When writing a job description, it’s natural and even practical for hiring managers and HR staffers to default to the basic requirements of the role: educational degrees, experience, technical skills, etc. Those elements will do the trick to get the idea across, but organizations that hope to attract dynamic job candidates need to adopt a more dynamic approach to marketing a role and their expectations of the person who fills it. A good starting point is to figure out what defines a successful employee. Is he or she simply someone who shows up on time, stays late when necessary, and completes a list of tasks? Probably not. More likely, those who shine brightly within the company walls exhibit certain character traits that make their colleagues trust them and their leadership respect and value them.


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When evaluating Millennials (who now make up the largest segment of the workforce) over 60% of their managers “believe that soft skills are the most important.”1 At the same time, only 32% of managers point to hard skills as vital, and only 7% of them put social media skills at the top of the list of what they want in their employees.2 These findings may seem to contradict the high value placed on the inherent technical abilities Millennials have as “digital natives.” But when asked to identify their top three requirements for management roles, managers choose the ability to prioritize work, a positive attitude, and teamwork skills as the basic traits that every employee needs to succeed in nearly any kind of work environment.

For many years, the cover letter was the place where job seekers could highlight their soft skills. It gave them an opportunity to add some individuality to their applications and set themselves apart from other applicants. As cover letters become less prevalent as applicants ditch e-mail (and snail mail) in favor of more streamlined mobile and social application processes, hiring managers need to find more effective ways to evaluate a candidate’s soft skills, such as creativity, willingness to learn, leadership skills, teamwork skills, and communication ability.

In today’s digital age, job seekers must pay close attention to their online personas and the impressions they make on potential employers. One iCIMS survey yielded findings that illustrate why it’s important for job seekers to be careful when putting themselves online:

  • [A]pproximately 76% of recruiters say that they always or sometimes perform a Google search on candidates before hiring them. Furthermore, 40% of recruiters report finding online information that disqualified a candidate from consideration. 3

Knowing this, responsible, mindful job seekers curate their public online personas to best highlight their personal strengths and to minimize any unsavory content. If a candidate’s public online content contains clear evidence of flippancy, discrimination, rudeness, or high-risk behavior, there’s a good chance that he or she would likely exhibit those traits in the workplace, especially in times of stress.

Resumes, cover letters, and online searches can provide a decent picture of a person’s attention to detail, organization skills, and general ability to project an engaging version of himself or herself. To get a strong sense of someone’s character and how he or she might succeed over time, there is no better method than the in-person interview—specifically, a behavioral interview in which the interviewer asks for detailed examples from past work experiences.

A good behavioral interview includes questions that give the candidate an opportunity to draw parallels between his or her skills and knowledge and the core competencies of the position. As the skills or personal attributes an individual must possess for successful performance, core competencies should be viewed as the main pillars of any hiring program—the basic themes that shape a company’s culture. Examples of core competencies include drive, passion, empathy, transparency, and communication skills. It’s easy to see why, when shared by employees at an organization, these values would contribute positively to overall workplace health.

Lastly, candidate’ soft skills can also be measured by what they ask their interviewers. If an organization offers employer brand content on its career site and a job seeker has done his or her homework, he or she should have a pretty good understanding of the company’s purpose and values. A candidate’s responses to “Tell me what you know about this company and why you think you’d be a good fit for this role” should provide a general picture of his or her learning capabilities and interest in contributing to the achievement of organizational goals.

As the behavioral interview is drawing to a close, this is the real make-or-break moment for determining whether a candidate is likely to thrive within the company culture. When given the chance to ask questions, an engaged candidate will have a natural curiosity and want to learn as much as possible about growth potential, the company’s definitions of success, a typical day in the office, and other relevant topics. On the other hand, if the Q&A period at the end of an interview is full of dead air (or questions only about salary or perks), that could be a strong indicator that the candidate is there to meet only his or her personal needs and lacks the key trait for building a successful business partnership: genuine interest in the company and the people who drive its mission.


Raquel Fleig is a content strategy associate II at iCIMS Inc., a leading provider of innovative Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) talent-acquisition solutions that help businesses win the war for top talent. To learn more about how iCIMS can help your organization, visit

1. Dan Schawbel. 2013. “Millennial Branding and American Express Release New Study on Gen Y Workplace Expectations.” Millennial Branding website, September 3,

2. Dan Schawbel. 2013. “Why Do Only 7% Of Managers Consider Social Media Skills Important For Employees?” Fast Company online, September 4, why-do-only-7-of-managers-consider-social-media-skills-important-for-employees.

3. iCIMS. 2014. “Searching for the Perfect Job: The Resume, Interview, and More.” iCIMS website. eBook_Searching%206.14%20_2.pdf.

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