Understand the qualities employers in Singapore are looking for when interviewing and hiring new staff so you can stand out.

Part 1 of our series on interviews focuses on the traits that employers keep in mind when interviewing jobseekers. Three Singapore employers in human resources (HR) — Stephanie Nash, Chief People Officer of RedMart, Michael Gomez, Head of Career Office, ESSEC Business School and Giselle Ng, Manager, Business and Strategy, Straits Dental Group — share what they look out for when hiring fresh graduates as well as more experienced job candidates.

Q: In your experience, what are the key qualities a HR team looks for when conducting interviews?

Stephanie Nash (SN), Chief People Officer, RedMart:Firstly, we make sure the candidates we are talking to have the functional and technical skills required for the position they are applying for. We also prioritise how they fit into our company’s culture. Here we have a clearly articulated culture code, which includes placing value on those who demonstrate a commitment to the customer.

We also value tenacity and a never-give-up spirit. Of course, each person has different attributes and experience so when we interview it’s on a role-by-role basis and the hiring managers will prioritise about five to six attributes they look out for in that role. For example, if we are recruiting for a software engineer, the ability to problem-solve is a critical attribute but if we are looking for a driver, this attribute may be less critical.

Michael Gomez (MG), Head of Career Office, ESSEC Business School: Whatever the age of the job candidate, we look for empathy and strong interpersonal skills — the ability to understand people in different stages of life, because our students comprise both younger and more mature people. Since our department also looks at organising events for our students, potential candidates also have to be good communicators.

Giselle Ng (GN), Manager, Business and Strategy, Straits Dental Group: A good working attitude is important. For SDG, this especially means showing us at the interview stage that you have enthusiasm and versatility especially since in an environment like ours, technology is evolving all the time. In addition, the ability toput people at ease is crucial for us so interviewees who can interact well and have an approachable disposition will stand out.

One of our recent interns possessed all these qualities we look out for — he was able to relate very well to our patients, was willing to learn, quick to adapt to different situations, worked well in a team and was even able to make suggestions on processes. We definitely hope he will be able to join our team when he graduates!

Q: When hiring fresh graduates, what do you look out for?

MG: In general, I am looking for candidates who can value-add to our organisation. Of course, when it comes to fresh graduates they don’t really have work experience. Here I will look at their resume to understand why they specialised in the subjects they chose and their motivation.

One of the main things that helps here is looking at what they have done outside their studies. In fact, to me, this matters more than their grades — I want to know what they did during their internship, whether they were in a club or society at school and what they did there. If they played sports, it normally shows that they are good at working in a team environment. Such things give me a better idea of what they have managed or if they have been exposed to certain industries, roles or functions.

SN: Redmart has a graduate programme, the RadGrad Programme that is right now on our third cohort of RadGrads. As a company, our focus is 100 percent on identifying and developing Singaporeans and recruiting for different disciplines.

When it comes to fresh graduates we look at their attitude and aptitude — their natural ability to do something and their potential to grow. They must show passion, be results-oriented and show that they have commitment both to the company and to our customers.

How we approach the interview and selection process is also different compared to when we hire a more experienced candidate. With graduates, since they are graduating at similar times of the year, we run a more assessment centre-type approach because we have a certain number of roles that are available and normally a high volume of candidates. It will start with group-level overviews, introductions and then move into individually-based interviews followed by a team-based project.

Q: What about when hiring and interviewing more mature candidates?

MG: In our case, many mature candidates tend to have strong technical skills. One of the key things I look for when interviewing them for positions is their transferable skills. Such interviewees need to be able to sell this to me. However, I sometimes find that being in a certain industry or position for a long time creates “tunnel vision”. For example, some of them may have been an engineer for the last 10 years and know all the technical jargon but are unable to state their transferable skills. As an engineer, they must have worked in multiple projects with different team players or even worked with vendors or different stakeholders so they understand different cultures, can manage expectations as well as identify markets — these skills should be expressed at the interview stage, but very few tend to do this.

SN: For more experienced candidates, we have an interview process that looks for technical or soft skills such as their communication abilities. If the candidate has a track record in the e-commerce industry, that’s great, but we understand that this industry is relatively new. In such cases, we look at the candidate’s other strengths; for example, many of our more mature candidates have a strong supply chain or retail background which is also valuable to us.

GN: A willingness to learn is important — a senior staff of ours, Cindy, came from a background of cashiering and stocktaking at a bakery supply show. A quick learner, she went through out training process and excelled. She now manages our clinic operations and the training of new hires, and we are currently grooming her to take on a human resources role.