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Unlocking Hidden Traits for Hiring Exceptional Candidates

interview with candidate and hiring manager

Unlocking hidden traits for hiring exceptional candidates is definitely a pain point we hear from lots of our clients! Each and every company yearns to secure top-tier talent, regardless of whether the endeavor involves filling a temporary contractual position or a substantial, enduring role within the organization. Nonetheless, the task of discerning such exceptional talent is far from straightforward. While embarking on the journey to pinpoint the attributes that delineate a remarkable employee and an exceptional team player, hiring managers often find themselves faced with the challenge of recalibrating the facets they meticulously scrutinize and accord precedence to, in the pool of prospective new recruits.

Unlocking the Hidden Traits of Top Job Candidates

In the quest to identify the cream of the crop among candidates, the factors that set apart a good candidate from a truly exceptional one delve beyond the conventional realms of skills, experience, and education. While these attributes hold their own significance, it’s the realm of soft skills that often serves as a truer reflection of a candidate’s untapped potential. According to LinkedIn’s Global Talent Trends report, the resounding consensus among 92% of hiring managers and talent professionals is the paramount importance of soft skills. Furthermore, an astounding 89% of them associate unsuccessful hires with a deficiency in crucial soft skills.

In today’s fiercely competitive hiring landscape, the weight of soft skills cannot be overstated. Even though discerning qualities like teamwork and leadership capabilities falls well within the expertise of most hiring managers, there lies a realm of equally vital traits that remain elusive without the appropriate interview techniques. These intangible yet decisive characteristics demand a nuanced approach to assessment, necessitating precise interview questions and prompts.

In the following sections, we not only unveil the often underestimated attributes that define outstanding candidates but also equip hiring managers with a set of illustrative interview questions designed to unearth these hidden gems. By delving into these obscured qualities, hiring managers can refine their selection process, unearthing the exceptional candidates who possess not only the technical prowess but also the essential soft skills that contribute to enduring success within an organization.

Self Awareness

Self-awareness, a pivotal cornerstone of emotional intelligence (EQ), encompasses a range of insightful capacities that collectively contribute to personal and interpersonal growth:

  1. Emotion Recognition: At its core, self-awareness involves the astute identification of one’s own emotions. This means not just feeling emotions, but being able to label and understand them accurately.
  2. Emotion’s Influence: Acknowledging the intricate interplay between emotions and cognitive processes, behaviors, and decision-making capabilities is another hallmark of self-awareness. This ability unveils the ways in which our emotional states might be subtly guiding our actions and choices.
  3. Perception Management: Self-awareness extends beyond introspection. It empowers individuals to gauge how their behaviors and decisions are perceived by others, offering valuable insights into their impact on interpersonal dynamics.

In the realm of the workplace, self-awareness propels an array of constructive behaviors that foster a positive environment. It paves the way for being open to feedback, nurturing an accurate self-concept, and cultivating an awareness of triggers that might induce stress and anxiety.

A self-aware individual goes beyond merely acknowledging emotions; they delve deeper into the reasons underlying their behaviors, allowing them to comprehend the motives driving those behaviors and to grasp their potential implications for others. Such introspection enriches personal growth and enables more considerate interactions.

Possibly the most potent effect of self-awareness is its catalytic role in fostering accountability. Armed with an authentic understanding of their strengths and limitations, individuals can skillfully manage both their own and their colleagues’ expectations. Furthermore, research underscores the transformative potential of appropriate self-awareness levels, enhancing not only confidence but also igniting the sparks of creativity.

In essence, self-awareness stands as a beacon that illuminates the path to enhanced emotional intelligence, enriched relationships, and greater effectiveness in both personal and professional realms.

In order to assess a candidate’s level of self-awareness, you can employ a set of incisive interview questions that delve into the depth of their introspection. The following inquiries offer a glimpse into their emotional intelligence and capacity for self-reflection:

  1. What Drives Your Career Aspirations?: Explore the candidate’s intrinsic motivations, unraveling what propels them forward in their professional journey. This question unveils their self-awareness by gauging whether they’ve contemplated and understand the factors that truly inspire them.
  2. Overcoming Failure: Request an account of a professional setback they’ve encountered. Delve into their ability to recover from such situations, probing not just the mechanics of their recovery, but also their emotional response and the insights they’ve gained from the experience.
  3. Responding to Constructive Criticism: Encourage the candidate to recount an instance when they received constructive criticism from a colleague or supervisor. This question illuminates their receptiveness to feedback, their emotional reaction, and how they channel such insights to personal growth.
  4. Perception and Feedback: Pose the hypothetical scenario of asking their co-workers to pinpoint their greatest strengths and weaknesses. This inquiry challenges them to assess themselves through others’ eyes, showcasing their awareness of how they are perceived in a professional context.
  5. Handling Stress and Pressure: Inquire about their strategies for managing stress and high-pressure situations. This sheds light on their self-awareness in identifying triggers for stress and how adeptly they navigate them.
  6. Adapting to Change: Explore their ability to adapt to changes within the workplace. Ask for an example of a significant change they’ve encountered and their emotional and behavioral response, showcasing their awareness of their reactions to shifting dynamics.
  7. Conflict Resolution: Probe their approach to conflicts with colleagues or team members. How do they reflect on such situations afterward, and how do they ensure their actions align with their desired interpersonal outcomes?
  8. Learning from Mistakes: Request an instance where they made a mistake and how they turned it into a learning opportunity. This question underscores their capacity to glean insights from their errors and evolve.
  9. Balancing Strengths and Weaknesses: Inquire about how they strike a balance between leveraging their strengths and addressing their weaknesses in a team setting. This showcases their awareness of their own skill set in relation to the team’s dynamics.
  10. Long-Term Goals: Explore their long-term career aspirations. How do these aspirations align with their current skill set and personal attributes? This question offers insight into their self-awareness of their potential and room for growth.

By incorporating these thought-provoking questions, you can delve into a candidate’s self-awareness landscape, unearthing the depth of their emotional intelligence and their potential as a valuable addition to your organization.


Angela Duckworth, acclaimed author of the New York Times bestseller “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance,” defines grit as the embodiment of unwavering passion and tenacity—the ability to persistently strive, even in the face of setbacks and uncertainties. Duckworth’s extensive research underscores the role of grit as a robust predictor of success, a sentiment echoed by numerous studies that highlight its profound impact on overall work performance.

In times of adversity, individuals possessing grit exhibit an exceptional ability to retain their focus and resolve. They approach challenges, be they intricate conundrums or minor hurdles, with an unwavering spirit of determination. They bring an attitude of unwavering commitment to tasks that demand completion, displaying an almost indomitable work ethic.

To gauge the presence of grit in potential candidates, consider employing the following questions in your interviews:

  1. Overcoming Obstacles: Can you share an instance from your experience when you were diligently pursuing a goal, but encountered multiple obstacles along the way? How did you react to these challenges, and what steps did you take to surmount them?
  2. Facing Unsolvable Problems: Envision a scenario where you confront what appears to be an insurmountable problem. How would you navigate the uncertainties and setbacks that accompany it? What strategic approach would you adopt to ultimately arrive at a viable solution?
  3. Persistent Pursuit of Goals: Describe a personal or professional objective that you are currently striving to attain. What inner motivations drive you to persistently pursue this goal, even in the face of difficulties and setbacks?

By delving into these thought-provoking questions, you can unveil a candidate’s grit—a quality that distinguishes those who possess the unyielding determination to persevere in the face of challenges and uncertainties. Through their responses, you can discern whether they embody the spirit of unwavering dedication that can significantly contribute to your team’s resilience and success.


In the dynamic realm of business, regardless of its scale or industry, the inevitability of change pervades every facet. At times, change looms on a grand scale, such as the departure of a pivotal leader, the transition to a publicly traded entity, or the integration into a larger corporate structure. More frequently, however, change manifests in incremental and constant shifts, which necessitate a continuous adaptive response from individuals within the organization to ensure ongoing success.

Individuals marked by a high degree of adaptability approach change with an open and receptive mindset, endowing them with one of the most sought-after soft skills in contemporary times. A recent survey conducted by Harvard Business School validates this, revealing that a notable 71% of executives regard adaptability as the quintessential leadership trait for the present-day global landscape. Adaptable employees exude resourcefulness, an insatiable thirst for knowledge, and a genuine willingness to embrace new viewpoints. Above all, their defining characteristic lies in their ability to gracefully transition to novel directives and evolving expectations, all while maintaining their composure, focus, and a resilient positive outlook.

To thoroughly assess a candidate’s adaptability, consider posing behavior-based questions designed to elicit nuanced insights into their response to change:

  1. Navigating New Beginnings: Reflect on the most formidable challenges you’ve encountered when starting a new position. How did you approach these challenges and work to overcome them, showcasing your adaptability?
  2. Handling Uncertainty: Share an experience from a prior role where you grappled with a period of transition or uncertainty. How did you react to these circumstances, and in hindsight, would you alter any aspects of your response?
  3. Coping with Mid-Project Shifts: Picture yourself deeply entrenched in a significant project when the strategic direction abruptly changes. How would you manage this sudden adjustment while ensuring the project remains on course?
  4. Embracing Unexpected Responsibilities: Narrate an instance when unforeseen circumstances compelled you to assume new tasks or responsibilities, perhaps due to a co-worker’s sudden departure. How did you balance these new responsibilities with your existing workload? What techniques did you employ to prioritize effectively?

By carefully observing candidates’ responses to the scenarios presented, you can discern their comfort level with change. Do they approach past periods of transformation with trepidation or embrace them as opportunities for growth? Adaptable candidates will recount experiences with a sense of optimism and provide concrete examples of how they not only weathered change but harnessed it to their advantage, showcasing their potential to thrive within a dynamic and evolving work environment.


Harnessing insights from Harvard Business School’s research, it’s evident that curiosity has emerged as an essential leadership trait, with 48% of executives recognizing its significance. Curiosity denotes an innate hunger for learning and exploration, fostering a balance between inquisitive questioning and astute observation. This equilibrium enables individuals to gather the necessary data, information, and context to arrive at well-informed conclusions and decisions.

Curious individuals inject a fresh perspective and an inquisitive mindset into various workplace scenarios, whether they involve tackling intricate problems or resolving conflicts. Their approach to conflict resolution is characterized by a focus on mutual understanding rather than a quest for personal victory. When confronted with challenges, curiosity replaces frustration, and conventional solutions are met with skepticism.

Companies seeking to break free from stagnation and challenge the status quo recognize the pivotal role that curious minds play in such endeavors.

To assess a candidate’s level of curiosity, consider integrating the following probing questions:

  1. Exploring Self-Initiated Learning: Reflect on a time when you embarked on the journey of teaching yourself a new skill or immersing yourself in a particular subject. What aspects of that skill or subject piqued your interest, and how did you proceed to acquire knowledge and proficiency in it?
  2. Inquisitive Dialogue: What queries do you have for me? This inquiry is an opportunity to gauge their inclination to inquire, explore, and gain deeper insights about the company and role.
  3. Pursuing Varied Interests: Beyond your professional life, describe a subject or area you’ve delved into with genuine curiosity. How did you approach learning about this topic, and what did you find most captivating about it?
  4. Engaging with Diverse Perspectives: Share an instance when you encountered a perspective vastly different from your own. How did you react, and what steps did you take to comprehend and appreciate this distinct viewpoint?
  5. Creative Problem-Solving: Provide an example of a situation where you confronted a multifaceted challenge. How did your curiosity come into play as you dissected the problem and devised innovative solutions?
  6. Curiosity in Conflict Resolution: Describe a time when you were part of a conflict within a team or project. How did you navigate the situation, and what role did curiosity play in your approach to understanding the differing viewpoints?

A candidate who embodies curiosity will illuminate their learning journeys with enthusiasm and detail, demonstrating their innate drive to explore and acquire knowledge. Furthermore, their questions during the interview will likely stand out for their thoughtfulness and their genuine quest to uncover deeper insights. Such individuals infuse teams with the vigor needed to challenge conventions, foster growth, and chart new horizons.


Determining a candidate’s integrity necessitates a nuanced approach beyond simple yes or no questions. Like other intricate traits, assessing qualities such as integrity requires a multi-faceted strategy to gain genuine insights into these inherent personality attributes.

When dealing with qualities as intricate and multifaceted as integrity or empathy, integrating blind evaluations into your skills and behavioral assessments can be advantageous. Away from the direct spotlight of an in-person interview, candidates often find it more conducive to exhibit honesty and authenticity. Employing blind assessments not only provides a more candid environment for candidates to express themselves but also mitigates the influence of cognitive bias during the hiring process.

Incorporate these questions to uncover a candidate’s integrity:

  1. Ethical Dilemmas: Share an instance from your past where you faced an ethical dilemma. How did you navigate this situation, and what factors played a role in your decision-making process?
  2. Alignment with Values: Describe a time when you had to make a decision that went against your personal values or ethical principles. How did you handle this situation, and what did you learn from the experience?
  3. Handling Mistakes: Reflect on an occasion when you made a mistake with consequences for your team or project. What was your response, and how did you rectify the situation while taking responsibility for your actions?
  4. Transparency and Communication: Share an example of a situation where you needed to convey unfavorable news or information to your team or colleagues. How did you approach this communication while maintaining honesty and transparency?
  5. Dealing with Pressure: Narrate an experience when external pressures tempted you to compromise your integrity. How did you handle this challenge, and what steps did you take to ensure you adhered to your ethical principles?
  6. Peer Perception: Imagine that your colleagues were asked to describe your approach to ethical decisions. How do you think they would characterize your behavior and decision-making process?
  7. Reflecting on Actions: Discuss a professional instance when, in hindsight, you feel your actions could have been more aligned with your ethical values. How have you since learned from this experience to avoid similar discrepancies?

These questions delve into scenarios that reveal a candidate’s ethical judgment, accountability, and consistency in upholding their principles. By combining such inquiries with blind assessments, you can cultivate a more comprehensive understanding of a candidate’s integrity, fostering a hiring process that resonates with honesty and authenticity.

In the intricate landscape of talent acquisition, partnering with a seasoned professional recruiting firm like trak Group can serve as a beacon of guidance and success for companies aiming to excel in their hiring endeavors and help with unlocking hidden traits for hiring exceptional candidates. With a profound understanding of industry dynamics and a proven track record of connecting organizations with top-tier talent, trak Group stands as a strategic ally in navigating the hiring process. By leveraging their expertise, companies can tap into a vast network, gain access to a diverse pool of exceptional candidates, and streamline their recruitment efforts. Through this partnership, the quest for outstanding employees and remarkable team players becomes a journey marked by efficiency, precision, and the assurance of securing the very best talent for sustained growth and achievement.


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