Most Important Qualities to Look For in a Job Candidate

By L. Roberts on October 31, 2019

If you’re in charge of recruiting job candidates for your company, you have a lot on your shoulders. I’m sure I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know, but finding the perfect candidate for the job can determine the overall success of a company. As a manager, recruiter, or hiring specialist, you have been chosen because of your ability to see both people’s strengths and weaknesses and match them up with a job that will suit their personality.

Oftentimes, we glance over resumes or interview questions and base a hiring decision off of our first impression of the individual. Candidates are told this on every website known to man. “First impressions can’t be redone.” “Think seriously about the outfit you show up in, as it’s imprinting a permanent image of who you are on their brain.” “Play up your strengths, but don’t be afraid to admit your weaknesses.”

There’s all kinds of “advice” out there for when it comes to job hunting. But where’s all the advice for the people who are picking the candidates? In the end, it matters more about who is on the hiring committee than the answers a job candidate gives in an interview room.

If you’re in charge of sorting through applications and interviewing candidates, you might be feeling overwhelmed. Sometimes you’re looking for so many things, you don’t even know where to begin. And while it definitely depends on the industry you’re hiring for, there are several qualities you should be looking for — regardless of the job description. Here are nine qualities you should look for in a job candidate before you decide to hire.


1. Organization.

When you start interviewing for an open position, chances are, you’re going to be flooded with hundreds of resumes. If you’re using one of the online job boards (like or Monster) you’ll likely get responses from people who have no business applying. When you start feeling overwhelmed with the number of resumes you’ve received, the easiest thing to look for is organization.

Writing a resume requires some skill, and people who have had multiple jobs tend to have resumes with more substance. One of the easiest things you can look for is how a resume is laid out. Previous work experience should be grouped together, as well as their contact information, references, and certifications. If their resume seems to be cluttered and unorganized, they’re probably an unorganized person.

Regardless of the job market you’re in, hiring someone with no organization skills can be bad for your company. You want to hire someone who can keep up with their things, show up on time, and communicate effectively. The first step when interviewing job candidates or looking through resumes is to analyze and evaluate their organizational skills.

2. Punctuality.

When you start interviewing, we all know that first impressions are high on the priority list. Part of a first impression is the candidate’s timeliness. For an interview, most candidates should plan on showing up at least 15 minutes early. If you’re interviewing someone who breezes in at the last minute, you should be wary of hiring them.

If their first impression includes being even slightly late to their interview, it’s likely that their punctuality is lacking. Working with someone who can’t show up on time often throws the rest of a team under the bus. It’s hard to work with someone who doesn’t carry their own weight, and this includes the ability to simply show up to meetings (and their job in general) on time.

While some people may not value punctuality, or are willing to excuse five minutes of lateness, a person who is punctual is typically also a person who has their life in order. You want to hire someone who has the gumption to get themselves out of bed on time and to work with a few minutes to spare. If you hire someone who doesn’t seem to own a clock, you’ll be regretting your decision quickly.


3. Honesty.

As you begin your interviews, you might be unsettled as to how you’ll evaluate an individual’s honesty. But it’s truly much easier than you might think. When you begin asking questions about gaps in employment, reasons for resigning from previous positions, or a lack of references, it’ll be obvious as to whether or not your candidate has sincere answers. If you have a good sense about people (which you probably do), you’ll be able to tell if they’re making up answers on the spot or if they’re being sincere about their past.

Hiring someone who’s honest is necessary for obvious reasons. Working with someone who’s dishonest can truly make your life harder. You want to be a part of a team of people who value each other, and honesty is one of the most important things you can look for. As you sit down for a long day of first-round interviews, keep your eye on their nervous habits and try to evaluate whether or not they’re being honest with you. You definitely don’t want to get stuck with someone who has a problem telling the truth.

4. Communication.

Most jobs require some type of communication, whether employees work on a team or individually. There are reports to be written, meetings to be had, and conferences to attend. If you hire someone who doesn’t have stellar communication skills, you’ll likely be regretting your decision. As you look through resumes and hold interviews, make sure you’re evaluating their level of effectiveness regarding communication.

Their resume is the first thing you can evaluate regarding communication. Written communication is equally as important as verbal communication, especially if the job description requires them to write some sort of report. Whether it’s sending out emails or turning in a written grant, when a job candidate lacks the ability to communicate through the written word, it’s likely that you’ll have a hard time working with them.

The next type of communication that you need to evaluate is their oral communication skills. This will be the most obvious during the interviewing process. Can they relay their five year plan effectively? Do they have trouble explaining their reasoning for the decisions they’ve made? As you ask questions and they answer, pay attention to the way they carry themselves. After all, you don’t want someone representing your company who has zero skills in the communication department.

5. Responsibility.

Before you confirm a new hire for your company, you want to make sure your candidate has had experiences with being responsible for big projects. As you look through their resume and hold an interview with them, prioritize discussing their previous experience with being in charge — whether it’s with people or projects. You want to hire someone who’s been trusted with deadlines, information, and managing other people, which is how you’ll know that others have deemed them “responsible.”

Working with someone who has zero responsibility is tough. They might be slow to take ownership of mistakes; they might drop the ball on deadlines; they might even show up late to work and think nothing of it. Being responsible means having the ability to see the “bigger picture,” and understanding how you fit into a team. It’s important to hire someone who values responsibility and has made it a priority to be a responsible person. You’ll be able to tell as soon as you meet a person whether or not they’re “responsible.” The way they carry themselves and respond to questions will be the easiest way for you to evaluate their level of responsibility.

6. Detail-oriented.

Similar to a person’s organizational skills, evaluating their eye for detail is also important when hiring for a job. A person can be all kinds of organized, but if they don’t prioritize the small details on projects or reports, you’ll hate your life after you hire them. People who don’t have an eye for detail require someone to go behind them and check their work. You’ll find yourself doing your job and theirs if you end up hiring someone who is lacking in this department.

To evaluate whether or not a candidate is detail-oriented, spend time looking at their resume. You can tell by the font size, spacing between paragraphs, and overall organization whether or not they pay attention to detail. Is their resume consistently formatted, or do they have random spaces and font changes throughout? How have they decided to organize their resume — is their education and previous work experience organized at the top, or do they skip around and eventually end with “references upon request?”

You might find that this quality is tough to evaluate when you don’t have much time to get to know the person. This quality would be a good one to inquire about when you make those phone calls to their references in the final round of an interview.

7. Self-motivation.

Has your job candidate taken it upon themselves to learn about their industry? Have they taken initiative and attended conferences and professional development that would deem them “self-motivated?” You want someone who’s going to go after what they want, and continue to further their knowledge and education without someone having to stand over their shoulder.

As the person who’s hiring to fill a vacancy, you’ll want to make sure you hit on this in the interview. Candidates should be more than prepared to talk about how they’ve furthered themselves without being told.

Throw in a few questions about personal/professional development and ask how they spend their free-time. This will give you a good idea about their level of self-motivation.

8. Positive attitude.

No one wants to work with someone who has a negative attitude. Nor do you want your company to be represented by a person who doesn’t know how to look at the glass “half full.” You can evaluate a candidates positive attitude by asking them questions about their outlook on life.

“Where do you want to be in five years?” is a great question for diving into a person’s outlook on life. Listen to how they talk about their previous experiences. Do they discuss what they learned, or are they negative about the way things ended?

A positive outlook on life means a person is generally more fun and easier to be around. You don’t want to work with people who make you dread coming to work. You want to hire a person who’s going to make your team stronger and happier. So be on the lookout for someone who sees things in a positive light.

9. Team player.

The last thing anyone wants to be is on a team with someone who doesn’t know how to be a team player. Not only is it annoying, but it’s tough to work with someone who doesn’t hold up their end of the deal. Being partnered with someone who has no idea what’s going on, doesn’t follow through, can’t finish their assignments on time, and doesn’t use their time wisely is honestly just annoying.

When you’re interviewing potential hires, ask them about their experiences when working on a team. What role do they play? Do they enjoy working with others? Are they more comfortable doing independent projects?

Depending on the industry that you’re hiring for, this might not be as important. There are several jobs that don’t require as much collaboration as others. Maybe you’re looking for someone who is okay working alone. Unless there’s zero possibility that this new hire will be working on a team, asking them about their previous experiences with team work is very important.


It can be incredibly overwhelming to interview candidates for an open position with your company. Beginning with the job posting, you’ll be in charge of sorting through resumes, hosting interviews, and making final decisions about who you’re recommending for hire. Not only is this a major responsibility, it’s also a lot of pressure. Once you hire someone, your other coworkers will likely judge who you picked. (Hopefully you’re part of a hiring committee, instead of being charged with this task all alone!) As you progress through the process, make sure you’re evaluating these nine qualities in every candidate.

By L. Roberts

Uloop Writer
University of Tennessee - Knoxville
In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her pup at the dog park and binge watching Netflix with endless cups of Hot Cocoa.

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