Human Resources News & Insights

5 adjectives you want to hear job candidates say

It’s difficult to tell what kind of person someone is just by their resume. Heck, it can even be difficult to tell when face to face with the person. But there are some approaches that will do the trick. 

Obviously, you want a hire who’s self-motivated, honest and trustworthy — in addition to having the background you’re looking for, of course.

While candidates will likely tell you they’re all those things if asked, it’s also likely they’re doing so because they know that’s what you want to hear (whether it’s true or not).

As a result, Dave Porter, managing partner at Baystate Financial in Boston, a company that holds its recruiters and managers accountable for the results of those they bring on board, says companies should ask candidates to describe their character.

Five words Porter says you want to hear candidates say that indicate they’re made of the right stuff:

  1. Honest
  2. Respectful
  3. Punctual
  4. Curious, and
  5. Accountable.

Whether or not you hear adjectives like these will tell you “how much the candidate cares about others and about doing the right thing,” Porter says in his book Where Winners Live: Sell More, Earn More, Achieve More Through Personal Accountability.

‘When nobody was looking’

Porter has another suggestion as well. Ask candidates this question: When in your life have you made a decision that you’re proud of — when nobody was looking?

If candidates take a while to answer, they’re likely not good fits for Baystate Financial. Porter says, candidates with integrity should have little trouble recalling situations — and the decisions they made in them — that reveal their true character.

In his book, Porter said one candidate, Leonard, told a story about finding a camera in the back seat of a Boston taxi. When the driver told Leonard he was going to keep the camera, Leonard refused to give it to the driver and instead took it to the taxi company’s lost and found. Leonard got the job.

Those are the kinds of stories you want to hear — along with adjectives like those described above.

Bad indicators

What you don’t want to hear, Porter says, are indicators the candidate has what he describes as an “all-about-me” attitude.

Some of those indicators could be dropping adjectives like:

  • Carefree
  • Fun
  • Laid back.

However, describing themselves in those ways aren’t necessarily deal breakers. Those qualities can actually be good things, Porter says, when balanced out by professional attributes. But finding out whether that’s the case requires deeper probing.

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  • AJC

    In addition to making sure honest is in the Top 5 (or a synonym), the next adjective we want to hear deals with their drive (driven, hardworking, go-getter). If that isn’t mentioned in the Top 5, there is no way we would send on to a client. And “punctual” is a given. If they mention that as one of their top adjectives, I’d probably laugh and be concerned. Punctual?! Talk about setting the bar low…

  • Rajesh

    Although theoretically I agree with the content of this article, one must also keep in mind that many candidates are trained to handle interview questions.It is easy for such candidates to drop words such as these to make an impression. It is normal for any job applicant to portray oneself a bit more aggressive / positive at an interview than one normally is.Therefore only a thorough interview process will bring out the true personality of the applicant. Relying simply on whether the applicant drops such words in the interview would be a rather simplistic way to arrive at a decision.

    Besides, many of us do have a bit of a memory problem. ( Some of us recall faces better than names and others vice versa ). It is not easy to recall all kinds of situations we have encountered in the past several decades so easily …especially when one is a bit nervous at the time of the interview. Just because we take a bit of time to recall does not mean we are trying to cook up stories or that we are not trustworthy.

    What is ultimately important is to get a feel of the person sitting across the table ; establish a connection with that person without being too judgemental and understand his/her strengths & weaknesses. That will help the interviewer decide the fitment of that person to the job in question.

    Interviewing is more of an art than science.