How to Identify a Good Candidate in an Interview

Smiling woman in a green shirt shaking hands across a desk during a job interview, with a laptop and documents visible on the table.

Finding a good candidate for your job opening can feel like hitting the jackpot. But just like striking it rich in a Vegas casino, identifying the perfect person to join your team isn’t an easy feat. 

Recruiters today are plagued by unqualified applicants, a persistent talent shortage, and a highly competitive market for top-tier talent, so identifying a strong candidate quickly is key. Learn what makes an applicant a great pick and gain some tips to spot them in this article. 

What Makes a Good Job Candidate?


Skills are the most objective criteria for judging a candidate and also one of the most straightforward: either the applicant has a particular skill or they don’t. Skills–and the ability to learn them–have also been shown to be a strong predictor of job success, giving rise to the growth of skill-based hiring

In addition to tools like skill assessments, you can learn more about a candidate’s skills during an interview by asking questions like ‘Describe a time you had to use [specific skill] in your job’ and ‘Tell me about your experience with [skill].’

Prior experience

Prior experience is another tangible factor that can set a candidate up for success. And, like skills, it’s fairly black and white to identify: either a candidate has experience in a particular area, or they don’t. 

What’s more difficult is nailing down the type of experience that’s valuable for a role since even unrelated jobs can provide relevant background and transferable experience. Zero in on pertinent experience with questions like ‘What prior experience makes you a strong fit for this job?’ and ‘Tell me about how your background has prepared you for this role.’

Cultural fit

Cultural fit is less tangible and harder to identify than skills or experience since it cannot be gleaned from a resume alone. However, it is one of the most important factors to look for during an interview, as it’s one of the only opportunities to interact with a candidate in real time. 

Cultural fit is so instrumental in a good candidate because it determines how well that person will integrate, interact with, and add value to your existing workforce. Without it, even a candidate with strong technical skills and relevant experience could fail to thrive. 


Finally, character is the defining moral quality that makes a candidate who they are. Unlike hard and soft skills, character can’t be taught in a boot camp. Things like honesty, empathy, resilience, accountability, discipline, and humility contribute to someone being a generally “good person”–the type of individual you want on your team and, thus, the characteristics you want to identify during an interview. 

The Importance of the Interview

The job interview is a critical aspect of the overall assessment process because it informs hiring managers on several aspects that aren’t readily apparent from a candidate’s resume, application, or communications via email and phone. These things include:


From resume gaps and career changes to interesting life experiences, a live conversation adds context to the written words in a candidate’s application materials. Context matters greatly. For example, a candidate who had an employment gap resulting from a layoff might have different motivations than one who took time off to care for young children. Neither situation is “better” than the other, but the context in determining a candidate’s fit for the role may matter. 


While likability isn’t a reliable factor in determining whether to hire someone, it is an important factor in determining what a person will be like to work with. Someone who’s pleasant and enjoyable to be around can contribute to strong team morale, while someone who’s unenthusiastic or pessimistic can bring down an entire team. The interview is a chance to get a glimpse of a candidate’s personality and determine whether they’ll be a positive addition to your workforce. 

Mutual interest

Let’s not forget that an assessment is taking place on both sides of the interview table. While we’re judging candidates, they’re also judging whether this is a place they want to work. An interview can give you a sense of a candidate’s interest in a position and whether they’re feeling good about it–that is, do they seem excited to be there, or are they having second thoughts once the interview is underway? 

It’s not a bad thing if a candidate decides to opt out after an interview. It prevents you from making an offer that will end up in rejection and potentially missing out on another strong candidate in the meantime. 

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Tips for Identifying Ideal Candidates During the Interview Process

1. Find out what they know

Early on in the interview, get a feel for whether the candidate did their homework–that is, did they take the time to get a thorough grasp of the role and what the company does? Understanding these basic items shows that a candidate is diligent and genuinely interested in the job. 

2. Ask the right questions

Interview questions aren’t created equally. Some will help you drill down into the qualities we touched on above, while others just fill time. Good candidates are identified through good interview questions that tie back to the core competencies of the role as well as the candidate’s past experience, work style, and personality traits. 

Related: The Best and Worst Interview Questions to Ask Candidates

3. Learn about their accomplishments

Past performance is closely linked with future success. A good candidate should have a track record of accomplishments that are congruous to their experience level. So, a good entry-level candidate might have held leadership roles in school clubs or have completed volunteer work. A good mid-level candidate should have some strong performance results from their previous jobs to highlight. 

4. Look for growth potential

A willingness to learn is more important than having all the answers. You can train someone who’s eager and adaptable, but you’ll have trouble developing an employee who’s not open to coaching and feedback. 

Look for signs of growth potential during the interview. A candidate’s own questions can give you clues about this. For example, if they ask about employee development or advancement opportunities, it’s a sign they’re growth-minded. 

5. Pay attention to body language

A candidate’s body language can tell you things their words can’t. Look for positive body language, which includes ‘open’ postures (i.e., arms not crossed), sitting up straight, making eye contact, and smiling. Negative body language, like slouching, looking away from you, or a blank expression, can be a bad sign. 

6. Evaluate the bigger picture

The best candidates are the ones who won’t just get the job done today but who will bring value to the company in the long term. To identify this, you’ll need to understand the bigger picture better, like the candidate’s goals and motivations. Interview questions like ‘What drives you?’, ‘Why do you want this job?’, and ‘Where do you see yourself in five years?’ can spark interesting responses. 

7. Forecast culture fit

To better understand culture fit, think of your culture as a stew and your employees as the ingredients. The ingredients aren’t all the same. In fact, that would make for a pretty unremarkable stew. However, all of the ingredients do need to complement one another, and they should all add something to the flavor of the stew. 

When assessing culture fit, ask yourself what value the candidate could add to your “culture stew” and envision how they’ll interact with the “ingredients” already on the team. 

8. Assess their enthusiasm

As we touched on earlier, a good candidate is one who’s as interested in you as you are in them. Do they seem excited? Are they engaged in the conversation? Or does it seem like they’re just crossing off an item on their to-do list? A new hire who’s less experienced but enthusiastic is often a better choice than one with stronger skills but an indifferent attitude. 

9. Get another perspective

Ideally, finding a good candidate won’t be on a single person’s shoulders. Bring other participants into the interview process to make a well-rounded choice. A second conversation with a different interviewer, a panel interview, or a shadowing session with prospective team members can offer valuable perspectives and alternative insights. 

Related: Collaborative Hiring: How to Involve Your Employees in the Hiring Process

10. Spot red flags

Red flags like tardiness, rudeness, lack of preparation, and misrepresentation of experience are easy ways to rule out bad apples. We have a complete list of interview red flags to watch out for here. 

To sum up, identifying a good candidate in a job interview requires a holistic assessment of their skills, experience, character, and cultural fit. By asking insightful questions, observing the interviewee’s behavior, and combining the resulting insights with other data points like references and assessments, you’ll be able to make an accurate and informed hiring decision. 

Pete Newsome

About Pete Newsome

Pete Newsome is the President of 4 Corner Resources, the staffing and recruiting firm he founded in 2005. 4 Corner is a member of the American Staffing Association and TechServe Alliance, and the top-rated staffing company in Central Florida. Recent awards and recognition include being named to Forbes’ Best Recruiting Firms in America, The Seminole 100, and The Golden 100. Pete also founded zengig, to offer comprehensive career advice, tools, and resources for students and professionals. He hosts two podcasts, Hire Calling and Finding Career Zen, and is blazing new trails in recruitment marketing with the latest artificial intelligence (AI) technology. Connect with Pete on LinkedIn