What Interviewers Want to Know

What do interviewers really want in job candidates? The answer may be different for every hiring manager. But first-time job hunters may be surprised by how simple their wish lists are. We asked hiring managers from a variety of industries to share what they look for in candidates.
Work experience is usually the first item on the checklist when hiring managers read a resume. They ask: Where did this person work? What did he do? And, is his experience transferable? Susan Cheng, a manager at a major media-entertainment company, says she’ll only glance at an applicant’s education, preferring to focus on whether he or she has relevant work experience.

A Positive Attitude
A human resources manager at a federal courthouse has plenty of accomplished candidates to choose from. He says he cares less about a candidate’s skills and experience than he does about her outlook. “The No. 1 thing we are concerned about — because we have so many qualified people who apply — is: Are we sure this person will have the right working attitude?” he says. “We just spend [so] much time with each other, in meetings and discussing things, that we don’t have time for people with a bad attitude.”

In other words, if a hiring manager has to choose between two equally qualified candidates, the person with the better disposition likely will win out. It makes sense. After all, who wants to spend 40 or more hours a week with a killjoy?

A human resources manager at a global information technology provider offers similar testimony. “It comes back to confidence, energy, and a positive attitude,” he says. “I’d interviewed candidates a little while back for a senior strategy position. One person had such energy, such passion. We needed a go-getter. It was the energy and passion that impressed me.” It’s little surprise that this interviewee was offered the position.
A positive attitude is reflected in not only what a candidate says, but also what he doesn’t say. Shawn Jarrett, a manager of strategic alliances for Pitney Bowes Inc., an office technology and services company, warns interviewees against adopting an aggressive or superior attitude during interviews. “You don’t want to interview the interviewer,” he says. “Don’t delve too much into an interviewer’s background. Everything you ask should be directed toward the job or to ascertaining information on [your potential boss’s] management style. Don’t try to nitpick, or try to find flaws in what people are saying. Interviewers, like everyone else, don’t want to be made to feel unintelligent.”

Hiring managers are alarmed by the startling number of candidates who misrepresent themselves. Prospective employees, they say, may exaggerate parts of their work history or disguise aspects of their personalities. The occasional candidate will even out-and-out lie. Yet it’s the straightforward candidate who is most appreciated by hiring managers.

Robin Pelzman, a former human resources specialist at Hewlett-Packard, says, “There are those lucky moments when, within the first five minutes, you know you’ve found the right person. This happened later in my career, when I’d built up my experience and I knew exactly what we needed in terms of fit. One person was memorable for his openness. He said, ‘I have three other offers. Here are the amounts they’re offering, but I want to work for HP. This is where I’d like to be.’ His openness wasn’t presented as: ‘I’m hot, so you’d better come after me.’ It was presented as: ‘My values and work goals correspond with this company and I want to work here.’ By being open about his preference for HP, he impressed me and made me far more receptive to his other attributes.”

Indeed, Hewlett-Packard isn’t the only company to value honesty in its employees. Hiring managers everywhere say that this quality is an essential. A consultant at a recruiting firm specializing in executive placements and board director appointments says that candidates should avoid practicing their answers as if they’re memorizing lines because interviewers want to see natural self-expression. “I don’t do a lot of prepping with my candidates, because I want the interview to be an organic experience,” she declares.

Current Employment
Even if you’ve had it up to your eyeballs with your present job, hiring experts advise that you keep working as you search for new employment. Why? Employers are often more inclined to hire candidates who are employed than those who are out of work. Beth Camp, the owner of a professional placement service, says, “Go with market value for your skill, suck it up, and stay working.”
If you’re already out of work, don’t sweat it. Employers can — and often do — sympathize with people who have been unemployed for several months or more, especially when the economy is ailing.

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