What do employers look for in a candidate?

When employers are hiring, they have a clear picture of what technical skills and knowledge the required candidate will have. This will have been evident from their CV, which I have mentioned in previous columns. We all know by now to include leadership, teamwork, communication, negotiation, etc; keywords that I have talked about previously. But employers are also looking for other traits in a candidate. These are known as interpersonal traits or ‘soft skills’ which will show the employer if you are able to fit in well with the office/department/team. These characteristics will not be immediately evident from your CV, which is why interviews are carried out; to see if you are the best person for the job in a technical and values sense. Some examples of soft skills are:

Personality – showing a bit of personality can help to make you stand out against other applicants. But remember there is a fine line between having a sunny disposition to being known as the office joker.

Competence – the ability to get the job done by setting priorities and remaining focused to achieve deadlines.

Self-awareness – awareness of individual achievements, weaknesses and future career progression.

Confidence – presenting a strong, professional image of who you are and what you want to achieve. Inspire without coming across as arrogant.

Independence – accepting responsibility for your own views and actions and can use own initiative.

Integrity – adhering to company policies and procedures, respecting confidentiality and challenging inappropriate behaviour.

Diversity – respecting different views of others, open to new ideas and a fresh approach.

Flexibility – showing flexible skills promotes a ‘can-do’ attitude as well as the ability to step outside your comfort zone.

Professionalism – maintaining a high standard of work, continuously representing the company.

Learning and development – developing and achieving new competencies to continue with lifelong learning. Highlights your commitment to the company.

Let’s look back at one of the soft skills mentioned above – “self-awareness.” In order to be self-aware, we need to know what our key strengths are for a particular role. To achieve this, we can conduct what is known as a SWOT analysis, which is a useful tool to have when faced with a difficult decision. SWOT stands for ‘strengths’, ‘weaknesses’, ‘opportunities’ and ‘threats’. The purpose of the personal SWOT analysis is to identify actions you can take to meet the requirements of a specific job you are pursuing.

Comparing your strengths and weaknesses will identify areas you need to work on, and will help you prepare to be the best candidate for the position. Divide a sheet of paper into four sections, and name each section as above. Then list all your SWOT items under each section. Your strengths, for example, could be strong project management skills, proven successful sales abilities, experience and training in presenting to large audiences.

See your weaknesses as an area of opportunity for growth. Let’s turn the previous example around. Imagine you get nervous speaking in front of a large group and this is affecting your career development. This could be resolved by enrolling on a presentation skills coaching course/mentoring course.

Some examples of threats could be: people are more qualified than you, or better at public speaking. You could then look at your opportunities section again to see how this could be rectified.

By compiling your SWOT, you’ll be amazed at what you can find out about yourself, and you will also have a solid goal to work towards. It is interesting to revisit your SWOT analysis every so often. You will find you can change things around, sometime weaknesses become strengths, and/or opportunities.

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