Most organizations and job candidates wait until the interview stage to assess fit. Until then, they focus on the hard skills required for a particular role. But interviews provide only a limited opportunity to assess a candidate’s behaviour and personality traits in relation to the job. The organization and the candidate can start to assess fit at a much earlier stage of the hiring process by including an initial assessment in the job posting.

A typical job posting focuses on a candidate’s education, experience and hard skills, leaving no opportunity to assess fit. A recent job posting on LinkedIn, for example, listed 14 hard skill requirements but only one soft skill/essential trait: Excellent Interpersonal Skills.

Yet every position requires a specific and unique combination of essential traits. By identifying them in advance, organizations can incorporate them into the job posting and attract more suitable candidates for the role.

A VP of Investor Relations, for instance, requires specific traits beyond the ones that are common to all leadership positions. To perform the role successfully, a candidate may need influencing ability, political savvy, advanced relationship-management skills, diplomacy and the ability to accommodate ambiguity. 

By comparison, a CEO in a start-up may require much different essential traits, such as strategic agility, willingness to take calculated risks, leadership presence, business acumen and resilience.

To screen candidates for such essential traits at the job posting stage, organizations need to do more than simply list them along with the required hard skills. Organizations and candidates alike can gain greater insight into a candidate’s fit by including a cover letter among the requirements in the job application.

The job posting should ask candidates to address in their cover letter the essential traits required to succeed in the role and the organization. Candidates may be asked, for example, to describe the way that they have succeeded in their current position by building relationships across their organization; the way that their attitude to their work affects the people around them; or the way that their openness to feedback has contributed to their professional development.

Recently I worked with an organization that needed to fill a COO role as it went through significant changes. Here’s an excerpt from its job posting for the role:

“In your application for this exceptional opportunity, please include a cover letter that includes specific examples of how the following traits have contributed to your career success:

  • Change-catalyst capacity
  • Strategic agility
  • Influencing ability”

The cover letters that the organization received in response to this job posting not only helped the organization but helped the candidates, as well, to assess fit from the outset.

You can find more information about assessing fit at the early stages of the hiring process in my book Hiring for Fit: A Key Leadership Skillalong with a wide range of practical tools that organizations can use to hire the best talent.