Key Traits of the Best Job Candidates

by Tara Torok on December 10, 2014

Key Traits of the Best Job CandidatesYour resume is a great tool for catching a recruiter’s eye, but to truly win them over, you need to understand what employers are really looking for. As a recruiter, I’m always looking for individuals who demonstrate specific characteristics that show their potential for being a dynamic employee. And I’ve found that the best job candidates typically share many of the same key traits.

So what are these key traits? I’ve compiled an insider’s list of the top characteristics we look for during our recruitment process.


When we’re conducting interviews, what we’re really looking for is a well-rounded candidate. Someone who not only possesses great technical skills, which is super important, but someone who has gotten involved outside of the classroom or the workplace and who has taken on a leadership role on campus or in the community.

A significant part of good leadership also means having the willingness and selflessness to take responsibility for outcomes — both good and bad. Key traits of a potential leader can manifest in a person’s ability to take charge and to volunteer for assignments — especially the assignments that are less glamorous but nonetheless important.

People Skills

Recruiters are typically looking for an addition to an existing team, which means they want to make sure that new hire will mesh well with the existing group. Demonstrating strong collaborative skills is a must when going through the hiring process. The best applicants will have the interpersonal, team mentality that lets them recognize when they are the best for a task and when it’d be better to join forces and work as a team.

Employers also like people who are personable, warm and cooperative. In the typical office, you interact with your co-workers five days a week, eight hours a day, so recruiters want believe a new hire will easily join the team and become part of the work family.

Individuals with friendly personalities are statistically more well-liked and more effective at whatever they’re working on. Recruiters evaluate candidates on their interpersonal skills just as much as their technical skills, so during your interview, be sure to reference back to past experiences working as part of a team and describe how you were able to contribute to the overall success of the group.


There are many different aspects of creativity, and just because a job doesn’t fit into the typical realm “creative” positions, employers know it’s crucial to have creative individuals on board. Individuals whom recruiters see as creative tend to be more positive and engaged; they have the ability to solve problems by looking at the issue from different angles.

Creative candidates are also more adaptive, meaning they will adjust well to new rules and demands as well as new people and environments. Their creative open-mindedness allows them to cope with the unexpected and be more willing to try new approaches to achieve goals.

Entrepreneurial Spirit

As a college recruiter, I love seeing a student who’s taken advantage of all the opportunities available to them at college, because that’s exactly what we want our employees to do — go above and beyond their job description and get immersed in the culture.

An entrepreneurial spirit also alludes to an applicant with high ambitions. This ambitious drive sets them apart from the crowd and shows employers that they’re serious about pursuing this job and working for that company. Ambitious and interested employees are more likely to stay with a company — and advance up the corporate ladder — than applicants who only match the listed skill set and aren’t really engaged in the company.

Takes Initiative

A big part of being able to take initiative is independence. Supervisors have multiple employees and projects to manage, so they need to know an employee can be given an assignment and that he or she will have the competence to accomplish it without close oversight.

Few things are more frustrating to an employer than having an employee who sits around waiting to be told what to do. Most would rather have to rein someone in than constantly push someone who lacks initiative.

During the interview, take initiative right off the bat by providing examples of projects where you excelled with minimal managerial oversight. Explain to the interviewer how you were able to prioritize tasks and effectively demonstrate time-management skills.

As you prepare to head into your next interview, think about how you can demonstrate these key traits to recruiters. It will go a long way in helping you stand out from the crowd and leave a lasting impression.

Tara Torok is a college recruiter for Burns & McDonnell. She works with universities across the country to recruit interns and top entry-level talent to join our engineering, architecture, construction and drafting teams. Connect with Tara on LinkedIn to learn more about the many opportunities available at Burns & McDonnell.


PuzzlePerformance review season is upon us, and while those two words can conjure feelings of tension and anxiety, how you implement what you learn from your professional evaluation is an important part of being a dynamic employee with a successful career.

And although they’re sometimes a little daunting, performance reviews are a great tool for professional development — but only if you’re taking full advantage of your performance feedback. So we’ve put together a quick and fool-proof list of helpful techniques for making the most out of your review.

Create Clear, Defined Goals

This is a great way to keep you moving forward and on the path to success. Much like jotting down a to-do list, writing out your goals gives you a concrete list to keep you on track.

Goals should be short-term objectives set for the specific work in your current position that relate to the department’s overall mission. When in doubt, keep your goals SMART — specific, measureable, attainable, realistic and timely.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions

If you don’t understand part of your review or don’t understand your supervisor’s expectations, ask! Your supervisor will appreciate that you’re paying attention, and asking for clarification helps prevent future confusion.

Understand the Big Picture

It’s crucial for employees to understand the bigger picture of their company and exactly how they fit into it. If you’re not sure what piece you add to the puzzle, speak up. When you thoroughly understand the role you play in the bigger scheme, you’ll be more motivated to do well and contribute to the company’s overall success.

Be Open to Feedback

Remember to be respectful and receptive to your boss’s comments. Listen to what he or she has to say, and if there’s something you don’t agree with, politely explain your point of view. Creating an open dialog will lead to constructive conversations about possible career paths that might be available to you in the future.

Conduct a Self-Appraisal

Write down your major accomplishments for the year. How did they affect the company? What did you learn from these accomplishments? How could you repeat this success in the future? Evaluate yourself on areas like commitment, communication skills, client relationships and teamwork.

Conduct your self-appraisal before going in for your review. Show your boss or supervisor that you take this process seriously. It will also help remind you of areas you’d like to highlight during your review.

Be Proactive About Your Career and Your Career Goals

Creating a career development plan helps answer the question of “what areas should I develop for the future?” This should tie back to any anticipated needs in your current position and focus on opportunities outside your current role. Drafting a development plan will help you focus on your strengths, talents and areas of improvement while also highlighting the accomplishments that matter most to you.

While these tips probably won’t take the anxiety out of your performance review, they might just help make the experience more positive. Do you have other tips for making the most out of your performance review? Leave yours in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

Kristen Badgley is a senior human resources generalist for Burns & McDonnell with more than 10 years of HR experience. She’s currently recruiting and hiring experienced engineers and project managers from a variety of disciplines. If you’d like to learn more about working at Burns & McDonnell, connect with Kristen on LinkedIn.


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