When you're applying for a job, professional success and industry experience are only part of what your interviewer wants to see. Harder to show, but many times more crucial for actually landing the job, are the personality traits that make you the right fit for the company.
"Employers want to know that you are qualified for a position, but they also want to see that you will fit in with the company culture. The only way to assess this is to get a sense of your personality," said Susan Peppercorn, CEO of Positive Workplace Partners and author of "Ditch Your Inner Critic at Work: Evidence-Based Strategies to Thrive in Your Career." "Knowing that someone has the experience and skills to be successful in a job is paramount, but when two candidates have similar capabilities, often the soft skills are why one person gets hired over another."
A 2014 study by the career resource and job-listing site CareerBuilder found that many employers prioritize the same soft skills in employees, looking for candidates who are dependable, positive, flexible and effective communicators who work well under pressure, among other personality traits.
"When companies are assessing job candidates, they're looking for ... the right personality," said Rosemary Haefner, CareerBuilder’s chief human resources officer. "It's important to highlight soft skills that can give employers an idea of how quickly you can adapt and solve problems, whether you can be relied on to follow through, and how effectively you can lead and motivate others."
Hiring experts and business leaders weighed in on the personality traits that can make the difference between a strong candidate and a new employee.
1. A multitasker
Employees are rarely hired to perform a single function. Especially in a small business setting, companies need people who are willing to come out of their roles and do whatever is necessary, said Ron Selewach, founder and CEO of talent acquisition software company Human Resource Management Center Inc.
"A small business needs people who can not only tolerate chaos, but thrive in it," he said.
2. A strategist
Career psychologist Eileen Sharaga said that every business needs a strategic thinker. Hiring managers want someone who can identify long-term goals. It’s critical to demonstrate that you have not only a vision for the future, but also a plan to get there, she said.
3. A decider
People who can use their own judgment and take decisive action are valuable to any company, Selewach said. Business leaders can't be involved in every minor decision, so they look for a candidate who is not afraid to pull the trigger. The ability to act and take responsibility for the outcome is essential for anyone hoping to move into a management or leadership position.
4. A cautious person
Beth Gilfeather, CEO and founder of Sevenstep Recruiting, noted that a more cautious employee acts as a counterbalance to risk-takers. "They are risk-averse, but sometimes, you need people to provide stability and fairness, and keep your business from taking on too much," she said.
5. An independent thinker
Some employees go along with everything the boss says, without question. These people may be good for an ego boost, but ultimately, leaders need team members who will challenge the status quo if it's better for the business.
"I want people who will … not be afraid to stand up for what they think is the right thing for the company," said Meg Sheetz, former president and COO of weight loss program Medifast. "I also look for people who understand that they will not necessarily agree with every decision that the company may make, but ... they have to find a way to support their teams in a unified approach."
6. A team player
Most jobs require some kind of collaboration, whether with a team of other employees, a group of clients or occasional outside contractors. The ability to work pleasantly and effectively with others is a key part of nearly any job.
"Employers value candidates who are flexible enough to get along well with a variety of personalities and work styles," said Peppercorn. "Examples of accomplishments working on a team should be part of every job-hunter's interview repertoire."
7. A cultural fit
Individual employers may value different traits, but they all look for the elusive cultural fit. Every company's culture is slightly different, and each is founded on different core values. What matters most to employers is that the person they hire embodies those values in their everyday lives.
"Our culture is founded upon a work-hard, play-hard, humble, self-reflective and collaborative environment," said Max Yoder, CEO of online training software company Lessonly. "Different roles obviously call for different specifics, but all of us share those core motivations."
How to highlight your personality
Personality traits are difficult to demonstrate on a resume, so it's essential to highlight them during the interview. Sheetz noted that strategic storytelling can get your personality across to a hiring manager.
"Sharing stories that demonstrate how you performed during an experience is extremely important to help get across your personality traits," she said. "[Discuss] how you handled yourself in a crisis, or how you showed up as a leader during a positive or negative time."
Haefner agreed, adding that simply stating you're a team player, for instance, isn't enough for most hiring managers. Instead, provide a concrete instance of when you worked on a team to accomplish a goal, she said.
Yoder said the best way to express your personality is to simply be yourself. "If you're a great fit, it will be apparent. If you're not, it will also be apparent. The most important thing to remember when walking into an interview is that it is completely two-sided – you're interviewing us as much as we are interviewing you."
Additional reporting by Chad Brooks, Nicole Fallon and Kim Ann Zimmermann. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.