What Hiring Managers Want

Mark Komen, President

Kodyne, Inc.

Plymouth, MN

Whether in good or bad economic times, hiring has and continues to be a critical part of growing an organization.  Effective hiring allows an organization to better serve its customers, owners and employees by increasing it capabilities and better positioning the organization to compete.

I was interested to learn what hiring managers were looking for in their new hires.  I felt any results from this exercise would be good to share with other hiring managers and also with job-seekers and aspiring candidates.

So I surveyed some small business leaders with whom I have relationships by asking a single question and a request:

What are the top 5 attributes you look for in a new hire?

Please list them in the order of importance to you with 1 being most important. 

Feel free to expand on your thoughts with any additional detail.


That was it.  I invited over 30 organizations to participate in the survey and got back responses from 10.  Here’s the breakout of the respondents by industry:

            3  – Distribution

            2 – High volume manufacturing

            3 – Professional services/non-profits

            2 – High tech/new product manufacturing (electronics industry)


After tabulating the results and comments, I found that they fell into the following survey response groupings:

I also sorted the responses into 11 categories using respondents’ words (“Descriptors”) and called them “Attributes.”  Note that Leadership Skills were only identified by those words where they appeared in the responses.





Smart, savvy, confident


Drive, desire, get things done, take initiative, high energy


Speaks clearly, writes clearly, easy to talk to, relationship-builder

Good Attitude

Positive, compassionate, enthusiastic, dependable, good worker

Leadership Skills


Problem-solving Skills

Resourceful, determined, multi-tasker, competent

Desire to Learn

Learning orientation, desire to learn

Working with Others

Fit to job/team/organization, team player

Rational Thinking

Calm in a crisis, clear thinking

Applicable Experience

Work history, clear history


Computer knowledge


The Distribution of Attributes

The following chart shows the distribution of attributes based on number of times mentioned.


Sorting the attribute/descriptor counts by personal, interpersonal, task and knowledge response grouping yielded the following results:

—  Personal                   48%

—  Interpersonal            26%

 Task                           13%

—  Knowledge               13%


Note that almost 75% of the responses fell into the personal and interpersonal categories.

Attributes Cited as #1 on the list

Since I asked respondents to rank their responses based on the order of importance to them, I wanted to see if any attributes stood out as clearly preferred when considering the organization’s industry.

A key message here is that education and work experience did not make the list of #1 items cited but personal and interpersonal items led the way.

Tips for Job-Seekers – as quoted from the responses

“Try to get a feel as to where the interviewer is going. Don’t push your own personal agenda, or a prepared speech. This makes the interviewer bored and it sounds fake. It also makes the interviewer wonder what it is the candidate is hiding. Give the interviewer credit, they are probably very well trained in what they do and questions they did not ask are because they don’t need (or want) an answer to. Coming off as pushy can be a setback.”

Rational thinking vs. Emotional thinking:  We do not have time or the energy to deal with emotional baggage.  This is a work environment; leave your issues at home.”

“Ability to communicate, both verbal and written. This includes spelling, punctuation, complete sentences, coherent paragraphs. Verbal includes body language: how do they present? Do they look me in the eye?”

“[To get at] how good a worker they are, I ask about how they go about completing a given project, do they work in teams? What do they do when they get behind schedule, etc.?”

“Post-Interview: I want a thank you note, be it an email or handwritten. Handwritten gets more points.”


  • Personal attributes (drive, desire to learn) and interpersonal skills (communication, fitting in, team orientation) carry more weight in the hiring decision than knowledge or work experience.
  • Technical skills were on the list but further down
  • Education was assumed to be there

The education comment came about from follow-up discussions I had with several of the respondents.  All things being equal – having the education and even experience was not enough of a factor to clearly delineate a hiring choice.

Sectors this survey data touches

  • For-profit
  • Not-for-profit
  • Government
  • Education

Although my official survey didn’t include any responses from the government or education sectors, I will draw on my consulting experience with both government agencies/associations and a major university where I had a consulting engagement for the following comment.  When hiring issues arose, the most pressing challenges for them were to bring on people who fit the team, had good communication skills and were able to build relationships.  So job seekers – if you can develop and promote these things in yourself, you will improve your chances of an interview and possible job offer.  Here are some other things to think about.

Additional Considerations for Job Seekers

·         Commoditization

A big fear of business leaders is that the goods or service they offer lose differentiation in the customer’s eyes.  If what I offer as a company is the same as what the next person offers – how do you decide where to buy? 

The answer is often – price.  And here’s why business leaders fear this – competing on price is one of the fastest ways to go out of business.  I drop my price to get the business so then my competitor drops his, pretty soon I can’t make any money on the deal and if I keep on doing this for too long on too many things I’m toast as a company.

Understanding this is important for job seekers. Where you can come in and offer a way for the business to differentiate itself by having YOU on staff – your training, your knowledge, your skills and competences and capabilities and abilities, you enable them to compete more strongly in the marketplace.  To get this message across in your interview which means you have to KNOW THE ORGANIZATION you’re applying to work for.  What they care about or are dealing with (Or MAY be dealing with in the future), for example. So do your research.

Plus, you’ll differentiate yourself from all the other applicants they are considering.

·         Get Narrow

So you have some choices in tailoring your resume and cover letter.  The first approach is to really emphasize your specific specialty, emphasizing the depth of your knowledge and experience.  However, unless you’re a perfect fit for the expertise being sought, you can be in a difficult situation to get hired.

As a former hiring manager myself, I had the option to contract out for niche specialty expertise vs. making someone a job offer, unless someone brought more with them to the table.

So here’s something else to consider – GET WIDE

·         Get Wide

Look beyond your specific specialty, master’s project focus or PhD dissertation topic.  Remember – education and even work experience are assumed to be there by hiring managers.  Show that you can help the hiring organization to be successful with extra things you bring to them such as:

·         Your interpersonal and people skills

·         Your abilities to organize and manage projects

·         Your ability to be part of a team or leading one

·         Your network of industry contacts

·         Your ability to take complicated topics and make them understandable to others (especially to customers)


In conclusion, I discovered in my research that what’s most important to hiring managers is NOT what you know – it’s what you can DO and WHO YOU ARE.


©2012 Mark J. Komen.  All rights reserved worldwide