Employee Traits That Employers Look For, Part 1

Julie Shenkman
Posted by

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.

Become a member to take advantage of more features, like commenting and voting.

  • Amy
    Terry Boone: Garden hose is measured in length measurements, not area. Square feet is area. The number of feet is how you discuss garden hose length, not the square feet. The English might ask for metric meters of garden hose.
  • Charles Tolhurst
    Charles Tolhurst
    Terry, I would tell him that there was no such measure as square foot of garden hose.  He may of been trying to determine if you were listening, and if you wwere, if you were going to attempt to make up a phony answer to the invalid question.  Evaluate quickly and be honest - if the question doesn't make sense to you, just say so - I don't understand the measure "square feet of garden hose, nor do I understand how that applies to the state of New York."
  • Terry Boone
    Terry Boone
    Richard - All of your responses to those questions were dead on and THANK YOU so much for responding to them.  Your feedback was exactly what I needed to hear.  I recently interviewed for a position by five department heads and the last one, the Corporate VP of Contracts asked me a very highly unusual question (which he initially stated was no right or wrong response to).  The question was: How do you determine the square foot of garden hose needed for the State of New York?  My question is - how would you response to this type of question?  P.S.  The question had nothing to do with the position I interview for, its  responsibilities, or the type of industry of this specific organization. Thx.  
  • RomusMagee
    The article told a lot of good topics on having the right credentials to do a job. It also spoke on having good communication skills and how important it is to use them. I think it was very informing.
  • Richard Kennedy
    Richard Kennedy
    Ever hear the old saying that if you are not part of the solution then you are part of the problem? Well I like to be part of the solution. So I am going to put my long experience and knowledge to use and provide my personal answers to each of the above problems Okay?Annie: If you have had a lot of jobs in a short period of time then don't list them on your resume. Forget they ever happened.To be perceived as a serious candidate when you have been consulting you should refer your interviewers to your list of satisfied clients. When you are consulting your clients become your employers of record.Alma: When someone asks you "tell me about yourself" you should answer: "Well there's really quite a lot to tell, can you narrow down for me what types of things you would like to know?" Or you can be even more take charge by responding: "Well I assume you want to know about my professional history and accomplishments". Then you tell them how you walk on water.Claire: When you leave a job that's "not your cup of tea" you tell an interviewer that: "I had a position that I realized was not a good fit for me personally or professionally. I now have a much better understanding of myself, my career goals and in what kind of position I can contribute the most to a company. That's why I'm here today interviewing with you".Josh: If you have an idea of what your problem is then you are halfway home toward solving that problem. You perceive that you lack "social grace". You need to get your top five best buds together, tell them upfront that you know you lack social grace and that you are relying on them as your friends to be honest with you about what you can do to solve that problem. If your friends won't be honest with you, then they are not your friends.Mike Taggart: See my answers to Annie and Alma above.Patty Burton: That headhunter was an idiot. Some of the dumbest people I have ever met are headhunters. In interviews emphasize that as a day care provider you are an entrepreneur entrusted with the most important asset that people have, their children. Point out too that you had to pass state and local inspections and investigations in order to have your business and that as a result anyone can be sure that you are absolutely squeaky clean. You are a business person who can be trusted with anything.Charlotte: You answered your own question. Smart woman.Santiago: The fact that you got to a second interview proves that you did a great job on the first interview. Review in your mind the kinds of topics that were discussed in the first interview. You can probably assume, especially if the company is a good sized one, that the second interview will stress many of the same issues. One key point: In a second interview they will probably be looking more at  the subject of fit. Be sure to emphasize to your interviewers what a good fit you are for the company. You are one of them.
  • Santiago Rosas
    Santiago Rosas
    Hello,Thank you for that insight information, I find your material quite informative and of course helpful. I do have two questions regarding one being invited to the ' 2nd interview ' process. First of all, what type or questions, characters  is the employer looking for? The second question, how does one prepare themselves for the second interview, in which I believe is probably the hardest of all interviews??Please advise.Santiago Rosas
  • Charlotte
    I would also appreciate some advice as to reponding when an interviewer seems focused on negatives. For example, during my last interview I was asked several questions regarding negative situations. "What did you dislike about your last job?" "Describe a job where you did not get along with a co-worker and how you handled that." "Describe a time when you were under a lot of pressure and describe how you handled it." "Explain how you deal with conflict in the office." There were other similar questions, and I didn't get the job, but now that I think back, perhaps I didn't want to work there after all. Perhaps a preponderance of those kinds of questions indicate that the office is fraught with conflict and drama. Hmmm...
  • Diana Maldonado
    Diana Maldonado
    Thank you so much for the wonderful article.  I wish I had this article last week that I had two intervies, but I really appreciated anyway for the future.
  • Patty Burton
    Patty Burton
    I've had a day care business for the last 5 years with employees.  I was told by a head hunter that I was a high priced stay at home mom. How can I get past this as a perception in future interviews?
  • Linda Becker
    Linda Becker
    This is a great article. The interpersonal skills are needed to get along with your team mates. You really need the cohesion to mesh together as there will be little or no conflict at all.
  • Michael Taggart
    Michael Taggart
    Posted by: Annie On: 10/5/2009 2:38:59 AMWhat about a person who's had a lot of jobs in a short period due to several company layoffs? OR what do you do to convince HR professionals that you are a viable inhouse or corporate candidate when you've been consulting for a few years?! Thanks  I'd like to hear the answers to these questions posted by previous posters:Posted by: Alma On: 10/8/2009 3:27:54 PMHello, I would like to know what would be the perfect answer when employers ask "tell me about your self" or what you didn't like about your last job?
  • josh
    what does one do if they definitely, demonstratedly do NOT posess the aforementioned 'soft skills' or being able to 'relate' well? even though i listen attentively, speak precisely, and write well, companies do not seem to appreciate these facets of my personality; instead choosing to focus on what they may perceive as a lack of social grace, although that is never my intent. what should someone in my position do?
  • Claire Ferreira
    Claire Ferreira
    How do I answer why I left my last position, but not state the real answer? Medical field not my "cup of tea".thanks,
  • Alma
    Hello, I would like to know what would be the perfect answer when employers ask "tell me about your self" or what you didn't like about your last job?
  • Annie
    What about a person who's had a lot of jobs in a short period due to several company layoffs? OR what do you do to convince HR professionals that you are a viable inhouse or corporate candidate when you've been consulting for a few years?! Thanks

Jobs to Watch