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What do companies look for in a candidate

When you’re applying for a job, it’s really good to know what companies look for in a candidate. The things you should be putting on your CV, the dos and don’ts of an interview and what characteristics you should show off when meeting a company. I spoke to the Managing Director of an SME and asked what he looks out for in his company when hiring.

At the minute, many students and graduates are worried about their career prospects due to the pandemic. With headlines such as “Young people ‘most likely to lose work’ in lockdown” and “Graduates likely to suffer lower wages and employment levels amid coronavirus downturn” – it’s no wonder we’re all feeling a bit glum.

However, it’s important to not let the news worry you, or make you feel concerned about your job prospects. Many companies are continuing to hire graduates, and respect that they are a valuable asset to their business – with lower starting salaries than middle managers and an opportunity to shape their business in the future.

So, as a young person today looking at their job prospects, it’s important to get a bit of insight into what companies look for when hiring. Here’s what this MD has to say:

What do you look for when hiring for your company?

When we’re hiring for our company, we tend to look for a range of things from a candidate. We’d like to see a bit of relevant experience, but not necessarily from a career in the industry.

I’d say more than anything we like to get a sense of the candidate’s personality. In the hiring process, you’re always going to get a CV presented to you. It’s about finding what’s behind that CV and seeing what that person is really about rather than words on paper.

In an interview, I use it as a chance to understand the candidate’s cultural fit with the company. We need to understand if that person has a bright personality that will thrive in our close knit team. That can often be a lot more important than their experience.

In terms of answering questions, I really appreciate it when you can tell just how passionate they are about what they’ve done so far and what they could bring to a role. Exploring the question and having evidence to back things up is a lot more meaningful than an interview that lasts ten minutes with no real passion shown.

I absolutely love to be asked questions by the candidate. It just shows that they’ve done their research. Asking questions like “I saw on your website that you did this last year, can you tell me a bit more about it?” just shows that they’ve got that enquiring mind that we’re after.

I also like to look at the interest section on a CV quite quickly. You expect to see school qualifications, maybe a degree and a bit of experience, but you can learn a lot about a person from their interests section. I don’t want to see ‘socialising with friends’ but rather something exciting like ‘mountaineering’ that I can then ask about in an interview.

I would like an employee that’s both interesting and interested.

(Little disclaimer here from Maddie: you don’t have to take up something like mountaineering to get a job, just think about what makes you exciting and unique).

Spelling mistakes are a big no on a CV, especially if the role you’re hiring for is around writing, communicating etc. Remember to take the time to check things over and make sure it’s all correct. Employers will notice mistakes.

what companies look for when hiring | image shows a desk with a laptop and plant

Do you think this varies across companies depending on their size and role?

Yes and no. I think that the smaller the business, the more important it is to get that personality fit as everyone’s a lot closer with the work they do and as a team.

It also depends on the job, in some roles where you don’t need to have creativity and people skills then it doesn’t really matter how well your personality fit with the role.

Whether you’re applying to a small or large company, you need to do your background research. Find out what the company does, the type of clients they have or the projects the work on, take a look at their Corporate Social Responsibility and see their values as an organisation.

To stand out, demonstrate your ambition at that company and in the role, ask where you could be in three years time. That shows you want to grow and development, letting the company know you’re worth the investment. That’s something you should show no matter the size of the organisation.

What’s one thing that will always stick out to you on a CV?

As I’ve said previously, the interests and hobbies section is something I like to read. I like to know what I’d be able to talk to that person about or what we could do outside of work as a team.

Every CV has the standard education and experience aspect to them, so I like to see those other little stories and insights too. I don’t tend to favour those with MAs, if someone does an MA out of interest though then it’s great but I’m not sure about getting one solely for career progression – especially not in our industry of PR and Comms.

I do wonder about gaps – where have those couple of years gone? It’s great if someone has a good story to tell, maybe they went off travelling or, like now, might be out of a job and using the time to get new skills.

Don’t worry about hiding your age on your CV either, everyone tries to work it out anyway by seeing when you were at school so there’s no harm in putting it on.

Mindset is a great thing to have as a candidate, how can someone show this in an interview?

Ask questions, be excited about the answers you’re giving and just demonstrate your passion and commitment to that job and industry. If you’re not excited by talking about it all, it’s probably not the right role for you.

Be enthusiastic in your approach and let your personality come through your answers and body language. Companies will look for someone that has a charisma and passion for the role they’re applying for, so show that as best you can.

Image of a desk with a laptop open

What advice would you give to young adults at the moment with regard to employment in a tough job market?

It can be difficult at the minute, for everyone, but try to use the time well where you can. If you’re out of a job or have a lot of spare time, think about a course you could do or some other interesting experience you can gain.

Employers will likely ask you what you’ve been doing in those gaps on your CV, so make sure you have a few interesting things to say. I’d like to hear responses of “well I did a few courses and took the time to read some books in the industry, I didn’t want to stop learning or progressing just because I was out of a job” or “I could tell that I wasn’t going to get a job for a while so I decided to travel when we were allowed to again”.

Show that you’re invested in yourself and engaging in a bit of self-improvement. We all need to rest a bit during this stressful time but it’s a great chance to develop personally too.


Thank you so much to Richard for giving his insights into what he considers when hiring for his company and suggesting some thoughts as to what other companies look for when hiring.

If you’d like to get some experience but aren’t sure how right now, read my post here about how to gain experience when you can’t get a job.

4 thoughts on “What do companies look for in a candidate

  1. Great post Maddie and completely agree. I do too wonder what the gaps are in CVs and most of the time it is travelling, but add that in. Mention the experience you got travelling. The work done whilst travelling etc. It’s all good experience. Thanks for sharing.

    1. I’m glad you agree with the points, Rohan! That’s really good advice, definitely a good idea to put a positive spin on why there’s gaps!

  2. It’s great to read a post on what an employer looks for when hiring people. I graduated 2 years back and have been travelling and working internationally since so there’s huge gaps on my CV, but it’s ok as I can put them in my interest section

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