What Do Employers Really Look For When Hiring?

on February 15, 2017

For any young readers worried about their resumes and future careers, here’s what I have to say to you:

The bad news is that you are young and inexperienced.

The good news is that you are young and inexperienced.

Indeed, the attributes that you worry may work against you are actually the very things that can set you apart.

According to recent data (that I will get to in a moment), it turns out that the characteristics employers actually look for are fairly different than what you may think are important.

Let me give you an example: These days we hear a lot about the importance of STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), especially insofar as employment preparation goes. Here is a recent op-ed from U.S. News and World Report, “Young Americans lag behind their foreign peers in the STEM fields. That’s bad news for our nation’s future, since STEM jobs are among the fastest growing and highest paying in the country.”

You have heard this drumbeat too for sure. It is loud. It follows then that employers want new hires to be well-versed in STEM disciplines, right?


According to the latest Bank of America Small Business Owner Report, STEM knowledge comes in dead last (10th out of 10 categories) in terms of hiring criteria. (Note: I do some work with Bank of America.)

So what is it that employers do look for? By far, the things that business owners look for when making a new hire are things in your control, even if you are new to the world of work. Yes, experience is important (it comes in third), but it is far less important than numbers one and two: Trustworthiness (74%) and being hard-working (70%.)

Given that employees often work with money and customers, it makes sense that these are the sorts of criteria that employers look for.

What else is important in a new employee? The Small Business Owner Report asked that very question, “What skills or characteristics do you look for in a potential candidate?” Here is how respondents answered:

  1. Trustworthy (74%)
  2. Hard working (70%)
  3. Experience (57%)
  4. Problem solver (51%)
  5. Logical thinker (47%)
  6. Communication skills (45%)
  7. Creative thinker (39%)
  8. Sales ability (28%)
  9. Tech savviness (27%)
  10. Knowledge of STEM (12%)

This is why I say that being young and inexperienced can actually work in your favor. If you look at the list above, what jumps out is that employers are looking for people who have the sorts of attributes and skills that one gets in college – a strong work ethic, being a smart and creative thinker, having good communication skills and so on.

It is your job therefore as a job applicant to emphasize how your background is a potential boon to the employer; for example, although you don’t have a lot of work experience, that also means that you don’t have a lot bad work habits that need to be unlearned. Having earned a degree means that you are definitely a hard worker and a creative problem solver.

And who cares if you were an English major? Personally, I love that (and apparently I am not alone.) STEM majors are great too, but what we small business people really want are some hard-working, creative problem solvers, whatever the background.

Show us that and the job is yours.

© 2017, The Strauss Group, Inc.