10 Traits to Look Out for in Every Candidate Before You Hire Them

February 10, 2016 at 12:08 PM by William Clarke

traits to look for in candidates

It goes without saying that companies are only as good as their people. Recruiting and hiring is still more art than science, which means 100% certainty is hard to come by. What we do know is that new hires are high risk, high reward. The good hires happen when recruiters, hiring managers and team leaders are all in lockstep with each other, and that happens when you establish the criteria by which you’ll judge all new hires, no matter their reference or skillset.After all, your company’s customers will never settle for good enough, so why should you? Every employee, no matter their skillset or role, should have the same positive attributes. That’s how you get enviable, positive company culture that we all aspire to. Here are ten qualities to should look for in every new hire.  

Solid first impression

Look, there’s no way around it: first impressions matter. Pay close attention to the little things when you first meet a candidate. Questions you should ask yourself: How does the candidate interact with different people? Are they brash with your receptionist but well-mannered with interviewers? Does he or she maintain eye contact and pay attention during every step of the interview? Just those few questions can give you deep insight into their character and make sure they’ve got the right stuff to seamlessly slot in.


Another word for work is spending forty plus hours a week with people you aren’t friends with. The last thing every company needs is a another gossip, slacker, or bully. People like working with people they like being around. You need people who will complement and contribute, not run roughshod over everyone. The risk of toxic employees with deep personality flaws is that they sap morale and accelerate turnover, which costs your company time, money and good employees. Things you need to ask yourself about every candidate: Are they kind and honest? Do they seem forthright and genuine? Are they likable? If you have doubts, they may not be a the right fit for your company.

Thinks long term

Staff turnover is costly. That means finding people inclined to stick around is like making two hires for the price of one. Check their employment history, but don’t stop there. There are plenty of good reasons to leave a job. The key is the “why”. It could have been a bad situation at at company going under, or they may have been laid off because of the recession. Maybe they were balancing multiple contract jobs at the same time, not just hopping around. A resume is a glimpse into their job history, not the full picture. The real question: Are they looking for stability now or will they keep leaving for greener pastures? One interviewing tactic we use at Entelo over and over again is asking candidates, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” The answer to this question offers incredible insight into a candidate’s fit for the role. Can the role supplement the relevant, transferrable skills and experience this person hopes to gain for their next venture?  


How motivated are candidates? Are they dedicated professionals with broad knowledge of your industry or mercenaries jumping from company to company? The former will be valuable additions while the latter will be around just long enough to throw things off when they jump ship at the first opportunity. Ask them what they like about your company and what they think of the product. Don’t look for people just telling you what you want to hear. Look for people with an informed opinion who also take time to ask questions.

Team player

You’ve heard it before, but it bears repeating: Teamwork is your company’s secret weapon. Team players understand how to collaborate and why it’s important. They know that teamwork is more efficient and drives stronger outcomes. Ask them about their experience working in teams and look for explicit examples, not just a vague yes or no. Be sure to ask their references about it too. Possible questions include: Can you describe your organization’s structure? Were you part of a team? Did you have a leadership role or lead certain initiatives or projects? These inquiries get you away from canned responses and into the genuine insight that helps you make an informed decision later.

Genuine enthusiasm

Imagine someone shrugging or sighing every single time you ask them to do something. Now imagine someone who says, “Sure thing” or “How can I help?” Enthusiasm is awesome. It helps teams tackle tough tasks and overcome setbacks, and it’s a quality leaders have in spades. Seek it out. This is how: Ask candidates why they’re interested in your company. What do they think of your core products? Are there any ways they think you can improve things? They don’t have to have incredibly, insightful answers, but effort here is what matters. Look for signs that they did their homework. That shows how much they care about coming in prepared for their next job.

Skills, Skills, Skills

Ask yourself this question about every new hire: What skills are they bringing to the table? Now consider which skills are most important for this role. Ideally you want those two things to line up. Square pegs for round holes will put you on the fast track for disgruntled employees and teams in disarray. You aren’t doing anyone favors by hiring people for jobs they aren’t well-suited for. Know the difference between what the position absolutely requires, and what it does not. A dream candidate who ticks all of the boxes but the most important one is not a dream candidate. Maybe they’re a better fit for another role, but don’t hire them just to hire them.  

Willingness to learn 

No hire is a finished product. Either they have never worked at your company, or never they performed this exact role. Remember: You’re hiring for potential. That means their curiosity, willingness to learn (see also: enthusiasm), and flexibility are huge factors that will drive their growth within the company. Willing learners are you company’s Swiss Army Knife. They get you out of problems and take on additional responsibility. Are they self-taught in any way? Do they speak multiple languages or have some insane skills they clearly spent hours upon hours learning? Those people have the mindset of lifelong learners and will be particularly valuable as your company grows and evolves.

Proactive problem solver

Smart companies solve problems before they blow up and become huge problems. Be a smart company, and start by hiring proactive people with a commitment to excellence. Good enough is a great way to screw things up. Look for people who consider the angles, double check what they can, and put in the time to rectify a situation. Questions to ask: How do you plan out your day or week? What do you anticipate as a challenge in this role? This gives you valuable insight into how they approach work and think about problems.  

A sense of accountability

Everyone screws up. What matters is whether they own it and learn from it or if they avoid responsibility and pass the buck. Accountability builds trust, a sense of fairness and loyalty that motivates people to work harder and better. It should be prized across the company. Ask yourself: Do they seem modest or are they talking up their skills ad-nauseum? Do they assume we’ll hire them? Are they responsive and timely with any questions, skills assessments or documentation we required? Those are ways you can sort out the folks who will take ownership of their role, and those who will not.   

It goes without saying that these are all guidelines. After all, even after multiple interviews it’s difficult to learn everything about a candidate and how they can contribute to the organization. What qualities do you find are the best markers of successful hires? Share them in the comments.

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