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The Top 10 Attributes to Look For in Job Candidates

The Top 10 Attributes to Look For in Job Candidates

Hiring a new employee represents a significant expense and risk for any business.

Paying recruiters, funding an interview process, vetting candidates and providing onboarding and training are all part of the costs of hiring a new employee. And, there’s no guarantee that a new hire will stick around long enough for the company to create a return on that investment!

So how can companies ensure that they hire the right person for the job the first time?

Pay attention to these 10 key attributes shown by the top job candidates during your next interview process and you’ll know exactly when you’ve found a great candidate for a role at your organization.

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1. Creates a good first impression

Creates a Good First Impression for Attributes for Job Candidates

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You shouldn’t always judge a book by its cover, but a job interview can be a time to do just that.

The goal of any candidate interviewing for a job they want is to create a good impression – if they fail to do so, that should be setting off some red flags.

What will happen when they need to create a good first impression for a client? Will they know what to do?

If they greet you in a warm and professional way, and you like them in the first seven seconds, that’s a good indicator that they’ll be able to make a good first impression on your customers and colleagues.

This certainly doesn’t mean you should only use that “gut feeling” to evaluate candidates, but for many roles, polish and professionalism are important competencies.

2. Displays a strong work ethic

Great applicants can easily demonstrate their ability to work hard. Ask about their work background and a time they felt overwhelmed or over-worked and how they coped with it.

A candidate with a strong work ethic will have no problem telling you about a time where they stayed up late to get the job done. At ClearCompany, we specifically evaluate candidates against willingness to go above and beyond. Building these attributes into the scorecard allows us to ensure that we have a consistent eye for these important behaviors.

Ask them: “Tell me about a time where you had a large list of projects and needed to prioritize. How did you manage the workload?”

3. Communicates clearly and effectively

Listen to how the candidate speaks and observe how they listen.

If they listen and understand well, that means they’ll take directions and collaborate effectively in the workplace. If they can communicate clearly with you and they’re easy to understand, that will also translate into their customer interactions.

Look for body language indicators like eye contact, unfolded legs and a forward posture to see if they are an engaged listener.

4. Takes ownership for past results

Always ask candidates about a time they made a mistake and had to correct it or a time when they failed to meet a target or goal. Coming up short can be a healthy part of any career. A-Players learn from their failures and will readily tell you the mistakes they made that contributed to the mishap without blaming anyone else.

Ask them: “Tell me about a failure you experienced in the past. What happened? Why?”

5. Shows self-starting initiative

Someone with a history of entrepreneurship or independent projects has shown self-starting initiative – they can apply the skills they know without being supervised and guided by someone else. These are people that you can trust to work hard with minimal oversight. They know how to take ownership in a project and will do what’s required to get it done.

Ask them: “Tell me about a project that you started on your own. Why did you start it? What was the result? What did you learn?”

6. Functions effectively in a team

An effective team-worker is someone who understands how to play a specific role in a group, rely on others, collaborate effectively and act cohesively in pursuit of an end goal. Applicants with great team-working skills are an asset to any organization.

Ask candidates how they completed or managed a group project in the past to get a sense of their team-working skills.

Ask them: “Tell me about a recent project where you had to work inter-departmentally or with a group outside of your team. How did you ensure the project was successful?”

7. Exudes a positive attitude

If a job applicant walks into your interview with all the qualifications in the world and a negative attitude, would you still hire them?

If a job applicant is less than enthused about starting in a new role at your organization, imagine how they’ll feel after six weeks. Negative attitudes are toxic to the workplace – always try to hire a candidate who is genuinely excited to get the job. You can always train and mentor them into success in the role if they have the right attitude.

8. Exhibits an ethical compass

Ethical questions can tell us a lot about the values that an employee is bringing to your organization. Do their values match yours? Would they report bad behavior by a colleague to their manager? When a customer makes a complaint, will they side with the customer or the business?

Ask how they responded to an ethical dilemma at a previous workplace and try to understand their reasoning – you’ll see exactly what they’re made of.

9. Shows a willingness to learn

Shows a Willingness to Learn for Attributes for job candidates

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Candidates that display curiosity are a huge asset in the workplace. They are easily engaged, constantly learning new things, and become a source of knowledge for others at your organization. Applicants who are pushing outside of their comfort zone and are eager to learn something new are more likely to stay engaged at work and look for opportunities to develop new competencies.

10. Demonstrates drive for results

Candidates that can demonstrate goal-setting and a drive for results are successful across organizations. They are easy to motivate, respond well to incentives, and are competitive performers who strive to be the best. Offering these candidates a path to advancement based on their performance is a great way to create long-term retention.

Ask them: “What are your current goals or KPIs and how are you performing against them?”


Now that you know the top 10 attributes to look for in a job candidate, how do you make sure you hire the right person?

Use an applicant tracking system to keep notes on each interview and identify candidates with the most important attributes for success in your organization. When you’ve found someone with all the attributes to succeed, invest in them and make them an offer!

Guest author: As the Head of Marketing at ClearCompany, Sara has spent hundreds of hours interviewing, hiring, onboarding and assessing employees and candidates. She is passionate about sharing the best practices she has learned from both successes and failures in talent acquisition and management.

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