What differentiates the top candidates?

As a professional recruiter, I spend my days meeting and understanding my client’s business needs; then sourcing, guiding and negotiating the best offers possible for suitable candidates as they go through an interview process. In the past, I have filled exclusive mandates for Country Manager’s at Oil Service companies and more recently, Partners at prestigious Law Firms.

Regardless of the level of seniority or industry any given professional works in, the best candidates I have partnered with have shared certain traits or behavioural similarities. To be completely clear – when I talk about the best candidates, I don’t necessarily mean the most qualified candidates or even the most experienced candidates. The candidates I refer to as “the best” are those who end up with an offer on the table and a client eager to hire them into the business. Here, I will detail four key traits that top candidates show at interview stage along with an interview tip my best candidates consistently demonstrate can be a difference maker.

1 - Top candidates are confident and humble.

Confidently know and demonstrate what tangible value you can bring to a business. At the same time, nobody wants to hire a know-it-all. Whilst demonstrating their value, top-tier candidates will always tie it back to the overall goals of their prospective employer so it isn’t all about them. After this – show further humility by explaining how your new line manager can help you develop your career. Showing a potential line manager you would genuinely value their experience and skill-set will only increase positive thoughts towards you as a potential employee. It’s natural for a line manager to enjoy being looked up to and respected.

2 - Conversations are always two-way and on point.

The best candidates, more often than not, will be exceptional communicators. We can all let our thoughts race away at times and one of the key aspects to remember prior to an interview is to always listen and respond showing interest with open questions about the business and team. Don’t dominate the conversation and be overbearing. Don’t just respond with minimal detail to questions and await the next one like a robot. Do answer questions with carefully thought out answers and follow up questions to allow the conversation to take on a more natural feel. Planning some questions and researching the business and hiring manager even for a short time before your interview will ensure you are fully prepared.

3 – Top tier candidates will know every detail.

In sales, a top candidate will always have their targets and sales figures on the tip of their tongue. An impressive manager will know their team structure, goals and achievements inside out. A lawyer will know their previous cases and deal list straight away. Make sure you take the necessary time before an interview to brush up on your achievements and responsibilities. The best candidates don’t stumble on fine points or take a long time thinking of an answer. They are sharp, concise and to the point.

4 - The best candidates only negotiate from a position of strength

Top candidates start things on the right foot by asking open questions about the job scope, business, culture, team, progression opportunities or line manager. They will avoid interview suicide by trying to insist they will only interview if they are guaranteed the top range of a salary band, need to leave 10 minutes early every day or have their current holiday allowance matched. They just don’t do it. If you fit in the prospective salary band provided then just negotiate other details after a business has decided they definitely want you. Anything before this stage is futile and ultimately will portray you in a negative or problematic light prior to any interviews even taking place.

Top Tip - Ask “The Question”.

I advise all of my candidates to ask one particular question at the end of an interview process that is entering the final stages. That question is:

“Do you have any concerns over hiring me that we could discuss before we finish the meeting?”

This question is loaded and requires a certain degree of confidence in your ability to react positively to any criticism that may come your way. The reason behind this question is simple – at the end of an interview process all of the decision makers will have a conversation over the pros and cons of hiring you. Make it easier for these conversations to have a positive outcome for you. Even if you don’t get the job, this feedback could be invaluable for future interviews. It’s a win-win question and will let you know where you stand.

I hope this is useful and helps anyone reading prepare for future interviews and ultimately land a great new position.

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