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What a Hiring Manager is Looking for In a Job Candidate


I speak with many groups regarding the hiring process and exactly what a hiring manager is looking for in a candidate. Over the course of my executive career, I have hired or had input into the decisions for hundreds of colleagues at all levels of a Fortune 500 company. From administrative roles to executive leaders I have interviewed candidates with diverse backgrounds and capabilities. I have interviewed people for roles in the financial services industry, sales operations and global supply chain; placing people in several different countries on nearly all continents. Most of these decisions were the right ones and a few, unfortunately, did not work out as well.

A proper and successful hiring process begins with a clear candidate profile and job description. The profile serves to detail the fundamental skills necessary to be successful in the role and is the minimum the team is looking for in a solid candidate. This document will serve as a basic contract with the internal team and help gain agreement by all stakeholders in the process and with all teams that work closely with the hiring manager. The other key document is a solid job description, which will allow both the candidate and the interviewing team to agree on the new role and some of the key deliverables. While the initial job description can never be all-inclusive, it should serve as a baseline to manage expectations for both the candidate and the hiring team. This baseline will serve to fill a slate of qualified candidates prior to meeting the hiring manager and the hiring team. This slate will be a combination of vetted candidates from staff and potentially the network of the hiring manager or hiring team.

I will digress a bit on the network of the hiring manager note. Most successful job seekers will find a new role through their network. To already be a trusted candidate that has a relationship with the hiring manager will increase the chances of success exponentially. Not only will the candidate become aware of new jobs before they are posted, they will also be a known commodity with the hiring manager and potentially the hiring team. The candidate will also already have a solid understanding of the hiring managers expectations and most likely the firm they are interviewing with. For great advice on networking like a pro a great read is Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi and Tahl Raz.

In my experience, hiring managers are looking for 5 critical attributes:

• A fit with the basic skills
• A good fit with the culture
• An ability to think clearly
• A genuine level of excitement
• A curious learner

Certainly, there are other areas a hiring manager may probe for, but these are the critical elements for a successful candidate and a successful interview process.

You Fit the Basic Skills

At the core, a candidate must fit the basic skill set of the job description. This does not mean a candidate is ever perfect or one should disqualify oneself from an opportunity. Depending on the background and experience of a candidate, some level of creativity may be required. A candidate with less experience may need to make connections with past experience that others may not necessarily make. If a role requires more customer experience than a candidate has been subjected to, potentially stressing extensive internal customer success is required. If one can position wins with difficult internal clients and connect the requisite skills to the job requirements, that person can potentially compensate in other key areas. In addition, a properly worded cover letter can help the candidate position their brand. If the person interviewing already knows the hiring manager these challenges can more easily be mitigated. And always remember to draw experiences from all facets of your life where appropriate. If one has great experience working for a not for profit organization or organizing a community event, augment your professional experience with skills learned from non-corporate work experience.

You are a Good Fit with the Culture

When the basic skills for the role are validated, the hiring manager then will move to evaluating the cultural fit of the candidate. It will be incumbent for the interviewee to not only understand the culture of the hiring organization, but to also have the self-awareness to understand any limitations. Two good places to research corporate culture are annual reports and an internal network. While one can ascertain the culture of a company within the annual report the most important insights will come from people already working in the firm. Not only can these people serve as advocates, they can also provide the reality of team dynamics and the reality of the corporate culture on a day-to-day basis. Preferably, one will have a network on the team the role will reside in, but that is not entirely necessary. Adjacent teams or functions can also provide a good sounding board for how work gets done and the unwritten rules of the company. It is critical the prospective new hire spends time with at least one person that can answer questions in a safe harbor.

You can Provide Concise and Relevant Examples

As part of the interview process, a good hiring team will ask behavioral based questions to understand both the accomplishments of the candidate and how they delivered results. This is potentially the most important part of the hiring process. A candidate should have concise and specific examples of how they have executed to deliver business impact and why they are the best candidate for the role. There are two critical areas where the candidate will almost disqualify himself or herself from the process; answer a specific question with vague examples or not have relevant questions for the interview team (to be covered later). One model I use is the STARR construct. Provide examples that detail the situation, the task, the actions you took, your role on the team and the ultimate results. Reading the job description will provide hints to the potential questions and the examples one should have prepared.

You are Truly Excited and the Role is a Good Fit for You

As I walk through the interview process and make determinations about skills and the ability to deliver results, I am trying to determine the fit for the candidate in front of me. Are you truly excited about the role, how well did you research the company and have you reached out to others on the team to ask questions. While I do not expect a candidate to have a detailed 5- year plan, I would expect a candidate to understand where this role fits into their future career plans. A basic awareness of how they can leverage skills and learn from the role are important as the potential next role from a successful tenure. It is also important for the candidate to have a basic understanding of the culture of the firm and the landscape of the firm’s marketplace. A working knowledge in these two areas show the candidate is genuinely curious about her future home and that they have the curiosity to ascertain a good fit prior to the interview.

The Candidate is a Curious Learner

The final phase of the evaluation process is just as critical as the rest. At this point I ask the candidate if they have any questions of me and I always give 30% of the time for the candidate to better understand the role or the company. A candidate with no questions will quickly disqualify themselves from consideration and a candidate with random or unstructured questions will also put themselves at a disadvantage. Most candidates will be in the middle of this distribution and this is where one can truly distinguish oneself. Some excellent questions include: How will I know I am successful after the first 90 days, what would you do in the first 60 days to build a sound foundation and what are some roles that are a natural fit after I am successful. Other questions related to team direction, the company’s culture and the markets we operate in are also excellent areas for the candidate to probe. Usually 3 to 5 well-structured questions are appropriate and will open the conversation to other areas that even the hiring manager had not considered. The more the candidate can have an open and peer like dialogue with me the better.

The interview process can be stressful and often tedious for the interviewee. Taking the above into consideration and have a strong network inside the company can help alleviate this stress and better improve the chances for success. From providing concise examples of success to asking insightful questions the well-prepared candidate will be well ahead of any competition. Another key to success is a champion inside the firm that knows the candidate’s strengths and will be an “insider” vested in the success of the interviewee.

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