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Key Skills Every Employer Wants in a Job Candidate

Guest blogger, Janice Strain from Anchin, shares her perspective from Human Resources on the key skills employers look for in a candidate. And despite what you may think, most of the key skills she mentions rarely have to do with your academic major, technical background or job requirements.

My career in human resources started in 2007, focused on interviewing and hiring for positions in public accounting. And many of those years included campus recruiting including working with Lehigh University. My experience has taught me a few things, including the pride I feel in individuals when they find the right place to work (regardless if this is with my company, Anchin). I often tell students when they are considering career options that it's important to have heart in where you work. Money will come and go but you have to be happy while you are making it.

What are the key skills every employer wants to see in a candidate?

  • Communication

  • Preparedness & Presentation

  • Teamwork/collaboration

  • Customer service

How can you convey key skills in an application process?

Whether it's a resume or a cover letter, start by showing examples of where you made contributions. Group projects from class, volunteer work or even on campus jobs all have opportunities for you to show how you worked toward a goal, completed a task, and made improvements. Share those details on your application materials and be sure to include specific details when you can.

You should take the time to make sure all your applications are well prepared. Be sure your resume is error free, grammatically correct, and you choose strong words to describe the experiences. You should also be able to tell stories and completely describe the information on your resume. I have had a few experiences where I asked a candidate to tell me more about something listed on their resume, but they weren’t able to elaborate. This is a red flag for me, meaning you either embellished the situation or it wasn’t substantial enough to talk about in detail.

Of course grades are also a factor, typically a 3.0 or higher GPA is the threshold an employer will set. And an internship (in your industry or not) is a stand out piece of experience employers are drawn to because you can show what you learned during that experience. But those factors alone (GPA and an internship) don’t tell the whole picture, so include unrelated work experiences, campus clubs, travel, and normal summer jobs. There is value in talking about how transferable skills have value.

Speaking of transferable skills

Another key skill is customer service. I have seen lots of resumes that include positions like cashier, waitress, camp counselor or similar roles. These are important, but only if you know how to discuss how those positions prepared you for your career and helped you develop customer service skills. Start by brainstorming what soft skills you learned and then build them into the resume descriptions and as part of your interview answers. Often these skills include a variety of communication techniques, the ability to follow up, ask questions, be sauve, provide a service, handle money, demonstrate trustworthiness, act kind and be friendly. Its one thing to say you have those skills or characteristics but unrelated experiences are the way you can show them.

I certainly wouldn’t return to a restaurant that had terrible service, regardless of how good the food was. The same idea applies to a professional work setting, you need to be able to do the job but you also want customers and co-workers to enjoy working with you.

How can you demonstrate key skills in an interview?

I think most interviews, regardless of industry, all look for similar things that likely don't relate to an academic program. Hindsight after many years of interviewing candidates has taught me that soft skills are wanted. During an interview I am often evaluating how well a candidate can communicate and how prepared they are. Those two key skills are critical to demonstrate during the interview process, which may include 2-3 rounds.

Students should be prepared to talk about themselves, this alone is a skill! Be ready to discuss why you would make a good contribution to the workplace. Have a pitch ready that shows what sets you apart. While practicing your delivery is important, you should also avoid sounding rehearsed (this hits high on my pet peeve list). Design your response to sound well thought out but avoid rigid or memorized answers. This will help the interview go smoothly and feel more like a conversation where you are speaking naturally with the interviewer.

Students need to have a vision of themselves working at the company. Where do you see yourself in the future? What is it you want to do to be successful in your career? Being able to articulate a response that includes a future with the company is ideal. Do your research on the organization so you can be specific about how you have shared interests, career growth potential and aligned goals.

I think another key skill to emphasize during an interview is talking about how you work with others. I enjoy hearing students share about how they built relationships with managers, co-workers, mentors, etc. Inclusion is also important, how did you connect to people with unique skill sets or shape a strong work dynamic with others? This is another powerful way to show your contributions.

First impressions

It may not seem like it, but first impressions also tell me something about two other key skills I am looking for. The first is presentation - are you dressed appropriately for an interview. A mistake I have often seen is a student knows the office culture is causal and makes the mistake of dressing down for the interview. Do not be fooled, normal dress for a day in the office does not always align with interview attire. It's extremely important to meet interview attire expectations.

The second key skill is arriving on time, even better if you are a few minutes early. I have had many students who arrive just a few minutes past the interview time and it immediately starts them off on the wrong foot. That may not seem like a big deal to be 2-3 minutes late but time management and an interviewee’s interest in the position are already in jeopardy when they arrive late.

Take time to reflect

When you are building materials or prepping for the interview and want to make sure key skills stand out start by asking yourself these questions:

  • How could you show you are trustworthy?

  • What is an example of time you were willing to learn?

  • Was there a time you were willing to be accountable for your work (good or bad)?

  • Can you demonstrate how you are savvy or suave?

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