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What makes an MVP job candidate?

When I first started writing this blog post, the Kansas City Chiefs had just won Super Bowl LIV, there were just nine confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States, and we were enjoying a record low unemployment rate.

It’s tough to overstate just how much has changed since then.

While nothing and nobody can take away the glory Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs brought to KC, we now face a sobering reality where the number of Americans diagnosed with coronavirus has soared past 1.6 million and 23.1 million people are jobless—the highest unemployment rate since the Great Depression.

What hasn’t changed are the basic qualities of being a highly desirable job candidate.

What all MVPs have in common

Turns out there are some strong parallels between those qualities and the ones that earned Mahomes the honor of being the youngest MVP in Super Bowl history: innate ability, learned skills honed through years of practice, and the insights that come from being well-coached.

Based on my many years in the IT staffing and recruiting world, here are the five must-haves for MVPs, on and off the field.

1.    They know their strengths

A lot of times I’ll ask candidates a question designed to catch them off guard: “What’s your superpower?” I’m often disappointed when they respond with some form of, “I’m great with people.” Having good people skills is table stakes—something everybody has to have to navigate any sort of team environment. To me, that’s a non-answer and one you should never use in a job interview. Period.

Spend time thinking about your inherent talents and how they translate into a specific role in the workplace. Mahomes is an insanely gifted athlete who played a variety of sports growing up, but even he had to navigate where best to focus those talents. To excel, you have to know what you’re good at, what role you fill on a team and in what kind of environment you thrive.

2.    They know how to improve

It’s a funny proposition to think Patrick Mahomes has room to improve, but it’s undeniable that 2020 Patrick Mahomes was better than he was in 2019—and that 2020 Mahomes has work to do. You can’t rely on an impressive resume or past successes to carry you on to future success.

Know what you’re not so good at just as well as you know your strengths. But instead of worrying about your weaknesses, focus on how you can better overcome them, and be prepared to speak to that when you’re talking with a recruiter or hiring manager.

Speaking of improvements, your elevator speech is something you can always work to improve. Practice it until it rolls off your tongue, and end it in a manner that makes the listener want to know more.

3.    They balance soft and hard skills

Each coach or employer will be looking for “got-to-have” hard skills and “nice-to-have” soft skills. Hard skills are teachable and measurable and include things like whether you know how to balance a P&L or can sling code. Soft skills are harder to define but are essential for getting the job and being a good employee. These include things like whether you look out for others, how you add to the team and culture, and how trustworthy you are with customers.

Mahomes would not be the legend we know today if not for his balance of technical ability with his well-developed habits and personality traits. It’s a big part of what makes him coachable as well as a good teammate.

Those soft skills help define the type of person you are to work with and, in some cases, can substitute for a job-specific skill you may lack. For tech-savvy candidates in particular, don’t underestimate the importance of collaboration, empathy and problem-solving, to name a few.

4.    They seek continuous improvement

Beyond knowing strengths and weaknesses, a genuine desire to work toward self-improvement is critical to success. At the end of a stellar 2018 season, Mahomes could have reasonably been satisfied with all he accomplished. Instead, he acknowledged he had work to do; and last offseason, he focused on getting into better shape and honing his technique.

Mahomes is a great example of how we can cultivate our hard and soft skills through our own efforts. That growth mindset (instead of a fixed outlook) is what drives personal and team success in the workplace, on the field and in life.

5.    They’re humble

All of these things I’ve mentioned are a bit inconsequential without humility. It comes with the territory of self-awareness and recognizing what you’re good at and not good at—recognizing where others excel and how you can all best work together to meet the bottom line.

In interviews, Patrick Mahomes rarely uses “I” and “me” when he talks about his success; it’s often “we” and “team.” Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce said of his teammate to Yahoo Sports, “He’s a friend and a brother to us before he’s Patrick Mahomes the star football player.”

That’s important for anybody, to know they’re not bigger than the job, the team or the organization. When hiring, employers look for that trait—for people who don’t crave attention, who are sure enough of themselves that they can take direction and get the job done. Humility fuels performance.

It doesn’t matter if you’re just starting your job search after many years in the same career or you’re someone who changes jobs frequently—everyone can use a little coaching when it comes to landing the job of their dreams. Our unique strength at AdamsGabbert is matching candidates with the right skills to companies with the right culture, so both can thrive. Good luck out there.

Want more job search tips? Check out a recording of our recent job seeker webinar. Be sure to search our Career Portal or drop us a line if we can help put you on the path to your next career opportunity.

Dave Templeman serves as AG’s Director of Staffing Services, bringing nearly 20 years of helping candidates through career transitions and helping companies find the right fit for their team. Surprisingly different, obsessed with innovation and creators of deliberate impact. We are the real deal. AG is a technology services firm where trust, transparency and collaboration matter.  By investing in our people and community we bring our partners the best talent and strategic solutions. We are proud to be a certified Woman-Owned Business (WBE). We love Kansas City, and we have a lot of fun supporting our partners. We are AG.

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