What Job Candidate Qualities Matter Most Now?

From LinkedIn Pulse by Mario Peshev 25 June 2021

I have written about the hiring paradigms to consider in 2021 and choosing attitude over skills tops the list.

Having managed my own WordPress agency, DevriX, for over 10 years now, I can conclude that attitude beats skills every single time.

However, identifying what truly makes a great talent can be highly subjective, which is largely why attracting and finding the right talent is one of the biggest challenges most companies and recruiting firms are facing.

In this LinkedIn Expert Roundup, I have gathered the insights of our top industry experts on the question:

What Qualities of a Job Candidate Matter the Most Now?

Unsurprisingly, more than half of the experts cited Adaptability as a key trait. 

Discover more enlightening insights on this topic and prepare to reverse-engineer your recruitment efforts towards success by going over the list:

1. Curiosity, Willingness to Give and Accept Feedback, and Ability to Prioritize

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Curiosity is a big one, as curious people naturally research lots of information and, as a result – find different ways to solve problems. They also bring a fresh perspective to conversations and usually don’t wait to be told what to do as they’re prone to doing things just because they’re curious.

Next, giving and accepting constructive feedback is how we all get better. Implementing feedback shows you can put your ego in check in favor of getting better and producing high-quality work. Providing intelligent feedback is also vital for helping others without diminishing their work.

Lastly, we live in a very distracting world, so being able to prioritize is a must. “Prioritize the highest order bit” is an old expression that holds even more weight today. This requires sound judgment and some intuition, but it’s crucial if we want to get the most out of our limited time, resources, and attention spans.

Deyan Georgiev, Co-Founder | CEO at NitroPack

2. Adaptability and Power Skills

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There’s only one thing we know about the future of work: it will involve more changes and more disruption than we see today. Knowing that the best way for companies to “future proof” themselves against changes they can’t predict is to embrace both adaptability and learning velocity. These are the most critical qualities that will set a candidate apart from the rest today. 

The more versatile you are, the more versatile a company can be, and that is a massive competitive advantage today. 

When I was at LinkedIn, I overheard CEO Reid Hoffman being asked — “What competitor are you most concerned about?”. 

His answer reinforces these qualities. Reid said: “I worry more about the company that hasn’t been founded yet than I do about an existing player in my landscape.” This is because what it takes to found and build a company now costs less and takes less time than ever before. If your competition can come from anywhere, you must be prepared to move quickly and adapt.

As a recruiter and talent leader for 30+ years, I can tell you that a job description today is accurate for about a month at most. Jobs change, companies change, and markets change faster than ever. We need people who can not only adjust to these changes but can learn new skills and apply them quickly. It’s increasingly difficult for companies to forecast what skills they will need. So they must default to hiring talent that can grow and learn new things because we know that will be necessary.

We are heading towards a reality where we will soon be hiring as much for what people can learn as we are for what they know today since we can be certain that their job and our company needs are going to change quickly.  Let that sink in.

While of paramount importance, there are other critical qualities job seekers can bring to the table. Some may refer to them as “soft skills,” but I like to refer to them as “power skills.” They’re also deeply human traits: resilience, tolerance of ambiguity, intellectual curiosity, and the ability to bring order out of a little chaos. 

When thinking about the most important job skills of the future, it’s important to avoid the trap of believing those skills are exclusively technical ones. 

No doubt technology will be needed and used more in the future, but it is the ability to adapt, adopt and understand how to leverage this tech that is most critical — and those are human power skills, not hard skills. It’s less about learning to program in a new computer language and more about recognizing that new languages will be needed tomorrow. The better you are at learning and adapting, the more value you bring to the table. The true skill here is the ability to keep learning new things. 

Steve Cadigan, Founder at Cadigan Talent Ventures, Former CHRO LinkedIn

3. Adaptability and Ability to Learn Quickly

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Companies today need to look at adaptability and the ability to learn quickly as two of the most prized traits of a great candidate. Too few applicants are inflexible and unwilling to learn new things. I always tell employers to look for people who can ‘adapt and overcome if I can borrow a movie phrase. 

The ability to adapt to changing conditions and quickly figure out ways to complete a task or project if you get stuck is highly important for today’s candidates. So much of work is digital in nature and being resourceful and adaptable means you can handle almost any situation.

Look for candidates that want to experiment and learn from their failures. Those are the people I want on my team.

Chris Russell, Managing Director at RecTech Media and Chief Lancer, HR Lancers

4. Adaptability and Coachability

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Employers like adaptability. If you show them that you can solve problems, learn new tasks and ways of working, and overcome unexpected challenges. They will feel a lot safer hiring you in our current, fast-changing work environment. 

You can demonstrate this on your resume by discussing changes to past work processes and how you adapted and succeeded. You can also share this in the interview when they ask questions like:

  • “What is a professional accomplishment that you’re proud of?”
  • “Tell me about a challenge you had to overcome.”
  • “How would you describe your work style?”

Employers also love when a candidate is coachable and open to feedback. It’s great if you are joining their organization with prior experience and ideas. But hiring managers want a candidate who is going to learn to do things their way after joining, too. They’re scared of hiring someone who seems like they’ll struggle to fit in with the existing team, even if that person is very talented and experienced.

So in your job interviews, try to demonstrate that you’re humble, open to feedback, willing to learn, and coachable. This alone has gotten me job offers in the past and is highly underrated. 

Biron Clark, Founder at Career Sidekick

5. Resilience and Adaptability

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One year into a global pandemic, companies have learned that their manpower operations must be strong in order to be successful. Given this shift, one of the most important qualities a candidate can bring to the table is resilience. 

Psychologists define resilience as the process of adapting well in the face of significant sources of stress—such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors. Simply put, resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity. 

Employers are also looking for continuous learners in order to create a workforce that is adaptive and allows them to develop internal candidates for key positions. Whether you’re interviewing for a skilled or entry-level position, employers want to know that you’re curious and open to learning new things. 

While “I want to learn more to get promoted ASAP” isn’t a good answer to any interview question, what you can tell your interviewer is how you approach learning on your own, what classes you have taken to further your own personal growth and what you plan on taking to contribute to your professional development.

Jessica Miller-Merrell, Founder and Chief Innovation Officer at Workology

6. Resilience and Networking; Agility and Adaptability; Curiosity and Lifelong Learning

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My international background as Director for Artificial Intelligence & FinTech as well as Startup Mentor allowed me to stay very close to disruption for some two decades. In fact, half the market bet on my investment bank (Morgan Stanley) going down next after Lehman Brothers during the Financial Crisis

To condense my professional experience during several financial cycles into lessons for candidates today, the three most important qualities in a job candidate are:

Resilience & Networking

“You can’t change the wind, but you can adjust the sails to reach your destination” – Paulo Coelho.

The current situation with COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions is challenging for many people. It is easy to say “be resilient” or “find strength in yourself” but this is difficult to practice as resilience is not suddenly conjured up by the flick of a switch. 

You can focus on being aware of when the winds or currents are changing, getting support from others, and networking continuously—not just when you need a job.

Agility & Adaptability

‘It is not the strongest of the species that survives, not the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change’ – Charles Darwin

The most important lesson I learned from the dot com bubble bursting, 911, the financial crisis, COVID-19, and other “shock events” is that you should not expect things to continue as they are. Often, change and disruption seem to come as you get too comfortable with your surroundings. 

Without being open-minded about changing industries, companies, and countries, I wouldn’t have navigated the challenges and be where I am today. Candidates who are flexible to adapt to new job requirements, deal with uncertainty and navigate volatile environments would do well. 

Curiosity & Lifelong Learning

“The adventure of life is to learn.” – William Arthur Ward

Curiosity and Learning have propelled me throughout my entire career—the interest in other people and other careers; a genuine search for deeper understanding and connection. I aim to develop new skills, continue education (EMBA) and master new topics every year to maintain an edge and innovate in my field. 

As we quickly move to a world with more and more automation, candidates who are the most interested and learn the fastest will be best positioned to take advantage. This is particularly true for digital. Personally, I have been mentoring startups for more than a decade. Without my curiosity and passion to keep forging new ideas in Artificial Intelligence, I would not be at the forefront of disruption in Artificial Intelligence today.

Michael Berns, Director for AI & FinTech at PwC

7. Emotional, Relationship, and Corporate Intelligence

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Business leaders know that companies with great executive talent significantly outperform their competitors. So, it should come as no surprise that the competition for talent is fierce. Additionally, globalization, attrition, and changing demographics have led to a scarcity of talent.

Hiring the Best though is not about money—it never was. Shocking but true, the best candidates will come to an organization not to make more money but because of what the organization stands for and what it’s going to achieve.

Today, more than ever, companies need leaders who can use a common mission to inspire a community of people to operate at peak levels of performance. This has deep implications for which aptitudes and qualities of a job candidate matter most, whom you hire, and most importantly how they lead.

In the knowledge-based Industry 4.0 Economy, the management’s job is to cultivate an environment and culture that enables their people to leverage their intelligence and creativity.  You achieve this by looking for and hiring a leader who can develop the following intelligence within the organization:

Emotional intelligence (EI): It’s not just people who display emotional intelligence (EI). Organizations can, too. In organizations with high EI, employees believe in themselves—but are confident that the organization will have their back if they need support or guidance. It’s this confidence that enables them to try new things (which in turn, drives innovation). It also reassures them that help is available if things go awry. Easy to probe for when speaking with a prospective job candidate.

Relationship intelligence (RI): Companies with relationship intelligence (RI) demonstrate caring. This doesn’t just make for a happier workplace, however. It also boosts the bottom line. Simply put, caring is the basis of trust. When people trust you, they can speak openly and frankly with you. When people can speak openly and frankly with you, then you can solve problems together. And when you can solve problems together, you can leverage each other’s creativity and knowledge to build a competitive advantage. Like James Autry—who began his career as a publishing executive and went on to write several books on a variety of topics, including leadership in a knowledge economy—once said, “I need to know that you care before I care to know what you know.”

Corporate Intelligence: In high-performance organizations, employees share a common cause. Not only do they understand the company’s goals and objectives, but they also believe in them. Indeed, they believe in them to such an extent that achieving them becomes personally meaningful.

When you combine Emotional Intelligence, Relationship Intelligence, and Corporate Intelligence, you produce an environment where your employees are plugged in, turned on, and in tune with your organization. When you have that, it’s like winning the Triple Crown of thoroughbred racing!

The goal in hiring isn’t to find the best talent currently looking for work, or at least it shouldn’t be. What it should be: finding the best talent, period. And herein lies the recruiting challenge: the best talent isn’t looking for work. They already have jobs – good jobs.

All this to say that effective recruiting is now at the core of what builds competitive advantage.  Understanding what qualities of a job candidate matter and how to recognize them are key.

David Perry, Managing Partner at Perry-Martel International Inc

8. Personality and Cultural Fit

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To build a successful company, you need a team of professionals with expertise in their area. But the most important thing, in my opinion, is a team that fits the culture of the organization and understands its mission and core values. If the people are self-motivated, they can easily be trained and learn a lot of new qualities and skills. But if they don’t understand what the company is all about, they can hardly fit in the team and the culture of the organization.

At AtScale, we are looking for idealists, not careerists—specialists that are sharing our passion for creating something new and innovative. People who are passionate about working with cutting-edge technologies and businesses all over the world to solve their problems and make precise million-dollar decisions.

We are not calling our colleagues “employees” because we are all like-minded people. We share the same drive to build a product that solves one key business issue. Our management values every single person on the team. They know that the main reason for AtScale’s success is the amazing people that understand our mission and are dedicated to improving AtScale.

Creating a good company culture and a cohesive team is the foundation of any successful company. And we in AtScale truly believe in that.

Severina Mitsova, Human Resources Specialist at AtScale

9. Dedication, Hard Work, and an Open Mind

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Recruitment is an essential part of the successful functioning of any organization. It can blast off the performance up into the stratosphere or result in a catastrophe. Therefore, it’s of critical importance to properly identify which qualities are mandatory and with which you can compromise.

I am a strong proponent of investing in people’s potential rather than relying on previous experience and skills. Should you be looking for long-term investment, the qualities that matter most are related to whether or not this person seems the right cultural fit for your team, with the desired personality traits, indisputable attitude, and perpetual motivation and eagerness to learn and achieve. Technical skills and knowledge are taught, experience comes with time, but personality and attitude are hardly alterable; though not impossible, this could be achieved only with a strong desire and continuous, conscious efforts from the person himself.  

The qualities which matter most in a job candidate nowadays in a fast-paced competitive world where time and quality determine success are dedication, hard work, and an open mind.

Dedication – being dedicated guarantees that the work is done with passion and desire to improve; the essence of the job is intriguing to the person and it’s an area where he wants to develop, thus he will probably be willing to consistently invest time and effort to learn and know more.

Hard work – although there are highly talented people who acquire knowledge quickly and easily, it is a known fact that at the end of the day more important than what is naturally given is the hard work done to develop and improve it.

Open mind – in order to leave room for improvement one has to be open to different points of view, be willing to assume he’s not always correct, and not only tolerate feedback, but be actively looking for it. 

Donika Yordanova HR Specialist at DevriX 

10. Agility, a Growth Mindset, and Diversity

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In an increasingly complex talent marketplace and with the new challenges of working effectively in a hybrid, remote, or safe in-person environment, employees are being asked to do new things in ways they never thought they would. 

The candidates that stand out are those that are drawn to trying things they have never done before, and who quickly assimilate their learnings from trying something new into their toolkit.  These are the folks that don’t shy away from failures but see them as providing valuable inputs to their experience.  With that, the most common attribute we hear our clients need now is diversity: identity, experience, and thinking.  Those with perspectives that diverge from the dominant culture of an organization offer breakthrough ways of coping with this volatile and complex world.

To be clear, this means that you don’t have to have done the specific job before. What matters more is how well you’ll fare quickly adapting and figuring it out.

For hiring managers, and especially us white folks, this means that we need to stop relying on our past-focused, short-term, urgent approaches for hiring that usually result in hiring more people that look, think, and act just like us.  Translation: our patterned thinking and practices systematically prevent black, indigenous, and people of color, women, queers, and other marginalized people from landing the role.  

Rather than hire for that one person, we have in mind who has already checked the box on our lengthy laundry list of past experience requirements (that are also probably modeled on ourselves), seek out the behavioral tendencies that suggest the candidate will thrive in the future. Recognize that structures of power and privilege have excluded some candidates from even being able to add that bullet to their resume that “proves” they can do it.  

Acknowledge that those same structures may also cause us to not recognize that the underrepresented person in the interview room before us has indeed already done the role, and frankly could probably do our job too. Ask questions that are expansive about future situations, rather than reductive about past examples. Consider corollaries, transferable skills, and disruptive thinking. Slow down, be thoughtful, get inspired about the future.

Fran Benjamin, Managing Partner at Good Works Consulting

11. Passion, Desire to Learn, Comfort with Ambiguity, Ownership, and Openness

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Every company tries to make their intangibles tangible and Kustomer is no different. We know we love the people we work with and the challenges that we get to solve every day. But what makes those people so wonderful to work with and so excited to face off new obstacles? 

We find that there are five qualities that employees all embody that lead to positive contributions to our culture and in the end, our success.

  • Passion
  • Desire to Learn
  • Comfort with Ambiguity
  • Ownership
  • Openness

Passion – You love what you do, you love the customers you work with, you love the people you work with, and that passion drives you every day. 

Desire to learn – You search for the next challenge and the knowledge that it will take to solve it. Your desire to learn is also wrapped around your ability to absorb all that comes your way. 

Comfort with ambiguity – Let’s face it, start-ups and fast-growing companies can be places of chaos and top candidates know how to move through that chaos and even thrive in it. Priorities change constantly and being able to roll with the punches and still smile throughout the day is essential. It also means you will love the environment here and likely do very well.

Ownership – Start-ups and small companies require team efforts, but those team efforts need people that own the work and meet expectations. Top candidates take accountability for their mistakes and push themselves to deliver at their best.

Openness – People who are open to challenges, change, new things and know that they don’t know everything! We are all here to make each other stronger and smarter and when we are open to learning and hearing other’s ideas, our path to growth becomes boundless.

Elizabeth Maxedon-Thomas, Talent Acquisition Lead at Kustomer

12. Work Performance, Intrinsic Values, and Cultural Fit

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Top employers have a well-defined recruiting and hiring process that stresses the qualities they value in top candidates. This is a built-in business process that is adhered to for every hire. 

A top recruiting and hiring process is built on four major pillars. At a high level, they include: 1) defining the real job based on performance – not describing a person, 2) creating a top talent attraction intrinsic recruiting message, 3) unbiased selection process, and 4) closing a top candidate on more than just compensation. 

The next four recruiting and hiring components are some of the critical building blocks within these pillars. 

They focus on the ability to excel in the work. This is accomplished by developing a performance-based job description which defines work first and the person second. They define their job in terms of successful work performance outcomes vs. describing the person’s background. They focus their selection on people who demonstrate they can successfully do the work. This removes bias, increases the size of the potential candidate pool…among other desirable outcomes. 

Their recruitment message focuses on intrinsic values. They brand their job by focusing on ‘why a top person would want the job.’ They include why the job is challenging/interesting, what the person will learn and how this opportunity contributes to their career growth. It’s heavy on ‘what’s in it for the candidate’ or WIFC. This style of recruitment message tends to attract the type of candidate qualities that matter most to the employer. 

They hire to fit their culture. Desirable qualities can vary from employer to employer. When they start with the end in mind (one of Stephen Covey’s 7 habits) they build in the qualities that matter most to them and their success. The culture must support and nurture the employee. By defining the job in terms of successful work outcomes, the job becomes inherently easier to fill and the odds for a successful hire go up. Part of the reason is the job defines ‘purpose’ and clarifies how the job fits into the overall company mission. 

Their selection is based on two critical questions plus one technique. When the real job is described in terms of successful work performance, the candidate is clear on what is expected. Surprises should be eliminated by both the candidate and the hiring manager. Focus on this aspect is achieved by asking the candidate ‘what have you done that is most comparable/similar.’ The second question is focused on ‘how would you do about doing/accomplishing that.’ The key is a drill-down technique that follows the question to peel the onion back and creates a real business discussion around the key performance objectives. 

To provide a list of desirable hiring qualities without context is to oversimplify a top recruiting and hiring process. Employers typically shortchange the creation of a well-defined process. It’s more work upfront but saves hours and thousands of dollars later. Not to mention the untold misery of dealing with a bad hire.

Carl Bradford, Owner at Bradford Consulting

My Take

If I have to name one quality to rule them all:

Intrinsic motivation.

Any career jump, promotion, or even heading straight toward your first job, is reliant on understanding why you do it.

Without the type of motivation that digs deep into your value map, your moral compass, or your long-term values (such as family values, ethics, moral, or even external motivators such as long-term financial success or hitting a certain sales goal), it’s nearly impossible to give 120% for a continuous time, long enough to persevere through rough times and challenges, and achieve what it takes to keep growing.

Intrinsic motivation is what I seek any time I sit in an interview, and as long as the culture fit is there (along with other added traits like attention to detail or basic business etiquette), this is the driving factor I decide upon.

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