What to look for in a job candidate: 7 key qualities and responses

20th December 2021
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things to look for in a candidate

So, you’ve scoured the applications, read countless CVs, done your research on LinkedIn, and finally created a shortlist of quality candidates to invite for an interview. However, the facts on paper can only tell you so much, and a face-to-face meeting can reveal all sorts of other key strengths and weaknesses that might not be obvious just from looking at a résumé. But that’s only if you know what signs to look out for during the interview.

While an applicant’s previous employment record and qualifications can tell you a lot about their hard skills, they won’t reveal whether they have the right soft skills — like enthusiasm, strong communication, or emotional intelligence — to succeed at your company. You may find that someone who appeared to be a great match for the role on paper doesn’t seem very professional when you actually meet them, or that a candidate with less experience is actually a much better cultural fit in terms of attitude and outlook. The crucial skill for the hiring manager or interviewer is to know how to spot these attributes and qualities during a short face-to-face interview. 

In this guide, we’ll show you what to look for in a job candidate, so you can find the best possible person for the role during the interview process. We’ll share seven key qualities and soft skills that indicate an interviewee is going to be a good hire, including:

  1. Communication skills
  2. Enthusiasm
  3. Preparation
  4. Honesty 
  5. Curiosity
  6. Creativity
  7. Professionalism

We’ve also put together some example interview questions that will help you to work out whether the candidate has the relevant qualities for the role. Read on to learn more.

Communication skills

communicating in a job interview

Good communication skills are essential for almost any role, and can make or break an employee’s ability to succeed after they’ve gotten the job. So, out of all the qualities to look out for in a candidate, this is probably the one you want to be most alert for during the interview.

There are lots of indicators that an applicant has strong communication skills — in a way, the entire interview process can be seen as a test of their ability to communicate well. But, generally speaking, you want to find candidates who are able to respond promptly and clearly to your questions. Their answers will be articulate, without sounding overly rehearsed.

The conversation should also flow fluidly throughout the interview, with the applicant asking questions of their own from time to time to keep a back and forth dialogue going. The ideal applicant will be able to avoid creating long pauses or giving stilted answers that make your job as an interviewer more difficult. In short, they’ll be pleasant to talk to, and it won’t feel like hard work.

Remember to watch out for their ability to listen, too. Strong communication skills are as much about listening as they are about speaking, so be wary of interviewees who dominate the conversation or interrupt often. Their body language and facial expressions should show that they’re really listening when you speak, too.

Example question: Can you tell me about a time when you were able to resolve a conflict in the workplace?

This question will tell you about the candidate’s ability to work towards a solution under pressure, and whether they are able to act as a mediator in difficult situations. Look out for answers that show the candidate was able to use their communication skills to resolve a conflict with professionality and tact, rather than simply passing the problem on to a manager or another co-worker.


enthusiasm in a job interview

Naturally, you’re going to want to hire someone who is passionate about the job they will be doing. And, while most people will claim to be interested in the role during an interview, there are a number of signs that may help you to gauge how genuinely enthusiastic a potential hire is about the role.

An enthusiastic candidate will be very interested in the specifics of the role and the work they’ll be performing. They will likely ask lots of questions to help them learn as much as possible, too. Their excitement and enthusiasm will feel authentic and natural — it’ll be clear from their body language and engagement that they actually see the role as a fantastic opportunity, rather than just another job. If a candidate asks lots of questions about your company and the kind of work they’ll be doing, that’s a great sign that they’re going to bring genuine enthusiasm to the role.

Example question: What are you passionate about?

Asking this question will give you an insight into what really motivates the applicant. It’s hard to fake genuine enthusiasm, and this question will help you to work out which candidates want the job for the right reasons. It also shifts the focus from their qualifications and skills onto what interests them personally and professionally.

Their answer doesn’t necessarily need to be strictly related to their current career, but they should be able to link it back to the role in some way. For instance, if they describe their passion for charity work outside of their current job, they might mention how overseeing a group of volunteers has increased their interest in a managerial position, for example.


being prepared for a job interview

Knowledgeable, informed candidates tend to make the best employees. It shows that they’ve thought long and hard about whether the role will suit them, and what their skills and experience could bring to the company. It also shows that they’re going to work hard to deliver results for your business, because they’re committed to being a part of it.

The right candidate will clearly have immersed themselves in learning all about your company and will be knowledgeable about the role they’ve applied for. So, if they’ve taken the time to research your business in detail, it’s a strong sign that they may be a great fit for the position. Look out for candidates who know your company ethos and history, and who understand what it is that sets you apart.

Example question: What aspects of the role/company interest you the most?


honesty in a job interview

This might seem like a strange quality to look out for in a candidate — after all, how can you gauge honesty when you’re meeting someone for the very first time? But the right person for the job may be willing to own up to their strengths and weaknesses in a way that other candidates are not.

Self-awareness is a very important skill, as it means they’ll be more likely to learn form their mistakes. Additionally, if they are able to be open with you, it shows that they’re going to be an honest employee going forward. So, if a candidate is willing to admit to a gap in their career history or own up to a time when things didn’t go quite to plan, don’t write them off — ask them how they were able to learn from this and move forward.

Example questions: Can you tell me about a mistake you made in your current role, and how you were able to overcome it?


being curious in  a job interview

A job interview should be a two-way conversation, not an interrogation. If the candidate doesn’t ask questions of their own, it’s a sign that they may not be fully engaged, or that they simply aren’t that interested in the work they’ll be doing beyond picking up a paycheck. A strong candidate will ask lots of questions about every aspect of your company, from your workplace culture to your long-term goals for the business. The more curious they are, the better!

Example question: Is there anything you’d like to ask us?


creativity in a job interview

Creative thinking has become one of the most sought-after skills in recent years. A creative candidate will display excellent problem-solving skills and will be able to “think outside the box” to apply their skills to new and unfamiliar challenges. In short, they’ll be a more versatile and resourceful hire.

Example question: Can you tell me about a time when you were able to use creative thinking to make something more efficient or effective?

This question will challenge the candidate to show evidence of a time when they were able to put their creative skills into action. Look for answers that demonstrate their thinking process and ask for as much detail as possible, pressing for information about budgets, deadlines, and other constraints they may have faced. This will give you the best idea of their ability to be creative at work.


professionalism in a job interview

Professionalism can be a difficult quality to define. After all, it can’t be measured by qualifications, and even past experience isn’t necessarily an indicator that an applicant can behave in a consistently professional manner. However, one thing is certain: you’ll know professionalism when you encounter it.

A candidate who displays professionalism will strike the right balance between being formal and friendly throughout the interview, engaging in small talk when called on to do so without becoming overfamiliar too quickly. They’ll be well-mannered and follow the etiquette protocols you’d expect during a job interview. The ideal hire will also be smart and presentable, wearing attire that is suitable for the type of industry you operate in.

“Professionalism” might seem like a slightly nebulous quality, but essentially it all boils down to whether the candidate retains their composure and seems pleasant and well-mannered throughout the interview. They’ll be the sort of hire that you can imagine working alongside the rest of your team or engaging with your biggest clients on a regular basis. In short: if you can imagine the applicant being a pleasure to work with, it’s a strong sign that they’re a professional.

Example question: Can you tell me about a time when you were able to remain professional under pressure?

Finding quality hires can be challenging at the best of times, especially when you have a long list of applicants who seem to have similar attributes on paper. But, by knowing what to look for in a job candidate during an interview, you can ensure you’re making the right decision.

Here at Edward Reed, we can help you to source the most suitable talent for mid to senior executive and managerial roles. Drawing on our extensive hiring experience and expertise, we can provide a bespoke, personal, and consultative service that is tailored to support every one of your recruitment goals. For more information, visit our clients service page. To find more practical hiring advice and tips, including what questions to ask your interview candidates, you can also visit our blog.