Employers only interview a small fraction of the people who apply for an open position. A good deal of the applications they receive are from under-qualified candidates. Even discounting those, employers still receive resumes from far too many people technically meeting the requirements of the job than they reasonably have time to interview. So only the very top few are selected.

Therefore when you walk into a job interview, you’ve likely already passed several hurdles, and stand a fairly good shot at getting the job. Your competition has gone down from 100 applicants to three or four finalists.

So how do they make the choice? What are employers really looking for in job interviews?

Here’s what employers want to see from the top candidates that they interview:

    1. That you want the job – and it will be good for your career if you get it. Wait, what? They care about the candidate’s career? Yes. If the job you’re interviewing for seems like a step backwards for you, or isn’t in line with where you’ve been headed so far, you probably won’t get the job.

    Employers don’t want to hire someone who’s taking the job because they need a paycheque but who will probably jump ship as soon as something more suitable comes along. That’s a waste of everyone’s time. The candidate who gets hired will be the one who demonstrates that they really want this particular job – and it would make them- and the company – more successful if they are hired for it.

    How you demonstrate this: Workopolis recently surveyed hundreds of Canadian hiring managers and HR professionals, and they told us that what would most influence their choice between equally qualified candidates is the one who showed the most enthusiasm for the role.

    The key word there is ‘showed.’ Simply telling the interviewer that you really want the job and are excited about it doesn’t hurt, but it won’t seal the deal. Here’s how you show that you want it the most.

      a. That you look the part. Like it or not we do judge books by their covers, so showing up for the interview dressed up and in attire that is appropriate for the industry and role you’re applying for is an important first step. It shows that are savvy enough to know the expected appearance for an interview and that you care enough to put the effort in.

      A three piece suit for a job where everyone is in jeans may look over-the-top. Showing up in cargo shorts for a corporate gig will end your chances before the first handshake is over. (And that only takes between 2 and 3 seconds.)

      b. Know a lot about the company. You can show your enthusiasm for the job by showing up to the interview well-informed about the company and the industry. Do your research. Show up armed with smart questions about the current state of the market and potential opportunities or challenges. You want to show that you’re already thinking like someone in the role, because you are genuinely interested.

      c. Connect the dots. Researching the company will also help you to tailor your stories and accomplishments in a way that makes them most relevant to the job you’re applying for. As I mentioned, companies want to hire someone for whom the role is a positive career move. This doesn’t mean that you can’t change career directions or industries – it just means that you have to map out for employers how what you’ve done in the past is applicable and important to what you want to do. “The skills and experiences I have honed accomplishing X,Y,Z, put me in a unique position to be able to deliver A,B,C for you.”

    2. How you are under pressure. You know it’s a competition, you’re not the only one being interviewed. And there’s a lot riding on it. So, it’s natural to be nervous when meeting with someone who is judging you, comparing you to others, and who is empowered to make a potentially life changing decision for you. Employers will be watching to see how nervous you are and act.

    They probably wouldn’t care about how nervous you are in the interview if it was only about the interview. The interview is just an example you being put in a high pressure situation. And in most jobs – those are going to come up. Are you presenting at a big client meeting? Are you facing an irate customer at the check-out counter? Is a delivery driver screaming mad because he’s on a schedule and the pick-up isn’t ready?

    Can you keep your cool? Can you think on your feet, deal with pressure, and diffuse potentially heated situations. Can you act professionally and decisively when you’re nervous? Your level of composure at the job interview can be an indicator of this, and that is why it matters to employers.

    How do you demonstrate this? Firm dry hand shake. Proper eye contact. Confident and positive body language. These can go a long way.

    3. Do they want to work with you? The candidate they pick will become a part of the hiring manager’s daily life. So they want to know if you’re going to fit in the team and company culture, if you’re going to be interesting and pleasant to be around at work every day.

    How do you demonstrate this? There’s actually not a lot you can do. You don’t want to be hired for a place where you really don’t fit in, so don’t pretend to be someone you’re not. If you’re an introvert who prefers to work alone – don’t take a job that involves tons of group interactions and long periods talking with others. You won’t be happy or successful.

    But you can avoid some of the red flags that will make you look like a pain in butt to work with.

    Don’t complain about former boss, coworkers, or working conditions – those will just make it look like you’re high maintenance and a complainer.

    Stay positive and upbeat. Don’t grumble about the weather, the commute over there, or anything else. Tell a funny story if you can. If you share a laugh with your interviewer, then you are connecting on a personal level.

Employers want to hire the person who is the most enthusiastic about the job, for whom the role will be a great career move, who can stay come and succeed under pressure, and who they’ll enjoy working with and sharing a laugh with on a daily basis. That’s who they’re really looking for in the job interview.

Peter Harris

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