What Are the Best Job Candidate Qualities? 12 Traits We Love

Today’s talent landscape is competitive for nearly every industry. Despite declining unemployment and an abundance of job openings, job seekers and hiring managers are struggling to find the right matches. As one recruiter bluntly told CNBC: "It's just a mess."

For recruiters and hiring managers, understanding which qualities make a good candidate is key to attracting and retaining first-rate employees. And if you're looking for your next opportunity, finding ways to demonstrate these qualities may increase your chances of success.

In this article, we break down which traits and skills make a candidate valuable to employers. From technical prowess to work ethic, these qualities should stand out to employers in search of exceptional candidates to fill open positions.

Key Takeaways

What Qualities Does the Ideal Job Candidate Have?

An ideal job candidate is more than just a sum of their credentials. They encompass a complex combination of traits and skills, such as:

These are the key qualities that make a candidate an asset to any employer, regardless of your industry.

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Essential Hard Skills vs. Valuable Soft Skills: 12 Traits to Look For

A well-rounded employee possesses a blend of both hard and soft skills. In any role, a new hire's success will come from some combination of these two types of traits.

Hard skills are the job-related knowledge and abilities required to perform job duties effectively, while soft skills are personal qualities that enable individuals to thrive in the workplace.

2 Ways to Look at Hard Skills

1. Core Competencies

Any job fundamentally relies on employees having core competencies within their role. The exact skills you're looking for will vary widely depending on the industry, seniority, and type of role.

For example, let's say you're a recruiter at a nonprofit organization. If you're hiring a nonprofit CEO, you would expect candidates to be adept at managing relationships with donors, governing boards, and leadership teams. A volunteer coordinator role at the same organization might require different core skills, such as expertise in sourcing, training, and communicating with volunteers.
Take care not to rely only on a candidate’s current level of competence — make sure you also assess their future potential. Any candidate you hire should be committed to learning and growing in their role.

This room to grow allows employees to provide even greater value to the company in the future, as 91% of employees say it’s important for them to have a job with consistent learning opportunities. A candidate’s dedication to continuous learning can be gauged by their awareness of industry trends and their willingness to work toward and engage in ongoing process improvements.

2. Mastery of Job-Specific Technical Skills

Technical skills are critical for job candidates to differentiate themselves in competitive markets, and they are integral to effectively carrying out important job duties. Having strong technical skills enhances a candidate’s efficiency, confidence, and value to an organization, leading to their high demand among employers.

As 90% of companies grapple with current or impending skills gaps due to emerging technologies, candidates equipped with sought-after technical skills have considerable opportunities in the market.

Whether by hiring skilled candidates or reskilling current employees, many employers have begun prioritizing the following skills:

Having employees with these technical skills will allow employers to gain an edge in the market as AI and other new technologies continue to advance.

10 Underrated Soft Skills to Look For

1. Interpersonal Communication

Of all the soft skills a candidate might possess, interpersonal communication plays a vital role in a candidate’s ability to deliver:

Skills like these facilitate amicable interaction with others and often lead to a more productive workplace. They can also prevent business failures, as ineffective collaboration and communication can hinder employees and executives from working together to solve critical problems.

2. Alignment With Company Values

Alignment with a company’s values is a critical feature of the ideal job candidate. When employees are aligned with company culture, the organization is able to gain momentum, as everyone is moving in the same direction toward the same goal.

Here are a few benefits businesses see when employees are connected to company culture:

Additionally, candidates who align well with a company’s culture tend to work effectively with others, fostering better teamwork and adaptability.

3. Team Collaboration

Collaboration is a vital quality for team players who contribute significantly to a positive work environment. These skills are essential for building collaborative relationships, functioning effectively in teams, and contributing to shared objectives.

Collaboration skills are indispensable in a wide range of situations, such as interfacing with a diverse range of employees, assisting clients or customers, steering presentations, and orchestrating meetings. Employees and executives with these skills have the ability to work toward common goals, solve problems, and share innovative ideas that move the company forward.

4. Adaptability in Changing Circumstances

Adaptability is another soft skill that significantly contributes to an employee’s success.

When employees are adaptable, they're better able to respond quickly to challenges.

As an employer who values adaptability, how can you find candidates who possess this trait? During the interview process, try to get a sense of how a candidate has handled situations in the past that have required them to quickly pivot strategies while remaining under a tight deadline. How successfully they’ve navigated these types of situations in a former role may hint at how well they’ll be able to do so in your organization.

Also, remember that a candidate’s adaptability and problem-solving prowess in dynamic or changing environments are underlined by their proactive attitude toward professional development. Good candidates demonstrate a sense of enthusiasm for continual learning. Those who are constantly developing new skills that align with industry trends will be most prepared for rapid change. These employees become valuable assets to your organization—especially during volatile or uncertain times.

5. Integrity

Integrity is a foundational trait for any job candidate. Candidates who possess integrity bring dedication, responsibility, and a steadfast commitment doing the right thing to your organization. These are the employees you can count on to get the job done well, uphold your company's values, and treat colleagues and customers with respect.

This skill also leads employees to admit when they’re wrong and increases the chances that they will learn from their mistakes and experiences.

6. Honesty

Honesty is an invaluable trait—yet 36% of jobseekers have openly admitted to lying on their resumes.

While some may see dishonesty as a small problem, it's actually a huge risk for your company. It has the potential to jeopardize your company’s ability to follow through on projects for clients or deliver products and services as promised.

Dishonesty in the workplace may increase your team’s risk for a security or data breach, which cost companies an average of $4.45 million to clean up in 2023. It can also expose an organization to compliance issues, especially in heavily regulated organizations like healthcare or finance. If your organization is found to be out of compliance, you can be subject to hefty fines and penalties.

To confirm the accuracy of the information provided on a candidate’s resume, employers should validate an applicant’s honesty by calling references. You can also consider requiring background checks for new hires as an added level of validation.

7. Strong Work Ethic

A strong work ethic is a set of principles and values that influence an individual’s behavior and decision-making in their professional life. Just over 40% of companies consider dependability and attention to detail—traits that tend to show up in those with a strong work ethic—as core skills for today’s workers. This is because a strong work ethic can directly affect your workforce’s level of productivity and be an indicator of how satisfied and engaged employees are with their work.

If you’re looking for a candidate with this trait, make sure you assess their reliability, dedication, and initiative, as these are key traits of a strong work ethic. These traits may be challenging to detect in an interview setting. However, asking candidates (or their references) about situations where they have gone above and beyond, as well as assessing how long they have remained in past roles, will help you determine whether they possess the work ethic you want to see in your workforce.

8. Leadership Qualities (Even for Non-Leadership Roles)

You don't have to be a member of the C-suite to have leadership qualities.

At BambooHR, one of our core values is "lead from where you are." This outlook encourages employees to take ownership and play an active role in the company's success.

When employees at all levels feel empowered and supported, you're more likely to create a culture where transparency thrives.

9. Visionary Thinking

Visionary thinking isn't a requirement for most non-leadership roles, but it's a valuable trait to look for in all potential employees.

Forward-thinking employees have confidence in their ability to anticipate and solve problems. It empowers them to foresee future needs and opportunities that align with the company’s goals. Candidates who demonstrate strategic foresight are more likely to be proactive and innovative, which are qualities that enhance decision-making.

For examples, IT experts recognize the need for candidates to develop leadership skills, including those who aren’t in managerial roles.

10. Inspiring Others and Fostering Team Success

Employees who have the capacity to bring out the best in those around them promote a positive and productive work environment. Additionally, candidates who inspire others and cultivate team success often drive increased engagement, innovation, and overall success.

It’s also important to note that candidates who are enthusiastic about mentoring others are often avid learners themselves. As they discover new knowledge and acquire new skills, they can pass them on to others, helping to move the entire organization forward at a faster pace.

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How Past Experiences Suggest Future Potential

A candidate’s future potential can be significantly influenced by past experiences. Interviews offer an opportunity for candidates to delve into their past experiences. Here are a few things we recommend exploring during the interview process:

Can the Candidate Leverage Relevant Experience for Immediate Impact?

Relevant experience allows candidates to contribute effectively from Day 1. Past achievements—such as working on high-level projects or making key contributions that result in big wins—indicate that a candidate can likely contribute at the same level in your organization.

In order to assess whether a candidate is ready to make an immediate impact in your organization, take a good look at their resume to see whether their past roles align closely with the role they’re applying for. Compare their listed job responsibilities and skills with the job description to see if they’re a good match. In the interview, ask them to give context to specific situations where they’ve demonstrated the skills you’re hiring for.

Will the Candidate Apply Past Learnings to Future Career Goals?

It’s also important to know what candidates have learned from their past positions. Candidates can leverage their past experiences, including handling difficult tasks, coping with tight deadlines, or managing workplace conflicts, to illustrate their work ethic and their alignment with positive company culture.

As you interview a candidate, consider asking them to identify their weaknesses or talk about situations in which a project may have fallen short of their initial goal. Ask candidates to identify what lessons they took with them in those situations and how they used that information to improve in future projects or opportunities. Candidates who position themselves as the hero in every story may struggle to take accountability for their mistakes.

How to Evaluate a Candidate's Personal Brand

Personal branding is often pitched to candidates as a way for them to differentiate themselves in a competitive job market. As an employer, you can use this to your advantage to get a better sense of who a candidate truly is and what value they can bring to your company.

A candidate’s personal brand is often made up of four things:

It is often easier to understand a candidate’s skills and passions by reading through their resume and cover letter. However, a candidate’s values and personality should always be assessed in person during an initial meeting or interview.

Though some candidates may get nervous during job interviews, it’s important for hiring managers to encourage them to be themselves. The more you can help candidates feel relaxed, the easier it will be to get a true sense of their personality, motivations, and value system.

Assessing a Candidate’s Online Presence

These days, many candidates have built a social media presence for themselves. The rise of professional social media sites like LinkedIn gives employers new avenues for finding, meeting, and assessing potential candidates, even before they apply for a job at your organization.

This is yet another tool employers can use to their advantage. You can conduct quick searches for candidates who have a specific skill set you are looking for and invite them to apply for open roles. You can reach out to candidates who have already applied for a role via social media messaging features. If a candidate has posted work samples to their page, you can look through them to get a sense of the kind of work they’re capable of.

If time permits, hiring managers can look through what candidates have posted (or reposted) or comments they’ve left on other people’s profiles. Doing so can give you a better sense of their personality and values.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are the 3 most important traits for candidates?

The most important traits for candidates are teamwork, self-motivation, and reliability, as these qualities demonstrate a strong work ethic and ability to contribute to the organization effectively.

What is a positive attribute for a job candidate?

Adaptability and strong communication skills are highly valued attributes in job candidates, helping them stand out in today's competitive job market. Watching for these attributes will help employers hire the best candidates for their open roles.

What makes a great candidate?

A great candidate is one whose qualifications uniquely match the company's needs and who can showcase their ability to solve problems, meet challenges, and thrive in the role. This demonstrates a strong alignment with the company's requirements.

Why are technical skills important?

Technical skills are essential for high-level job performance. Though a candidate’s skill set will vary from role to role, possessing job-specific technical skills helps employees effectively carry out critical job duties with a sense of urgency, efficiency, and confidence.

Why should employers consider candidates’ past experiences?

Past experiences can be great indicators of a candidate’s future potential. Asking about a candidate’s past performance can help you visualize how they could benefit your company.