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What Employers Are Looking for in Employees

What are employers looking for in their employees?




Coined by author and journalist Tom Friedman, STEMpathy is “a combination of science, technology, engineering, and math with human empathy, the ability to connect with another human being.” This is what employers are looking for in their employees; people who not only have technical expertise, but soft skills and character.

At the 2017 Gateway Conference hosted by The Municipality of York in October, I was privileged to sit on a panel of HR professionals discussing What Employers are Looking For in Employees. The other panellists were Moderator, Mary Duncan, Chief Human Resources Officer at CAA, Shelley Khosla, Director, Human Resources at Weber Shandwick, and Sonya Whyte, Associate Vice President, Talent Acquisition at TD Bank.

As the discussion progressed, Shelley told the audience that she looks for people “who demonstrate passion, curiosity, resiliency, and creativity, and who are able to work collaboratively in teams.” She also said that employers look for employees who align values with principles, embrace and celebrate differences, work in the same direction, and contribute to an irresistible culture.

Sonya remarked that she looks for employees with passion, diversity of thought and people, and inclusion. During interviews, she looks for people who show depth, who are able to demonstrate what separates them from others, and who are able to talk confidently about their background. That’s one of the reasons she listens carefully to people when they answer the “tell me about yourself” question as it gives her an idea of the person’s thought process. She also looks for employees who “think like a customer and act like an owner.”

Mary said she looks for people who demonstrate competency, creativity and cultural fit, and who display enthusiasm about the company.

For my part, I focused on the interpersonal or people skills. These soft skills are harder to observe, quantify and measure. They are akin to character skills and are very important in and outside the workplace. They complement the technical skills and are required for everyday interactions.

It is very important to hone your soft skills. While your technical know-how may get your foot in the door, it’s your people skills that will open more doors for you; it’s these skills that will determine success or failure in one’s career. Faizolhardi Zubairy, Head of Digital Media at PETRONAS Dagangan Berhad, said, “Your work ethic, attitude, communication skills, negotiation skills, emotional intelligence and leadership are the soft skills that are crucial for career success. (Stretch Beyond Your Comfort Zone for Career Growth).

The bottom line is that employers are looking for employees who have a good blend of technical capability and soft skills. They look for people who can communicate well; who are positive, respectful, reliable and honest, and have integrity. They look for people who are able to function in cross-cultural environments, appreciate differences, fit in with the corporate family (culture), and contribute to a team. They also look for people who demonstrate the five elements of emotional intelligence: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills.

In making a decision between two candidates, Kevin Sheridan, Employee Engagement and Management Expert, and contributor to HR Daily Advisor blog, said I would take the person with the right character any day of the week.  Character is ingrained in a person’s core being and dictates how he or she will behave.  It encompasses one’s ethics, values, dedication, motivation, and outlook.  It is nearly impossible to alter a person’s character, for better or for worse. Skills are things that are learned.” (Culture is Merriam-Webster Word of the Year – For Good Reason).

It makes sense, therefore, that anyone who is in a job search or a career transition, should assess their STEMpathy skills. You may have the  technical expertise (STEM), but lack character and soft skills, so pay attention to both. You will also need to assess your emotional intelligence skills, becoming aware of your strengths and weaknesses, how to control your emotions, demonstrate empathy, exhibit professionalism and strong interpersonal skills, manage disputes and build and maintain relationships.

Apart from discussing the skills that employers look for in employees, members of the Panel also offered additional job search advice:

  1. Weave stories into your resume and during interviews.
  2. Create your resume with the most important and relevant information up front.
  3. Make sure the content of your resume aligns with the job posting if you want to get the attention of the HR manager.
  4. Keyword matching is essential; make sure your resume contains keywords from the job posting. It should also have lots of white spaces to make it easy to read.
  5. Customize your resume for each position instead of sending the same version to every company. It’s easy to tell if you are mass mailing.
  6. Your resume should be short – a maximum of two pages
  7. Create a good LinkedIn Profile. “Social is critical to employers”, said Sonya Whyte. “I sometimes share LinkedIn Profiles with my team.”
  8. During interviews, speak about your unique successes and stellar results
  9. Follow-up after the interview and send a Thank-you note. Common courtesy goes a long way in today’s busy workplace.
  10. Demonstrate that you understand, and have the skills required for the job
  11. Articulate why you are qualified in your resume and at the interview. Draw the alignment between your skills, experience and job requirements.
  12. Describe how your transferrable skills match the position
  13. Send a concise cover letter. While some recruiters do not want to see cover letters, some on the panel believe they serve a purpose. They help you stand out in the selection process, so use it to share what it is you bring that others may not.

Armed with the above skills, you will fit the mold of what employers are looking for in employees.

Hard Facts About Soft Skills and Why You Need Them


Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

“During the session you told me of a document I need to complete. When can I expect it?”

“I have all the requirements for the attached position, when will we discuss it?”

“Sorry to miss our meeting. I am available tomorrow at the same time.”

Ouch! Those are snippets from email correspondence from a client before we had a discussion on the hard facts about soft skills. He is a brilliant and technically savvy professional, but with such a brusque attitude, and one that lacked common courtesies, he was heading in the wrong career direction.

It is often said that the majority of employees fail in their jobs, not because of their technical prowess but because of poor interpersonal skills; a shortcoming in their social, communication, and self-management behaviours. These are soft skills, and they play a significant role in one’s ability to.

Hard Skills vs Soft Skills

Hard skills are the technical abilities required to do a job or perform a task, and are usually acquired through education and training. They include the ability to use computers and software programs, operate machines, analyze data, etc. These skills are easy to observe, quantify, measure, and teach.

Soft skills, also called “interpersonal” or “people skills”, are harder to observe, quantify and measure. They are required for everyday interactions in and outside the workplace, and complement the technical or hard skills. Soft skills relate to how people communicate, listen, engage in discussions, give feedback, collaborate as a team member, solve problems and resolve conflicts.

An interviewer will not ask a candidate if he or she has soft skills, but will ask questions to uncover how the skills were used. The same could be said about the term ‘corporate fit or culture’. No one will ask a direct question like, “Do you think you will be a good fit for our company?”, but they will ask questions to see if, and how well, a potential employee will fit into the company. Will they mesh with the team or will they disrupt team synergy.

An individual could have the required expertise, but that, by itself, is not enough. Companies also look for people who are can communicate well, and who are positive, respectful, reliable and honest. They also look for people who are able to function in cross-cultural environments, appreciate differences and contribute to a team.

In a Huffington Post interview recently, Faizolhardi Zubairy, Head of Digital Media at PETRONAS Dagangan Berhad, was asked what was the most valuable advice he had ever received when he was facing challenges in his career. He said, “Hone your soft skills. While your technical skills may get your foot in the door, your people skills will open more doors for you.

Your work ethic, attitude, communication skills, negotiation skills, emotional intelligence and leadership are the soft skills that are crucial for career success.

As you can see, hard or technical skill is not all that’s required to obtain and keep a job. One’s attitude and attributes are also very important. The fact someone might know their job well is not a guarantee of on-the-job success. In fact, given the choice, some employers would prefer to hire someone with more soft skills and less hard skills, because they believe they can teach someone the hard skills, but it’s difficult and time-consuming to teach soft skills.

If you are someone who struggles with a lack of soft skills, all is not lost. These skills can be developed and sharpened through training and practise, and this will help you to advance in your personal and professional life.