In a tough job market, it’s essential to stand out.
BY JUDITH HUMPHREY
Even in a recession, companies are still hiring. And, given the competitive market, it’s important to make sure you stand out when interviewing. I spoke with executives at Harqen, a company that helps companies hire talent, to understand the six qualities that companies are looking for today.
Harqen has a database of over five million job interviews, from which it draws conclusions about the qualities companies look for when they hire. The company screens prospective employees based on this set of characteristics. For the screening round, it uses machines that mimic human interviewers to accelerate the hiring process.
How do these machines identify these all-important qualities? It scans the answers job seekers give, and it looks for certain words and phrases that convey these attributes.
Here are the six key qualities that they believe employers are looking for, and how you can demonstrate them when searching for a job.
Confidence is imperative for job candidates. If you fumble this one, you’re out the door.
To determine the confidence level of a candidate, Harqen’s machine learning algorithm looks for action words that show you’ve accomplished things and aren’t afraid to talk about them. It looks for words like created, built, achieved, led, envisioned, and implemented. For example, if asked about your present job you might say “I led a team through the pandemic and created an even stronger, agile organization.”
Stay clear of words that are more passive. These suggest other people acted in some way and you were the recipient of that action. These include expressions like “I was led by,” or “I was seen as . . .” or “I was told” or “I was passed over.” Even saying “I was a manager” is less strong than saying “I managed.” Don’t talk about the role you were given; talk about what you accomplished in that role.
A second quality companies look for in job seekers is enthusiasm. Harqen’s CTO, Mark Unak. told me that the best way to show enthusiasm in your language is to use positive expressions. In fact, Harqen uses an index of positivity that goes from +5 to -5. At the top of the scale of positivity are superlative words like absolutely, astonishing, super, and love, as well as collegial words like relationships and team. These are high-voltage expressions that show a strong, positive attitude.
At the lower end of the positivity, scale are negative words like “abhor,” “abandon,” “abusive,” and “terrible.” Always put things in positive terms in interviews. Employers are looking for positive people.
3. ABILITY TO INFLUENCE
A third quality employers look for, according to Unak, is the ability to influence, otherwise known as having clout. People who speak to others with a high degree of clout are strong, influential communicators. They are likely to draw others to them and inspire and convince.
How does the machine pick up this quality? According to Unak, it analyzes the pronouns you use. Most people talk more about themselves than about others, and they frequently use I, me, my mine, or myself. But, according to Unak, “those with clout communicate by shifting the focus from themselves to the group they belong to. They frequently use words like we, us, our, ours, ourselves.”
So if you want to show you have the capacity to influence others, don’t say “I did this” or “I did that.” Say, “We as a team have been amazing in staying focused during COVID-19.”
4. ANALYTICAL SKILLS
The ability to think analytically does not mean you have to go into detail about every situation or project you have undertaken. But it does mean you should show that you can analyze situations and find ways to address the issues at hand.
How does the machine detect this mindset in a candidate? It picks up on word clusters that show precision in your thinking. For example, if you’re an analytical thinker, you might say, “These are the facts that pertained directly to this situation.”
The opposite of an analytical thinker is a narrative thinker, who is less likely to get into the facts, but who focuses on the story. A narrative thinker might say, “We’ve got some great facts, if you’d like to see them.”
As you’re answering interview questions, be mindful not to skim the surface in your explanations. Be precise. For example, if you are leaving your job for a new opportunity you might say, “I have enjoyed my current position for several reasons. Here’s what they are.”
5. PROBLEM-SOLVING SKILLS
According to Tim Ihlefeld, president and CEO of Harqen, every employer wants employees who can help them solve problems and advance their business.
Harquen’s algorithm looks very closely at the candidate’s answer to an oft-asked question: “Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you had to solve an unexpected problem, and if so, what did you do and how did it turn out?” Job candidates should have a ready answer for this one.
If you’re preparing for an interview, think about how you solved an unexpected problem, and take your audience through each step of the process. Then write out and learn your response. Unak says that this question can account for a full 10% of a company’s hiring decision.
6. CHAMPIONING THE COMPANY
The final success factor for any aspiring employee is the ability to show that you really want to work for the company that’s interviewing you.
This can be determined by the way you answer the question “Why do you want to work for us?” According to Unak, this is the single most important question (and answer) in any job interview, and it needs to be thought through in advance. The answer to this question as well as your answer to how you’ve solved an unexpected problem can sometimes account for 100% of a firm’s hiring decision.
To do this, make sure your answer indicates that you have great respect for the company you’re applying to, you know their business well, and that you want to make a contribution and have a good understanding of what that contribution will look like.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Judith Humphrey is founder of The Humphrey Group, a premier leadership communications firm headquartered in Toronto. She is a regular columnist for Fast Company and is the author of three books: Impromptu: Leading in the Moment (2018), Speaking as a Leader: How to Lead Every Time You Speak (2012), and Taking the Stage: How Women Can Speak Up, Stand Out, and Succeed (2014)