When a hiring manager asks you to describe your idea of the perfect candidate, you’ll do well to deliver a well-researched, well-thought out answer. That means you’ll need to review the job posting and any available information to find out what the job entails -- but there’s more to it than just that. Essentially, the employer is asking you to sell yourself, even if the question is seemingly discussing a generic "other" person.
Here are some do’s and dont’s to follow when you’re up against this type of interview question.
1. Don't parrot what your resume and cover letter say
First off, don’t simply repeat everything you’ve already discussed in your application materials. The hiring manager already knows that you consider yourself to be a hard worker with an attention to detail. With this question, she wants even more, and that requires digging a bit deeper.
2. Do try to discover what the employer really needs
Reading over the job posting will give you some idea of what the job involves, but try to find out even more. For a sales job, for example, you might find out from research online that the company is struggling with its sales in a particular department. From that tidbit of information, you could come up with a few ideas for fixing that problem. When you’re asked what traits the ideal candidate would have, you’ll be able to deliver an answer that speaks directly to the employer’s needs, saying something like: "the ideal candidate will have X strategies in mind to help you fix X problem." That’s definitely something the employer will remember.
3. Don't focus only on hard skills
The employer might have only mentioned "hard" skills such as computer skills or other technical skills in the job posting. But underneath those skills are "soft" skills that make people perform better in a particular job. A customer service job that requires using certain technologies will also require the candidate to have a good rapport with people, for example.
Form your answer with a combination of hard skills, as well as soft skills that cover the habits, attitudes and personality traits that could make someone successful.
4. Do take an honest look at the position
Spend a little time ahead of the interview taking a good, hard look at what the ideal candidate would look like for this position, taking yourself out of the equation. Based on the list of hard and soft skills you’ve come up with, identify what you’re lacking. If you’re lacking something major, think of a way you can fix it.
If a travel agent job you want requires certification in cruise travel, for example, look at what it takes to get that certification. During the interview, name the traits of the ideal candidate, and then openly admit that you don’t have that one thing. But don’t stop there. Tell the employer that you’ve researched what it will take to get that certification, and tell him you’re willing to work extra in the coming months to get it. Even though you’re admitting that you don’t have all the necessary things, showing that willingness to go the extra mile and improve can help you land the job.
Every answer you deliver should be done with enthusiasm. Sometimes, showing the employer that you’re excited about the job can help her overlook a shortcoming or two.
And here’s one extra piece of advice: Don’t make the mistake of making a generic statement such as "I’m the best candidate for the job," says Alison Green of the Ask a Manager blog. First off, you don’t know what the rest of the candidate pool even looks like -- and second, all your answers need to be as specific as possible to make every moment of the interview count.
Have you dealt with this question effectively when it has been asked? Your thoughts and comments below...