What do today’s top female business leaders look for in strong female candidates?

To find out, MBA@UNC – UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School’s online MBA program – performed interviews with two highly successful women: Amy Palmer, the president and CEO of Soldiers’ Angels, a nonprofit that provides aid and comfort to the men and women of the United States Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, their families, and a growing veteran population; and Jennifer Windsor, the CEO of Women for Women International, a nonprofit that works directly with women who are isolated and displaced in post-war regions of the world.

Here, we’ll take a look at what these two leaders — as well as others — identify as the top traits and skills to look for in strong female job candidates.

1. Self-Confidence

Palmer notes that self-confidence and belief in oneself are key.

“I am looking for women who believe in themselves and believe they are equally as capable and deserving of a job as their male counterparts,” she said. “I’m also looking for people who are creative thinkers and who are innovative and passionate about our mission.”

That may be easier said than done. Studies show a persistent confidence gap between women and men – even when women rate higher than men on competency assessments. A self-confident woman who is ready to assume her role will have a positive influence on others in the business and be an asset in more ways than you might think.

2. Resilience

Although Windsor couches her advice within an entrepreneurial framework, the need for resilience certainly isn’t limited to business owners themselves. In addition, Windsor notes that determination and support are key ingredients for a great candidate.

“No matter what field you’re working in, being an entrepreneur requires resilience, determination, and a strong support network,” she said.

RainWindsor’s sentiments are supported by an Accenture survey of more than 524 senior executives in 20 countries. Two-thirds of the respondents cited resilience as a key trait for helping determine who to retain, and many rated women as being more resilient than men.

3. Listening Skills

Windsor highlights the need for acute listening skills – and the positive outcomes that should result from having these skills.

“To me, leadership is first about being willing to listen and learn, about identifying the strengths and passion[s] of your team, and continuing to inspire them to believe in themselves and the work you’re doing together,” she said.

Management consultant Ben Simonton actually rates listening skills at the top of the list for leaders, since it helps them tap into employees’ potential and support their ongoing success.

4. A Connection to a Personal Mission

Palmer says it’s important for her to connect her work with her personal mission, which provides the motivation to keep her going.

“I love serving those who have served our great country. Just one trip to visit patients at the V.A. quickly reminds me why we do what we do,” she said. “They are not thanked and appreciated nearly enough for their sacrifices and service. When you realize what you do has an impact on another person, it drives you to continue to serve.”

This ability to obtain such satisfaction from one’s work is a factor that many business leaders cite as one key for their success, and it can be critical for employee retention.

5. A Sense of Humor

Evidence suggests that having a sense of humor can help a woman get ahead in the workplace. Many even considered a sense of humor to be a necessary leadership skill. Windsor agrees, saying the ability to have fun and help others do the same is important.

“I also believe that leadership’s about creating an environment that’s fun,” she said. “I love to laugh, and [I] think it’s so important to enjoy what you do and who you’re with every day.”

6. An Entrepreneurial Mindset

Ice creamStrong female candidates often think like entrepreneurs, which can be a very good thing for your company. Donna M. De Carolis, Ph.D., the founding dean of the Charles D. Close School of Entrepreneurship at Drexel University, writes that an entrepreneurial mindset “is about assessing a situation, designing alternatives, and choosing a new way – or perhaps a combination of ways – that we hope will lead us to something better; however we happen to define ‘better’ at that moment.”

Windsor says people can gain entrepreneurial mindsets by getting the right education.

“I think education plays a transformative role in giving people – especially the women we serve – the confidence to take risks and become entrepreneurs,” she said.

Strong female job candidates provide great benefit for any organization. As your company works to recruit them, keeping these key traits and skills in mind will help you find the best match.

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