When you apply for a job, you know exactly what you're looking for. You want a company you love, great co-workers, a decent salary, a culture where you fit in and, most importantly, you want to love what you'll be doing.
But do you ever consider what the employer is looking for in its employees? These days, competition is steep among job seekers; it's important to know what employers want in an employee before going into an interview so candidates can sell how they would be an asset to the company.
"If the candidate doesn't know what the employer is looking for, [he or she] can't properly communicate why they are the most qualified candidate for the position," says Steven Rothberg, founder of CollegeRecruiter.com. "Understanding what the employer is looking for ahead of the interview is so that the candidate can be sure to communicate all of the information that is likely to be most relevant to the employer."
In a 2009 survey from CareerBuilder and Robert Half International, employers said that aside from having the basic job qualifications, multitasking (36 percent), initiative (31 percent) and creative thinking (21 percent) are the most important characteristics in a job applicant.
We asked six workplace experts to address 10 of the most common reasons employers hire employees, in no particular order. Hopefully, they can help you prepare to land your next job.
1. Long-term potential
Why it's important: Employees want to see their future within a company so they are motivated and excited about their career path, the company's future and their role in it, says Celia Santana, president of Personal Risk Management Solutions. From the employer perspective, you want people in your organization to work their way up. It is best to have someone who is multidimensional and can grow with the company.
Tip: "Give a real-life example or ask questions that demonstrate that you have thought about this," Santana says. "For example, you can ask a question like, 'What type of career movement do you envision for the most successful candidate in this role? Are there any current examples within your company?'"
2. Ability to work well with others
Why it's important: "We spend a lot of time at work; there is nothing worse than someone who cannot get along with others," Santana says. "[It's] so important and involves being helpful, understanding the unwritten rules, being respectful, reliable and competent."
Tip: "Tell a story," Santana suggests. For example, "I was interviewing someone for a job and asked about a situation where he had experienced a challenging situation at work. He told me about a situation where the company had a major deadline and needed all hands on deck. He was able to pause what he was working on and pitch in, working late hours to help the team meet the deadline."
3. Ability to make money
Why it's important: Hiring managers want people who can prove that they will increase the organization's revenues or decrease its costs, Rothberg says. "During a recession, revenues are difficult for organizations to generate and employers have typically already cut their costs about as much as they can. Their emphasis is on increasing their revenues."
Tip: "Employers love metrics. The more you can quantify your work, the better," Rothberg says. Some positions are easier to quantify than others, but it can be done. "If you're a filing clerk, estimate how many minutes a day your work has saved your previous employers by looking at how much faster it is for people to access the information they need," he says.
4. Impressive résumé
Why it's important: "A résumé is a person's billboard; a reflection of the applicant in the eyes of the reader," says Jay Meschke, president of EFL Associates. "First impressions are lasting ones and a résumé is often the vehicle to either make a good impression or a poor one."
Tip: "Make sure several people review the résumé for content, style and accuracy. Use a co-worker that might have a dose of skepticism in their gene pool to receive the most constructive criticism. If a person has no comments, try another, and another, to obtain the collective wisdom of peers," Meschke says.
5. Relevant work experience
Why it's important: "Experience levels generally allow a person to hit the ground running without a lot of hand-holding," Meschke says. "Managers do not have time to mentor and train people as in the past."
Tip: "Be prepared to offer up quality references to substantiate your background and experience. Many times, references are the critical key to landing a job when the hiring decision is a close horse race," he says.
6. Creative problem-solving skills
Why it's important: "Employers know that in business, the chessboard changes daily. As soon as we think all is fine, the economy changes or the competition makes a surprise move and the company's own strategy must change," says Mark Stevens, author of "Your Marketing Sucks" and CEO of MSCO, a global marketing firm. "A person who gets locked into a set way of doing things finds it difficult or impossible to adjust. They are a drag on the business as opposed to an asset for it."
Tip: "Know how to tackle challenges and opportunities in a way no one will find in a textbook. Einstein used to approach his theories by thinking of childlike fantasies and working backwards to reality. Talk about how an approach like this is built into your DNA. You will be marketing yourself as a one-of-a-kind," Stevens says.
7. Strong online presence
Why it's important: "Social networking has become the primary way that people communicate. But it is a double-edged sword. Employers have access to your personal life, likes and dislikes, political views, good and bad behavior. Because of that exposure and the speed at which information is distributed, it is important that you be digitally dirt-free, especially when job hunting," says Chris Laggini, vice president of human resources for DLT Solutions.
Tip: "Social networking doesn't have to be negative in your job hunt; you can use it to your advantage. Old-fashioned reference checks through past employers are passé; use your [social networking] pages to accumulate references and positive praise from professional peers and college professors. Find people within the company whom you know that could put a good word in for you," Laggini says.
8. Multitaskers who thrive on variety of projects
Why it's important: "Business today moves at supersonic speed, and effectively managing a variety of different projects simultaneously is essential," says Susan Stern, founder and president of Stern + Associates, a public relations and marketing communications agency. "If an individual demonstrates a passion for learning new things and enjoys a variety of work, chances are she is also ambitious and inquisitive -- two qualities that are critical to success and advancement."
Tip: "Don't be shy about asking for additional assignments and offering to handle other aspects of a project than you might usually handle. Make it clear to your manager that you have a passion for learning new things and volunteer to take on extra work, even if it means putting in additional hours," Stern says.
9. Enthusiasm and initiative
Why it's important: "If you show consistent enthusiasm and take initiative on the job, you can count on being noticed and rewarded. Every business looks to put their most enthusiastic people forward with important clients and customers," Stern says. "By taking initiative, you convey a true team spirit and illustrate that you are not someone who simply meets the criteria of a job description, but who goes above and beyond what is required to help the business succeed."
Tip: "Don't forget to say, 'Good morning' with a lilt in your voice; when you pass someone in the hall, smile and say, 'Hello,'" Stern reminds. "It's easy to clam up around top management when you are new to the business world, but showing confidence and a comfort level with people more senior to you will lead to your being considered for more challenging work."
10. Good cultural fit
Why it's important: Recruiters are pressured to find the right match for a company; applicants are under pressure to creatively differentiate themselves and demonstrate a desire to succeed, says Jenny Floren, founder and CEO of Experience Inc., an online recruiting community. "Hiring managers are particularly interested in how a candidate is going to adapt to their unique organizational culture."
Tip: "Look for different ways -- a personal blog or Twitter -- to deliver your message about what makes you a great cultural fit. Find ways to incorporate specific examples that illustrate the cultural competencies they are looking for, like flexibility, leadership or teamwork, as this will help employers understand you're serious and excited about the position," Floren says.
Rachel Zupek is a writer and blogger for CareerBuilder.com and its job blog, The Work Buzz. She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues. Follow her on Twitter: http://twitter.com/CBwriterRZ
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