The hiring process can be overwhelming, confusing, and frustrating as more candidates are competing for fewer jobs in a rapidly changing economy.  There is a lot of advice online regarding how to ace an interview but much of it focuses on what to say and almost suggests there should be scripted answers to hiring managers’ questions. While having certain skills and academic credentials is a prerequisite for many jobs, there are still some soft skills that are less talked about but equally important to hiring managers.  The consensus among hiring managers seem to be more focused on attitude, behavior, character and personality than on grades and the prestigious college you attended.

LinkedIn just came out with a fantastic series, “How I Hire,” a feature series that launched September 24, 2013. The writers teamed up with the NY Times to offer some of the best hiring advice out there, including Q & As with career experts. Through these blog posts, readers get a firsthand look at the hiring philosophies of industry giants like Richard Branson, Deepak Chopra, Sallie Krawcheck and many more. There are some great lessons we can learn from their advice and not all of it is based on skills, academic background or the college you attended. As far as doing well in your next interview: Take a deep breath now if you have a likable personality and experiences that demonstrate you can work in a stressful environment and be creative and innovative.

Hiring Managers industry wide focus more on personality and character traits than anything else.  None of them mention grades or prestigious schools as part of their hiring criteria. They assess a candidate’s potential for success based on your personality, emotional maturity, enthusiasm about the opportunity and the company, and your ability to demonstrate a clear understanding of how you can meet the hiring managers’ needs to help the company.  Being energetic is seen as positive, along with speaking clearly and with sincerity about why your enthusiastic about working for this specific firm and what you can do to add value based on the hiring manager’s needs.

To ace your interview, you need to prepare

1. Make sure you come well-informed about the company and the hiring managers needs: Based on this information, develop a compelling case for why you would fit in and why you are right for the job.

2. Find out what the ideal candidate would look and act like and how they can approximate this model:  Becoming more attuned to the needs of another (in this case the hiring manager) doesn’t mean you need to sublimate your personality.  It does require you to become more empathetic and to think like a team member who has ownership in the business so it’s success and the success of others in it would matter to you. This kind of thinking is necessary to form the attitude for someone who will ultimately fit into the firm.

3. Show knowledge of the industry and of the firm: Know its history, the competition, the market; it’s growth, projections and challenges.  Become an expert on who they are, what they do and what they need (as expressed by their management) with the goal of knowing where you could fit in and make a contribution. You can learn about the company, its current challenges, its culture and the influencers there from searching the LinkedIn profiles of the managers, and by reading current articles online that discuss the company and it’s issues.

4. Find common ground with the hiring manager (come from the same state, share a common personal interest)

5. Practice explaining an authentic message about why you’d be a good fit  for the position

6. Show strong enthusiasm for the job

7. When it’s time to negotiate for salary, do it vigorously but with flexibility and a willingness to meet in the middle, and with a sense of humor

A window into the hiring managers’ mind: It’s not always what you’d expect

Richard Branson, English business magnate and investor is best known as the founder of Virgin Group of more than 400 companies.

Branson believes that the first thing to look for when searching for a great employee is somebody with a personality that fits with your company culture. “Most skills can be learned, but it is difficult to train people on their personality. If you can find people who are fun, friendly, caring and love helping others, you are on to a winner.”

Jack Welch, Management guru and former GE CEO Jack Welch seeks to hire employees who help others succeed in addition to qualities like energy and edge. He defines it as the “generosity gene” a trait belonging to people who get joy out of seeing those around them do well.

Sallie Krawcheck of 85 Broads and formerly the president of Merril Lynch, notes that you can’t have a basketball team with all point guards. Diversity of roles and backgrounds has been proven to make teams better. She looks for candidates who have complimentary skill sets to others on the team.

Deepak Chopra Chopra Foundation Founder Deepak Chopra goes so far as to create a “soul profile,” a portrait of each candidate that includes questions about their life’s purpose and what they look for in a friend. Chopra argues that technical skills can be outsourced, but “what makes an organization or business successful are core values, qualities of character, vision, purpose, camaraderie, and joy. And these cannot be outsourced.”

Beth Comstock GE CMO reminds us there are no “lone geniuses,” and it’s teams that do the real work. To create diverse teams she looks to fill roles including the well-balanced employee and the fish out of water.

Steve Stoute, co-founder of celebrity ad agency Translation, says he talks about things besides the position he’s filling, including what an applicant’s parents do for a living. He believes in hiring people with interest and hobbies that compliment their job.

Charlie Collier President and General Manager at AMC: What I’m looking for is what they are going to be able to do to make us successful beyond their job description. He looks for candidates who see past their job description to help their company succeed.

How does the individual sitting in front of me relate to people, approach unusual challenges, flex when blind spots are exposed? In essence, I want to find out not just how they ‘fit’ their defined functional role but how they will be able to quickly adapt and make decisions that will have impact well beyond it.

Those able to spot opportunities for change, early, and flexible enough to move strategically toward addressing them, even when they may be outside business-as-usual parameters, are going to add disproportionate value. Most of the best executives I’ve observed take their roles well beyond what an organization can even contemplate at the time of an open position. Further, they have enough emotional intelligence to be able to push the organization forward without leaving a cloud of smoke in their path. I want those people on my team and I try to use the interview and vetting process to find them.

All things being equal, the candidate who displays greater emotionally maturity will get hired over the person who comes off having weaker interpersonal skills. An emotionally mature person realizes that if you really want a certain job you’ll impress the interviewer in the following ways:  Show genuine interest in the business’s mission and an appreciation for wanting to fit in and contribute to its success!

If you have difficulty grasping the idea of empathizing with your prospective employer try this approach: Think of what it would be like to be the hiring manager of your own company.  What qualities would be a “turn on” and what qualities would be a “turn off.”  Realize that the best candidates show they understand that you want to give more than take and help the company achieve its objectives.  Above all remember, it’s all about them!