I’m a Recruiter — This is the No. 1 Thing I’m Looking for in Candidates in 2021

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AnnaMarie Houlis4.87k
Journalist & travel blogger
April 24, 2024 at 6:44PM UTC
As we all navigate a new era in 2021, recruiters are looking for various skills in candidates that weren't as important during pre-COVID times.
In fact, research shows that self-management skills — such as active learning, stress tolerance and flexibility, for example — are going to be top priorities in the new year. Companies need to feel confident that their employees are up for novel challenges — and that they're reliable and self-sufficient go-getters who can work well independently and remotely.
Even if people start returning to their offices in 2021, and we all hopefully start to resume some semblance of normalcy, things have inevitably changed for good. After all, people's priorities are different because of everything we've been through in the last year. This means that companies' priorities should be different to reflect the needs of their employees and clients or consumers.
So, self-management skills aren't all recruiters will be looking for in 2021. We spoke to a few who've shared the no. 1 skill or quality that they're looking for in candidates. Here's what else they had to say.

1. Quick learning.

"The top skill I'm looking for is a candidate's ability to learn new things, even if no one else at the company knows the answer or how to do that thing," says Meghan Titzer, Director Of Product Development at Homesite Insurance. "This has always been an important skill, but maybe even more so now that the world is constantly changing."
Others agree. "Life-long learners" with strong change-management skills are key for Susan Graye, Talent Attraction and Acquisition Lead. She's also seeking candidates who are "adept at driving meaningful innovative strategies" and have "goals aligned to business objectives in times of uncertainty.” 

2. Autonomy.

"I think the top thing that I've changed in my hiring practices this year is that I look for answers that exhibit their ability to self-manage their workday and work assignments and their ability to be adaptable," says Erica Rochelle, Director, Walmart Health and Wellness Accounts Receivable. "COVID has taught us that not everyone is cut out for work-from-home so, when I hire, I'm looking for people that can be both flexible and productive when they are not in a 'controlled environment,' like an office with their manager right there."
People with the ability to manage themselves, even through tough times, are going to make it furthest in the job hunt. One way they can better do that is through strong communication.
"I think that empathy and listening for understanding are going to be key," says Jacquelyn Lloyd, HR consultant. "Both employees and managers have a lot going on at home and are just trying to live and work in this altered state. Having the skills to get to the crux of issues and build trust has never been more critical. Managers no longer have the time or bandwidth to micromanage and employees, especially millennials, are looking for autonomy and to be heard."

3. Adaptability.

"Flexibility and adaptability are going to be crucial," says Kim Allcott, PhD. "Businesses are still finding the optimal ways to work in the post-COVID marketplace. New employees that will grow with them and adjust to the business’ changing needs will be highly sought-after. Flexibility could include willingness to work from different locations (home, office or a mix of both), adaptability to working hours to fit around lockdown or isolation periods, and to the embracing of new technology that allows businesses to circumvent the challenges posed by COVID."
Flexibility in terms of what the job might entail is going to be necessary, after all.
"As I look to grow my team, I’m looking for ambitious candidates that are ready to grow and be flexible to business needs," says Michelle Hinsvark, a VP of Marketing. "If we learned one thing in 2020 it was that the key to success was being able to pivot. As we set our strategy, I know that the set of skills I might require now will be different in the near future as we get into a 'new normal,' so I am looking for people who can do the job well, but are open to what may come their way in the future."
Likewise, adaptability around new challenges is critical.
"With remote work remaining our reality moving into 2021, I believe the number one skill most recruiters will be seeking is adaptability," says Abigail Church, an organizational development consultant. "This year has thrown a lot of curveballs at people both professionally and personally. The individuals who have successfully weathered the storm are those who recognize when changes are needed to keep moving forward and lean into the discomfort of making those changes. These are going to be the individuals who help grow the companies privileged enough to have them as employees."
AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She's an editor by day and a travel blogger at HerReport.org by night.

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