9 Leadership Qualities That Wow Employers

leadership, qualities, employers, managers

“Demonstrated leadership abilities and experience.” This phrase is often included amid a long list of bullets on employers’ job descriptions. It’s something that many of us think we have, too. A quick search on Google brought back more than 141M results for “leadership programs” and more than 231M for “management programs.” With all of this talk about leadership, what does it really mean?

  • What are the leadership qualities that employers seek?
  • How can job seekers communicate their leadership abilities?
  • What makes one candidate’s leadership skills stand out from another?

As a seasoned business leader or a recent grad looking to get your foot in the door as part of a development program, you may have wondered what goes on inside of an interviewer’s mind. In no particular order, here are some of the star qualities that recruiters and hiring managers look for to fill their leadership positions and programs.


Motivate others.

Think back through your experience, how have you directed the efforts of others? Can you think of three or four concrete examples in which you had to motivate groups to accomplish goals?

Drive results.

In business or in student organizations, leaders are responsible for moving the needle and getting results. Think about how to best communicate the end results and quantify those answers, when possible.

Show initiative.

As a leader, have you just sat back and watched others do the work? Or do you show the initiative to develop and execute on ideas? Many employers are looking for leaders to bring new ideas and fresh perspectives.

Adapt to change.

How do you deal with the ebb and flow of every day? What examples demonstrate your ability to be flexible and adapt to the ever-changing world around us?

Communicate well.

Being able to articulate your ideas and express yourself in a way that makes people want to listen are key areas to demonstrate to employers.

Express confidence.

A calm confidence, that doesn’t verge on cockiness, is a trait that many employers will look for in candidates. How will you demonstrate this?

Inspire ideas.

Do you foster innovation within your team? How? Consider sharing examples of how you inspire teams to take ideas and run with them.

Stand by decisions.

Are you able to make sound decisions that are best for your organization and then stand by them? Good leaders are most likely strong and quick decision makers, too.

Persevere under pressure.

What do you do when the going gets tough? Do you stand, unwavered, and ready to continue to lead? There is a lot of pressure and competition in business; stress levels are high. How do you lead through this type of environment?


Being a strong leader doesn’t necessarily mean that you are the most popular kid on the block. It’s not defined by being outgoing and gregarious. Leadership is a set of traits that you use to help guide and inspire others toward a common goal. Are all leaders effective? Are all leaders good at their jobs? Probably not, and luckily, you don’t have to worry too much about others during your interview.

Many times recruiters and interviewers will use a set of behavioral-based questions to dig deeper into your leadership abilities. These questions may start with phrases such as: Tell me about a time …. Describe a situation in which you … Give an example of when you did … Describe an experience you had in which you displayed …

To effectively answer these types of behavioral questions, consider structuring your answers via SAR or PAR (situation – action – result or problem – action – result). Don’t just scratch the surface of your answers, put some meat on the bones! Tell your story and highlight what you did to motivate others. What you did to drive results. What you did to move your team toward the end goal. What was the result of your actions? What did the experience teach you?


If you are pursuing an opportunity in management or a leadership development program articulating your abilities on paper and online will be nearly as important as in person. Does your current resume highlight your ability to be an effective leader? Does your LinkedIn profile position you as someone with strong leadership skills and experience? As a job seeker, it’s important to market your leadership skills as part of your overall personal brand. This will help differentiate you from other candidates vying for similar leadership roles.

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Shannon Smedstad

Shannon Smedstad has nearly 20 years of recruitment, employer branding, and communications experience. Currently, she serves as the Principal Employer Brand Strategist at exaqueo. Previously, she held employer branding and recruiting leadership roles at CEB and GEICO. She’s a work at home mom raising two awesome girls who also enjoys reading, running, leading a Girl Scout troop, and her morning coffee. You can connect with Shannon on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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