As I look back on 2015, and some of the ongoing discussions I had with recruiters and hiring managers, some definite “themes” seemed to emerge in terms of what companies today said they were looking for in the people they wanted to hire — and interestingly, many of the desired qualities they listed went beyond mere skills and qualifications alone.

Now don’t get me wrong, the reality is that one still has to be a reasonably good fit with a company’s stated experience and educational requirements to gain serious consideration.  It’s not that companies are looking for spunk and character alone.  But once you pass the initial resume screen, and get in the game, it’s clear that there are some key things can you can do — and traits you can display — that will help set you apart from your competitors.

The three traits that employers told me (time and time again) that they wished they saw more in the people they interviewed were as follows:

1. Enthusiasm. Numerous hiring managers informed me that energy and enthusiasm were qualities they prized in potential applicants, but didn’t see as often as you might expect.  Many managers reported that a surprising number of candidates approached the interview process in passive fashion and just sort of sat there, answering questions, without showing any real spark.  In fairness, this might be due to interview jitters in some candidates, or insecurities, or perhaps the mistaken (and increasingly outdated belief) that interviewees should display reserved mannerisms and follow a “don’t speak until spoken to” approach.  But employers today are facing tough challenges — and typically looking for people who demonstrate a gung-ho attitude and seem eager to roll up their sleeves, join the team, and do what it takes to help the company succeed.  So if you’re giving off a more mellow vibe when meeting with employers, or playing it safe and holding your cards a little too close to your chest, it might be time to amp things up a little!

2. Curiosity. Additionally, and while perhaps intertwined with the first item above, a number of employers have also confessed to me their desire to see candidates express more curiosity about the positions they were interviewing for.  They’ve mentioned, repeatedly, that most people don’t arrive to the interview very prepared to succeed.  And that they don’t engage, add value, and push back with smart questions demonstrating their expert understanding of the job at hand.   So while sure, you’ll always be given the opportunity to ask questions at the end of the interview as a formality, don’t be afraid to try and shift the interview into a true “problem-solving conversation” with the employer as the discussion unfolds.  Ask follow-up questions.  Show off what you know about their business.  Go to the white board.  Try to drill down into the key issues and pain points they are wrestling with.  If you see signs you’re crossing the line, sure, you can always back off — but in general, interviewers seem to be as tired as most job seekers are of “going through the motions” and will usually look favorably upon folks who seem willing to elevate the dialogue.

3. Focus. Lastly, nearly every employer I’ve met has indicated their preference for applicants these days who bring drive, ambition, and forward-looking focus to the party.  They don’t want people who are just “looking for a paycheck” in other words.  They want to hire candidates who have a clear vision about where they fit in today’s business world and who can articulate the specific types of problems they are excited to help employers solve.  So while sure, I’ll grant that this isn’t an easy problem to solve if you’re one of the many folks out there who is a bit of a generalist — or who doesn’t have a burning sense of career purpose at the moment — but regardless, try your best to arrive at interviews with clear answers to questions like “Why do you want this job?” and “What are your career goals, going forward?”  The more you seem to be in control of your destiny and excited by your own professional growth, future, and development, the more this attitude will rub off on employers and enhance your chances of success.

So there you have it.  While on one hand none of these qualities can be considered truly surprising, or revolutionary, it’s interesting how many employers/recruiters continue to call them out as things they wished they saw more in the candidates they interviewed.  As always, practice makes perfect, so the next time you get called in to sell yourself to a potential organization, make sure your strategy is one that includes showcasing a few of these critical traits!