Top 10 Qualities to Listen For When Interviewing Job Applicants


There's a lot to listen for in a conversation. When a person speaks, listen to what's NOT being said, as well as what's being said. The purpose of an interview isn't merely to learn about an applicant's skills or background ­ you've already gleaned this information from their resume. Listen beneath the words to who a person is. Listen for the qualities that most matter to the position and to the company.

1. Confidence & Self Acceptance
Beneath the surface conversation, listen to who a person is. Listen for how comfortable a person is during the silences within a conversation. All conversation waxes and wanes ­ during the pauses in a conversation, listen for the level of confidence and self-acceptance a person has. When s/he pauses to gather her/his thoughts prior to answering your question, do you sense nervousness or anxiety? The level of comfort a person exhibits during the pauses within a conversation says a lot. Listen for the level of confidence and self-acceptance beneath a person's word.

2. Follow Through & Persistence
Follow through and persistence is the unique ability to engage in a project and see it through -- at all costs. The downside of persistence is the fine line that exists, separating persistence from stubbornness. Think about the qualities that are essential to the position - then, upgrade those qualities, envisioning a top performer in the position. Identify the desired qualities for the job - then pursue a line of questioning that will allow the quality to emerge. What line of questioning will bring forth the quality you're looking for?

To ask the applicant to "tell me about your follow through abilities" isn't going to reveal anything but an artificial response. Use your own experiences to identify impactful questions. What line of inquiry would bring out YOUR perseverance? A question about personal commitments and passions, or a question about your project management skills? My guess is that you'll learn more about a person's persistence by asking them about their passions vs. previous job responsibilities.

3. Integrity
Integrity is about being responsible for our actions and inactions; it's about keeping one's word -- to oneself and to others. It's about being responsible for handling whatever happens, and making adjustments so problems don't reoccur. When one is responsible, one doesn't blame or complain. Listen for how the applicant responded to situations in the past. Does prior behavior demonstrate responsibility, integrity and keeping one's word? Listen for level of ownership and the attitude one has in accepting responsibility. (Hint: You'll also learn about their leadership qualities in this conversation.)

4. Creativity
The most tedious jobs benefit when performed by a person who thinks creatively. Listen for the level of comfort in considering and/or behaving in an "out of the box" way. Don't confuse style with creativity. Creative thinkers can present very "ordinary." Listen to a person's mind when assessing their creativity. A bold dresser who looks "creative" might very well be a rigid thinker. A conservatively dressed person might be an extraordinary creative thinker. Don't let appearances fool you.

5. Standards
We're all motivated by our values, whether we realize it or not. Values are what motivates and sustains us. They are the core of who a person is. What standards motivate the applicant? Does s/he seem to value working hard and getting the job done at all costs, or does s/he place priority on communication? Is s/he motivated by setting standards of excellence and quality, or are her/his motivators about connectedness and team? Listen for what drives a person. By doing so, you'll have a better sense of "job fit."

6. Clarity of Communication
Communication isn't just about the words a person uses. It's also not only about the tone or affect the speaker uses. Communication is about being 100% responsible for the other person's listening. Communication is also about making a profound connection with another human being. It's about establishing rapport and being such an excellent listener that your responses perfectly answer the needs of the conversation.

How strong a connection has the applicant made with you? Did the person present authentically ­ or were they playing a role to impress you? Listen for how well a person listens and connects with you. This is a highly valuable skill ­ with enormous benefit for your team and organization.

7. Personal Philosophies & Beliefs
What are the beliefs of the person? What messages do they embrace or are passionate about? A person's beliefs about opportunity will generate activity based upon their particular perspective and beliefs. Is their glass half full or half empty? A person's personal philosophy about life will tell you something about how they'll approach the challenges of the job. Guide the conversation to allow the person's belief system to emerge. Then listen for it.

8. Commitment
The word commit comes from the Latin word committere, which means to connect and entrust. Listen for a demonstration that the person has the ability to connect and entrust her/him self consistently to your product, service or organization. The ability to connect and entrust oneself is a key ingredient for rapport and building trust. Commitment is the quality that generates a consistent connection with another - an ability that benefits all types of relationships. Listen for evidence that the person can follow through on the connections they make - this is where commitment is found.

Connection + Consistency = Commitment

9. Passion
Success comes effortlessly to the person who's doing work they're passionate about. But, must a salesperson be passionate about their product to be successful? Maybe not. Listen for what the person's most passionate about - is s/he a people person or is s/he passionate about analysis? What motivates a person and lights their passion? When do their eyes sparkle with excitement? The more aligned a person is to their job, the more passionate and successful they and you will be.

10. Authenticity
Warren Bennis, professor and noted author of more than 20 books on leadership, change & management and who's advised 4 U.S. Presidents, speaks about authenticity as a core ingredient of leadership. He says: "Becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself. It is that simple. It is that difficult."

How genuine is the person during the interview process? How comfortable with oneself does she/he appear? Authenticity is about being real & about being genuine - listen for conflicts that get in the way of a person's authenticity.


Jan Gordon, LCSW is an Executive and Personal Coach who finds great joy in helping her clients achieve outstanding results! Ms. Gordon provides coaching to individuals and teams who are dedicated to enhancing their personal power and sense of fulfilment. Her coaching embraces the concept that challenge provides opportunity. Visit her website at: Jan can reached at

Copyright © 2001 by Jan Gordon. All Rights Reserved. This content may be forwarded only in full, with copyright/bio/contact/creation information intact, without specific permission, when used only in a not-for-profit format. If any other use is desired, permission in writing from Jan Gordon is required.

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