What Are Employers Looking For?

  • “I fit the qualifications listed in the job description almost EXACTLY, but I still got declined for an interview!”
  •  “Wow, the recruiter and I hit it off so well!! Why didn’t I move forward in the process?”
  • The interview with the hiring manager went great, but now I haven’t heard anything for two weeks!”

If you are like many people who have gone through job transition, you may have had experiences that had you saying something like the scenarios above. The age-old question that then arises is something like, “What are they looking for?!? What does the employer want?”

During the month of April, we want to share with you some perspectives to answer that question. Today is an overview answer to “set the stage,” and in the following weeks, we’ll highlight certain demographics that provide some unique views into what an employer might be looking for in applicants.

Best Choice, Least Risk

First, let’s start with an important premise. Hiring managers want to hire someone who is the best choice and the least risk. Think about those two core components: Best choice and least risk. Hiring managers generally don’t like having to find new people. Odds are high the level of work hasn’t changed, and they now are down in headcount and need more people to get the work done. In addition, you could also assume that one thing they dislike more than hiring…is firing. So getting the “right” person in the job – the person who appears to be the best choice among those available, and the one who projects the least risk of failing or leaving in the near future – will get the job.

The Three C’s

Second, broadly speaking, employers are looking for applicants who fit their requirement in three categories:

  1. Competence – Who knows what to do and how to do it? Who has the experience, knowledge, abilities, skills, and talents needed to get the work performed?
  2. Capability – Who has a proven track record to do the work that needs to be done? So this is a step up from experiences into accomplishments and achievements. Who can do more than talk a good game and can point to real outcomes that demonstrates their competence? An assessment of a person’s potential also fits into this bucket.
  3. Character – Who possesses the core values and work ethic that aligns with what the company espouses?

The Right Candidate

Last, the employer will apply additional effort to discover:

  1. How badly do you want the job?
  2. How likely are you going to stay with the job?

Unfortunately there aren’t many tangible ways to uncover these two points, so it often comes down to a “gut feel” from the hiring manager. Still, for applicants to be cognizant of this requirement can aid them in expending the effort to cover those two areas.

Ultimately, the employer wants to find people who do best what they (the employer) needs most.
A principle from Proverbs certainly seems to apply. Proverbs 13:4 says, “…The desires of the diligent are fully satisfied.” Anticipating and preparing for what employers are looking for takes some effort, but the payoff is certainly worth it.


Dave Sparkman currently serves as the volunteer Crossroads Career board chair and local ministry leader. He is also the founder and managing director of Spark Your Culture, a corporate culture consulting firm. Prior to that he worked at UnitedHealth Group, a Fortune #5 public company, serving in the role of Chief Culture Officer. His unemployment experience came from the implosion of Arthur Andersen, where he served as the West Region Managing Partner, People.

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