What to Look for in Job Applicants

StrategyDriven Talent Management Article
One of the most important of all the responsibilities that managers and business owners must take on is the hiring and firing of employees. There are often a number of applicants for any given position and it isn’t always immediately obvious which candidate should be the preferred choice. Needless to say, you always want to recruit the best person possible for the job. Sometimes, however the right person for the job may not be the most obvious choice.

In this guide we take a look at some of the most often overlooked facets of job applicants and how you can use these to gain a measure of how suitable an interviewee is for a role in your company.


Communication is a crucial skill in any work environment and there are very few people who can perform their job without having to interact and communicate with other people, both within and outside the organization that they work for. According to one study, conducted by the consultancy firm Millennial Branding, revealed that as many as 98% of all employers view effective communication skills as being ‘essential’ for the job.

Meeting an interviewee face to face is the perfect opportunity to find out about who they are and how well they can communicate. Be sure to keep an eye on how they respond in terms of both their verbal communication and their body language.


We all ask for references when we take applications for a newly opened position. In fact, most of us will automatically include our own references when we apply for another job, even if we aren’t prompted to. Despite both employers and employees understanding the importance of references, they too often go overlooked when considering candidates’ applications.

Some people have the, quite incorrect, view that checking references is something to be done when the interviewer doesn’t trust that the candidate is being truthful. In reality, checking references should be thought of more as an opportunity to ask a previous employer any questions that you might have about the candidate, but for whatever reason, didn’t want to ask them directly.

Consider the Whole Character

It is all too easy within the context of a job interview for the interviewer to reduce the candidate to the lines on their resume, a set of grades and statistics. This starts things off very impersonally, and also means that you are running the risk of overlooking characteristics and qualities which, while not relevant to their job, might still be desirable.

You should therefore consider anything that the interviewee reveals. For example, if the interviewee studied under a college soccer scholarship, then you can assume that they are already reasonably well versed in how to operate as part of a team. Soccer may have nothing to do with the job they are applying for, but it still reveals something about their character which is worth knowing.

Interviewing for a job opening isn’t easy, for the employer or the applicant. For too many managers and business owners, interviews are little more than a formality. However, they should instead be embraced as opportunities to get to know a potential colleague.

Are You a Good Fit for Potential Employers?

Determining if you are a good fit for an employer and vice-versa is not always as hard as it might seem. As I describe in my book Career Mapping: Charting Your Course in the New World of Work, you first need to have decided that you want to work in the industry in which the company does business.

If you are a functional expert, say in HR or finance, you might tend to think your skills are transferrable and can be applied anywhere. That might be true, but you need to understand and appreciate the context you are working in. Human Resources in a consumer goods company, which might be product and sales oriented, is quite different from an industrial company where manufacturing plants and unions are the order of the day. You need to like, or at least want to learn, about the business the company is in. As you move through your career, your industry, as well as functional knowledge are what allow you to move up the ladder.

[wcm_restrict]Second, do your homework on the company. What is their current financial condition? Have there been layoffs lately? Is there frequent management turnover? What is their reputation? All of this information can be gotten from the company web site and numerous business periodicals and sites that track the latest company news (Yahoo Business, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, etc.). Once you have the big picture on the company, leverage your own network to get the inside story from current or past employees. Use LinkedIn, Facebook and your alumni network to contact friends, classmates or acquaintances who work or have worked there – or even those who work with the company as vendors or suppliers. Try to talk to people at different levels of the organization and of varying tenure to get a fair picture.

Third, know what you are seeking from the role the company is offering. If you are just starting out and need skill building with a large brand name, you might not be as picky about certain dynamics as if you are a more seasoned professional who is seeking specific competency-building experiences. Be sure the role you are being considered for fits with where you want to be long term. You need to have a free agency mindset that allows you to always know your worth and have an idea about where your skills are best deployed, now. As you grow professionally, your needs and wants change, and you need to be able to express to prospective employers what you are seeking from them (in terms of industry, company, function and roles), as well as what you can offer them. Having clarity about these things always gives you the upper hand.[/wcm_restrict][wcm_nonmember]

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About the Author

Ginny Clarke is an expert in talent and career management, executive coaching, and diversity and inclusion in the workplace. She has recruited C-suite executives and corporate directors, and coached numerous executives and professionals. She is widely respected as a thought leader and practitioner of recruitment and retention strategies that go beyond traditional definitions of diversity. She offers provocative, unconventional remedies for organizations seeking to leverage their global workforce. Having been a senior executive herself, Ginny is credible and confident. Her candor, intellect and results-oriented approach appeal to those committed to growth and change. To ready Ginny Clarke’s full biography, click here.

Are You A Strategy Driven Storyteller?

Marketing professionals refer to strategy as your unique selling proposition while sales folk use the term ‘positioning.’ However you view it, the implementation and outcome need to be taken very seriously. Whether you are a sales professional, entrepreneur or candidate for a new job, the same techniques come into play.

I have learned that there is no true competition in business because we each have our unique ways of delivering service. How are those in your field servicing their clientele and what are they saying to attract attention? Is what they are saying truthful? How can you differentiate yourself yet move with integrity to make you the preferred choice?

To be on top of your game, you need to know what is most important to your prospects and clients. In fact you need to be familiar with their challenges, needs and deep down desires or wish list.

[wcm_restrict]One past experience of long ago best exemplifies the process. For a very short period of time I sold long-term healthcare insurance for a corporate giant. When a loved one were to take ill, there were a number of seemingly ‘red tape’ steps the partner would need to take to get the care that was required. Yet our competitive companies would boast they required no red tape at all. Instead, their clients could simply call anyone in for care that they desired and the company would reimburse the fees.

How do you overcome simplicity in favor of bureaucracy? I gave this considerable thought. I soon had a smile on my face with the answer. Instead of waiting for the objection, I took the offensive and volunteered the predicament my company was in followed by my praise of the required procedures.

I simply explained the dilemma and then returned a question to continue the conversation: “When your loved one takes ill, no matter the illness will you seriously know the best person to call for help? That’s why we have steps in place to make certain you get the best care.” This was followed by, “Which method sounds best to you?” Obviously I got the buy-in and agreement that my company was the right choice.

When you are interviewing and told “I like you but you just don’t have experience in…” Have a story ready to share about how you were once in a similar situation. Describe how you scrambled to learn what you needed, assembled team mates to help and worked long hours to accomplish far more than what was expected of you. Follow your story up with, “Do I sound like the type of candidate you are seeking?” They would be nuts to say “no.

One of the most successful strategies I learned is to become a story-teller in all situations. As you saw above, whenever an objection or question is posed, use your previous experiences in short story format (no longer than two minutes to verbally describe) how you experienced a similar challenge, found a solution and ended the challenge with your glorious outcome.

The story-telling technique allows people to get to know the real you working to increase the trust and confidence in you. Strategy driven business increases revenue and leads to a very Smooth Sale![/wcm_restrict][wcm_nonmember]

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About the Author

Elinor Stutz, CEO of Smooth Sale, LLC believes building relationships before the sale and continuing long after is the only way to sell and build a dynamic business. Elinor’s book, Nice Girls DO Get The Sale, is an International Best Seller. Her new book, Hired!: How to Use Sales Techniques to Sell Yourself On Interviews (Career Press), is based upon her own experience and years of community service. To read Elinor’s complete biography, click here.