through criminal background checks, health exams, and numerous other inspections and exams to work in this field.  Thank you!
  • Wilda Lerczak
    Wilda Lerczak
    Terry B., I think he was pulling your leg! I would have responded that I couldn't be sure as garden hose is measured by linear feet, not square feet. But if we need the square footage...are we talking about a 3/4 in. or a 5/8 in. hose?
  • James
    OK, I have been interviewing for 3 different positions with 3 different companies. #1 began with a phone interview to verify and set up another phone interview that led to an face to face with 3 managers all separately and the last one continuing the interview over lunch. After the proper thank you letters and follow up correspondence. I heard nothing for a month, until receiving a call yesterday to schedule another interview for a consulting position. (Not the original position and not long term).  Problem: I have not been a consultant and have no idea what to seek in compensation.  Any Help would be appreciates
  • Patricia Johnson
    Patricia Johnson
    To Terry Boone: I would answer " Garden hose doesn't come in square feet, only linear feet. Do you want to know the number of feet from the N to the S of NY, the E to the W of NY, or the circumference of the State of NY?" :)  He wanted to see if you could think "outside the box" while under pressure.
  • JimH
    It still seems that employers have little interest in workers over 45. The farther you are away from 45, the older you are, the less they care what your skill sets are. I have both managerial and technical degrees and abilities. professional licenses, a stellar work record from perfect attendance to awards for cost savings and equipment improvement, and a stack of technical training and skills enhancement training certificates. I have written before and held positions where I conducted meetings, led groups, and all the other communication critical activities. I even designed and taught training programs to help enhance skills of other workers. I sent out over 500 resumes and job applications. From those I was invited to eight interviews. Two were looking for very specific skills on specific brands and types of equipment, but with the rest it became immediately apparent as soon as they saw me it was a no-go when it was clear I was 10+ years older than the co-workers. I saw several former co-workers who were much younger than me with the most marginal skill sets, a few without even formal education, and were terrible at their jobs get hired without difficulty. I was one of four applicants who applied for a job at a new auto manufacturing facility that opened near to me. I had a better skill set, more education, and lived closer than the other three. All of them were called and I wasn't even considered. A major soft drink company called me for an interview. It turned immediately openly hostile after the interviewer saw me and my gray hairs. I was practically thrown out. The economy being what it is employers have their pick of candidates and seem to be opting for younger workers. It doesn't seem to matter what field it's in.
  • Chuck Coleman
    Chuck Coleman
    What if you're autistic? You can be the most competent person for the task at hand, but have absolutely no ability to lead people beyond mentoring. Moreover, communications are often nonverbal which is difficult for us, both sending and receiving.
  • Laura Howell
    Laura Howell
    I worked for a company for three years. I was promoted twice in the three years.  In April I was given a 3.5% merit increase, and when I was fired, I was two weeks away from being vested. May 1st, I was fired "because my performance did not meet" the controller's expectations.  How do I handle this aspect on my resume.  I know prospective employers contact this ex-employer.
  • Jim Ervin
    Jim Ervin
    How do you feel about age discrimination for the job-seeker in their 50's or 60's or even late 40's? This can be a very discouraging factor in employment seeking. Since there are laws against it in Canada, age is seldom mentioned in a job advertisement. But as soon as questions are asked which will determine one's age, especially the social insurance number question, the job applicant can be assured that age discrimination is being practiced.
  • Amy
    To Terry: Garden hose is measured by length, feet in this case. Square feet is area.

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