What Employers Really Want From Applicants

Skeptics among you will be right to suggest that, “No one really knows what employers want; that employers are different and want different things”, and you’d be right. So why then do so many job applicants behave as if employers are all the same – and apply to multiple jobs, using either no cover letter or using the same cover letter? In fact the results of a recent poll of 100 businesses (presented in the Harvard Business Review), found that 73% of applicants ‘did not supply a cover letter’, and 16% supplied generic cover letters that were not relevant to the role. This approach is known as ‘scatter-gunning’, and  is frowned upon in the industry and is a huge turnoff to recruiters.

Apply for jobs with a tailored cover letter

69% of respondents to the HBR survey view tailored cover letters positively; therefore, you should prepared an individually tailored cover letter for each role you apply for. Your cover letter should address the role specifically and relate your own skills and experience to those being asked for within the job description. For example, if the job advert indicates that the essential skills are: communication, attention to detail, numeracy and presentation skills, you should specifically emphasize your skills and experience in these areas in your cover letter. This may take some time, but there is no shortcut, but the upside of doing it is that you will be part of the 11% who do write professional cover letters, putting you ahead of the competition right from the start.

Although, every employer is different and has different requirements there are some universal skills and qualities which most employers look for in applicants and I have explained these below.

Flexibility, Adaptability and Multitasking

With the onset of globalization and the consumer’s desire for ever more customized and innovative products and services, businesses are having to be more responsive, flexible, adaptable and ready to change. As a result, firms now need employees who can operate effectively in a dynamic, rapidly shifting environment, which is why modern employers value the ability to be flexible, adaptable, to handle multiple shifting priorities and to remain organized and effective in what can be an uncertain and sometimes chaotic environment.

3G Mindset

Harvard Lecturer and PhD Paul Stolz conducted an extensive survey of thousands of employers and found that an overwhelming 96% of respondents said they would hire, promote, pay and retain people with a particular mindset over a desired skill set. So, what was this mindset? They called it the 3G Mindset. It consisted  of:

  1. Being ‘Global’, e.g. able to have a big picture perspective,
  2. ‘Good’, being sensitive to others and wanting to do good for others around you and,
  3. ‘Grit’, which is the ability to be tenacious, intense and resilient about everything you do.

Interpersonal and Relationship Building Skills

Employers know that in order to get things done and therefore be effective in a business environment, you will need to be able to communicate clearly, influence, negotiate, build trust, gain respect and develop and nurture relationships and work well in teams. Most employers want employees who are able to exhibit these skills in abundance.

Early Adopter of New Technologies

There is no question we are going through an exciting technological revolution. The onset of social media, cloud computing and mobile computing, coupled to the increasing globalization of business operations means that the working landscape is shifting. Businesses know that to maintain/gain competitive advantage, they must maximize use of technology. To do this, they need employees who embrace technology and can get the most out of it. Therefore, businesses want employees who are ‘early adopters’, and who can let go of an existing inferior technology but be able to quickly embrace a new technology that gives the business a competitive advantage.


Businesses need leaders to manage teams and collectively drive the business forwards. They are always looking for employees who have the potential to lead now or in the future.

Multicultural Sensitivity and Awareness

With the onset of globalization and increased global mobility of talent you are more likely than ever to be working with people from different cultures. To work effectively and succeed in these environments  you need to be aware and sensitive of cultural differences. Therefore, Multicultural Sensitivity and Awareness are highly prized assets by employers.

Kazim Ladimeji is a Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, and has been a practicing HR professional for 14 years. Kazim is the Director of The Career Cafe: a resource for start-ups, small business and job seekers. Visit Kazim’s website at: www.thecareercafe.co.uk.

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