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

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.

Questions to ask in a job interview

So, you’ve charmed the panel with your small talk, nailed those tricky questions about your skills and experience, and shown that you’ve done plenty of research into the company. Now, there’s just one last hurdle to face before your job interview wraps up: “is there anything you’d like to ask us?”.

Many candidates typically find this part of the interview quite intimidating, but there’s really no need to fear the final part of the interview process. When done right, asking the interviewer a few carefully chosen questions can be a golden opportunity to set yourself apart from the other candidates. It can also give you a valuable chance to learn more about the role and the company, to see if it’s going to be right for you.

As with any part of the jobhunting and recruitment process, preparation is key. So, it’s sensible to take the time to think of a few questions in advance. To help you get ready for your next career move, we’ve shared a few of the best questions to ask in an interview, as well as some other tips for closing and following up an interview successfully.

  • Why should I ask questions at an interview?
  • 10 examples of good questions to ask at an interview
  • Following up: tips for closing an interview 

Why should I ask questions at an interview?

You might be wondering why hiring managers are keen for candidates to ask their own questions during an interview. The answer is simple: because it’s beneficial for both parties in terms of working out whether or not an applicant is right for the job.

For the employer, it’s a chance to gauge how invested in the role you are, and what your goals and aspirations might be in the long term if you do land the job. Asking the right sort of questions will show the panel that you’ve thought long and hard about the role, and that you’re enthusiastic about joining the team. Additionally, if you’re keen to learn more about things like progression or training, it will help to demonstrate that you’re ambitious, forward-thinking, and likely to be a great asset to the company in the future.

For candidates, asking the interviewer a few questions offers a vital opportunity to get a glimpse into the inner workings of the company. Although the panel will be doing most of the questioning throughout the process, it’s important to remember that any interview is still very much a two-way conversation. This is your chance to learn as much as possible about the particulars of the role and the wider company culture, to see if it will suit you. So, you’ll certainly want to make the most of it to get as much information as you can prior to accepting a job offer.

10 examples of good questions to ask at an interview

To help you prepare for your next big career opportunity, we’ve put together ten examples of good questions to ask in an interview. These are worded in such a way that will help to make you come across as professional, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic, while also giving you a chance to learn more about the company and the role. By keeping these questions in mind, you can ensure that you’re not left tongue-tied when the panel ask if there’s anything you’d like to quiz them about.

You should remember that it’s likely that some of these topics will already come up during the course of the interview, so be prepared to skip certain questions as needed. Some questions might not be applicable to every job or company, so use your judgement when considering which ones to ask, too. But, as long as you think on your feet, you should be able to show the interview panel that you’re engaged, enthusiastic, and a great fit for the role.

1. What does a typical day look like in this role?

The job description listed on the application might give you some understanding of what your overall responsibilities will be, but it won’t necessarily tell you exactly what you would be doing on a daily basis. By asking for more detail, you’ll be able to get a better idea of whether the role will suit you — and it will also present you with another valuable opportunity to talk up any strengths you have that would help you succeed in the role.

2. What do you like most about working here?

This is essentially the same as asking “what is it like to work here?” but, by addressing the interviewer personally, you’ll get a more direct insight into what it’s like to be an employee. Remember to keep things professional and positive, and don’t ever press them to disclose negative aspects of their job or to criticise their employer — the last thing you want to do is make them feel uncomfortable!

3. How will my performance be measured in this position?

What are the key performance indicators (KPIs) for the role, and how are they measured? Asking how your success in the role will be measured will help to give you a good idea of what the company’s expectations are like, and how employees are managed and supervised.

4. Can you tell me more about the projects that the new hire will be working on immediately after starting?

This question will show the interviewer that you’re keen to get started on the job and enthusiastic about the sort of work you’ll be doing. If you can think on your feet and explain how you would handle any problems or projects the company is currently working on, be sure to do so!

5. What are the biggest challenges that the company/department is facing right now?

Again, this type of question will show that you’re already thinking ahead to how you’d perform in the role. It also demonstrates that you’re invested in helping the company advance and succeed.

6. Is the work typically collaborative or independent?

It’s important to get a sense of how much teamwork is required in the role. Be sure to play up your strengths as both a collaborative and independent worker, mentioning past examples of this from previous roles where you can.

7. What opportunities for progression and development does this company offer?

Asking about progression and advancement will show the interviewer that you’re ambitious and invested in a long-term career with the company. Plus, it will give you some idea of just how far you could go in this job, as well as help to flag up any roles that seem a bit limiting or dead-end. Just be sure to phrase your question in a positive way — in other words, don’t ask when you can expect a promotion outright!

8. What characteristics do you typically look for in an employee?

Finding the right person for the role is often about more than just skills, experience, and qualifications: hiring managers will also be looking for candidates with the right attitude and personality type. After they’ve answered, you’ll naturally want to talk up any aspects of yourself that you think fit the bill.

9. How would you describe the culture of your company in three words?

What’s the ethos and outlook of the company? By finding out more about their workplace culture, you’ll be in a better position to explain exactly why you would fit in so well.

10. Do you have any reservations about considering me for this role? 

This is a slightly risky question, as there’s always a chance that the interviewer won’t want to share this information with you. But, as long as you’ve built a good rapport with them, and you ask the question in a polite and professional way, this can be a very effective way to address any doubts they might have about your suitability for the role. For instance, if the interviewer questions whether you’ve got enough experience in a particular area, you can point to other relevant transferrable skills you’ve picked up at previous jobs.

Word your questions carefully

While the examples we’ve shared above are all great questions to ask in an interview, you’re certainly not limited to these alone. So, if you’re curious about a topic that we haven’t mentioned, feel free to ask away! However, to ensure you’re remaining professional and showing yourself in the best possible light, you’ll want to bear the following tips in mind when thinking up your own questions:

  • Avoid asking lots of questions about salaries, pay rises, bonuses, and other perks. Although it’s fine to want to learn more about renumeration, focusing too much on the financial side of things will make the interviewer think you’re only interested in the money, which can be quite off-putting.
  • Try to avoid asking yes or no questions (like “is this a good place to work?”, for instance). Asking open-ended questions will ensure you’re getting the most informative responses.
  • Conversely, you should also avoid asking questions that are too broad for the interviewer to possibly answer in the context of an interview — like “what’s the five-year financial plan for the entire department?”. You certainly don’t want the interviewer to feel flustered!  
  • Steer clear of any negative questions. While it’s fine to ask the interviewers their opinions and experiences in a positive way, always avoid asking questions with a negative connotation, like “is anyone here difficult to work with?”. This will make the interviewers uncomfortable, and you won’t come across as very professional.

Following up: tips for closing an interview

First impressions are undoubtedly important during an interview — but so are last impressions. The final few minutes of your meeting present a valuable opportunity to drive home the fact that you really are the best candidate for the role. So, be sure to use them wisely by doing the following: 

  • Re-confirm your interest: Mention that meeting the team and learning more about the role haveincreased your interest in the job and re-affirmed your belief that you’d be the ideal match for the position.
  • Re-iterate your qualifications: Briefly re-cap the skills, qualifications, and other qualities that set you apart from the competition, placing them within the context of the interview (e.g. “Now I’ve learned more about the company’s focus on digital expansion, I can see that my experience with X software would make me an especially good fit”). This will help to make sure the panel are left with a strong idea of why you’re right for the role. 
  • Ask if there’s anything else they need from you: Ask if the hiring team need any further action from you, and ask if they’d like you to pass on any documents, samples, or portfolios. Hiring managers might not ask for these initially, but it could make all the difference further down the line if they’re struggling to choose between you and another candidate.
  • Ask for information on moving forward: Be sure to ask the interviewer what the next steps will be moving forward, and if they can give you a timeframe for their response. This will emphasise your interest.
  • Thank them for their time: Finally, thank the panel for their time and let them know how much you’ve enjoyed meeting them and learning more about the company.This will show that you’re a true professional with great interpersonal skills, and will encourage them to think that you’re the sort of person who they could imagine working with. Don’t forget to thank any other staff you encounter, such as receptionists or secretaries, on your way out.

The process doesn’t stop after you’ve left the building, either. So, after the interview has ended, you should always make sure to do the following:

  • Send a thank you: It’s both professional and polite to send a quick follow-up email within 24 hours of the interview.Thank them for their time, re-state that you’re very interested in the role, and let them know that you look forward to hearing from them.This doesn’t need to be very long — just a few lines will be plenty.
  • Follow up: If you don’t hear from the hiring manager about their decision within the timeframe, you can follow up with a polite email asking for a response. If you don’t hear anything after this, it’s best to assume you haven’t gotten the position and to step back. You don’t want to hassle them too much or seem rude.
  • Keep job-hunting: While you’re waiting to hear back, it’s fine to continue your job search. This will ensure your time is used effectively. If you’re currently seeking your next career move, be sure to view our executive jobs listings to see if any might be a good match for you.

The final part of any interview might seem challenging but, as long as you’re prepared, you should be on track to impress the panel and show them you’re the right person for the job. All of the examples we’ve shared above are good questions to ask in an interview, so it’s well worth making a note of them for your next big professional opportunity.

Here at Edward Reed Recruitment, we specialise in matching the best candidates to executive and managerial roles across a range of industries. So, if you’re looking to take the next step in your career, consider registering your CV with us today. You can also find lots more invaluable advice that will help you excel at your next interview on our blog.

5 Tips for Handling a tough job interview

Job interviews can be tough, here are some great tips from our Managing Director Chris Stappard.

Job interviews can be nerve-wracking experiences. You’re competing against other talented individuals for the position, you want to come across as best you can to employers and now the interview is getting more and more difficult. Here, Chris shares his top five tips for surviving a difficult job interview.

We can all feel nervous from time to time when we’re invited for a job interview, and while a small amount of nerves can make you more determined and boost your performance, being overwhelmed by these could hold you back from showing your true potential. But, we know it can be difficult to hold it together when the interview gets tough.

Whether you’re attending an interview for a job in fashion, technology or marketing, it’ll pay to know how you can make a good impression in your interviews. So, here I’ll be sharing my top five tips for handling a tough interview.

Calm your nerves beforehand

Nerves can be the make or break in interviews, either destroying your confidence or pushing you to work hard to overcome them. But, when you think they’ll have a negative impact on your performance, it’s important that you take measures beforehand to calm your nerves.

Take some time to practice your answers to competence questions, and any others you think may be asked. Of course, you can’t always predict what’ll be asked by the interviewers but being equipped with a memorised list of the things you want to get across to them will help you to answer questions that could otherwise be tricky. Going in feeling prepared and well-versed on what you want to say is likely to reduce nervousness and ensure you can be the best you can be.

As well as taking the time to prepare, you should also take enough time to yourself. This could include anything from going for a run on the morning of your interview to doing a yoga class or reading a few chapters of a good book. All of these can help to clear your mind and make you feel calmer.

Dress to impress

First impressions count and dressing in a smart and sophisticated way can be beneficial to both how your employer perceives you and how you see yourself, too. Sloppy, ill-fitting clothing isn’t likely to make you feel motivated or confident and can actually put employers off from hiring you.

Instead, I’d advise that you adhere to a smart and sophisticated dress code. This could mean picking out a crisp white shirt and your best work suit to ensure you look professional.

Use positive body language

Your interviewers can get a better insight into you as a person by monitoring your body language, especially when they ask you tricky questions. But, even if the question has left you feeling stumped, handling it in the right way can win you some serious brownie points with your interviewers. And, your body language can help you out here.

Sitting with a relaxed posture will show that you’re comfortable with your surroundings and exude a sense of confidence. To achieve this, I’d advise you keep your back straight but not stiff, and let your shoulders relax.

To show interest and understanding, consider leaning in slightly when someone is speaking as doing the opposite can signify that you’re disinterested and put you in the bad books with future employers. When it’s your turn to speak, use your hands to incorporate gestures into your conversation — but, be careful not to go too over the top with these!

Most importantly, ensure you’re holding eye contact with your interviewer. This shows that you’re interested and engaged with what they’re saying. However, you’ll need to avoid staring them down as this will come across as unnatural and may make them feel uncomfortable. If there are two interviewers, be sure to give equal amounts of eye contact to each and look at the person who is speaking to you.

Tackle tricky questions with confidence

Your interviewer won’t be trying to catch you out, but they may ask questions that you’re initially unsure of how to answer. These could include questions about your weaknesses that you don’t want to answer wrongly at risk of making yourself sound incompetent or unreliable.

However, your interviewer may also choose to throw some tricky questions in there to explore your knowledge and experience a bit deeper. Of course, trying to prepare for some of these harder questions will be a good idea, but in instances where they come out of the blue, it’s important to remain calm.

Think logically about the question they’re asking and give the answer a go. Even if the answer is wrong, your interviewer is likely to appreciate that you tried.

Ask questions at the end of the job interview

As well as testing your understanding of the industry, interviewers will be looking for evidence that you’re actually interested in the business and the industry that it’s in. While you may have shown this through some of your answers, I’d recommend taking the opportunity at the end of the interview to ask your interviewers some questions back. This could be anything from whether there is any room for progression, to asking them their personal opinions on the job role or for their views on a recent event in the industry. Doing this can help to establish a good rapport which may help to boost you to the top of their shortlist.

Interviews are notoriously nerve-wracking, but with my top five tips you can be prepared for even the trickiest of interviews.

No Agencies Please

These dreaded 3 words at the bottom of a job advert invariably mean that the company in question has little or no time for recruitment consultancies or worse still, has suffered at the hands of one of the ‘over promise…under achieve’ players in the market

Recruitment consultancy is about matching job seeking candidates with hiring clients. Simple really.

This is a competitive, sales-led environment with a focus on new business relationships, fee negotiation and the continued pressure to deliver results. So, corners are cut, service delivery is compromised and people are let down. Some clients then decide to by-pass recruiters altogether and attempt a direct hire.

Candidates have little or no loyalty to any one recruiter as their expectations are so low. All in all, not a pretty picture

So, guess what I did the other week…I saw an advert for a senior marketing role within an organisation with a strict hands off policy when it comes to the use of recruitment firms. This is a business that has traditionally avoided any long term relationships with recruiters, preferring when necessary to farm out roles that have proved difficult to fill through their own direct hiring methods.

I instinctively knew the right candidate for this position. Not only that but I knew he was only contracting and was therefore more than willing and very able to apply for a permanent role. What to do?

What’s in it for me?

Instead of attempting a blagging call into the client on the back of a strong CV, I called my candidate, told him about the role, where to find the advert online, told him everything I knew about the company and made it very clear that I would not be representing him for this position as the company was going to market directly.

He is now at 2nd stage interview for the role, meaning I will potentially lose a strong candidate from my network and of course there is no financial gain for my referral. So, what’s in it for me?

Firstly, the Head of HR at the company in question has emailed to thank me for the candidate referral and for being ‘refreshingly honest’

My candidate also has a whole new perspective on the candidate/recruiter relationship. He could be moving into a senior management role any day now and if one day he needs to recruit for his team, who is he likely to call first?






North East recruitment firm appoints senior role at Age UK Northumberland

Edward Reed, which specialises in mid to senior management level recruitment for the finance, HR, operations, sales and marketing and IT sectors was appointed by Age UK Northumberland to support the charity through the search and selection process of finding its new chief executive officer.

Chief Executive Officer recruitment
Age UK Northumberland Chief Executive with Edward Reed Recruitment

Age UK Northumberland is the regional branch of the national not-for-profit organisation, Age UK, which is well-known for its work with older people over the age of 50.

Fending off competition from a number of other well-established Newcastle-based recruitment firms to win the primary role on the account, Edward Reed was seen to be the best fit for Age UK Northumberland after they were recommended to the charity’s chair of the board of trustees, Andrew Marsh.

Andrew said:

“Edward Reed was referred to us through a member of the board who had worked with the company previously. Having worked within the not-for-profit sector before, Edward Reed had a strong pre-existing network of contacts and a sound understanding of our target audience.

“Edward Reed’s flexible approach to the recruitment process allowed them to structure themselves around Age UK Northumberland’s timelines without compromising on their quality of service, which was a huge benefit to us.”

The successful candidate appointed to the chief executive role is Helen Mills. With a long history of working in the healthcare sector in various senior management roles, Helen was identified as the ideal candidate for the job following a rigorous interview process, supported by Edward Reed.

Helen said:

“I have always loved working alongside older people. I come from a really close-knit family and spent a lot of time with my grandparents growing up, who I deeply admired and respected.

“On hearing about the vacancy at Age UK Northumberland, I actually approached Edward Reed directly to enquire about the role. After speaking with the team there in more detail, I submitted my CV and was subsequently put forward for an interview.

“Throughout the recruitment process, I felt completely supported by Edward Reed. Chris kept me engaged and updated at each stage of the process and I was delighted when he called to offer me the job. I would recommend Edward Reed to anyone.”

Managing director at Edward Reed, Chris Stappard, said:

“We have thoroughly enjoyed working alongside Age UK Northumberland on the appointment of their new CEO. Helen is a great fit for the role and we wish her lots of success in the future.”

To find out more about Edward Reed, visit: www.edwardreed.co.uk.