Three traits you need to assess when interviewing candidates for a job

What should you assess when interviewing candidates? Intuitively, we test software engineers on their code or pilots on their piloting skills, but we can’t stop there if we want to hire a great match for a company. Some managers use the often biased “culture fit” interview, while others overcompensate with more tech tests. To avoid bias and wasted efforts, we need a more scientific definition of these criteria to hire the best people. How do we do that?

This blog looks at how to use Thomas Chamorro-Premuzic’s RAW model of defining these interview criteria in his book The Talent Delusion. Thomas Chamorro Premuzic is an organisational psychologist, Chief Innovation Officer at ManpowerGroup and author. I can highly recommend this book if you’re into talent, recruitment, and data. I’ll describe the criteria and add my observations on how to use these criteria.

Rewardingfinding people that are great to deal with

Thomas talks about three criteria that we can use when assessing candidates. The first of his RAW criteria is called Rewarding. Here we look at a person’s likeability or how rewarding they are to deal with. This element also includes organisational citizenship, or behaviours such as being a team player, helping others, being mission-driven, or perhaps being part of the company’s social committee. These behaviours are a consequence of someone’s personality and emotional intelligence (EQ). 

Why is this factor important? Here’s my take on being rewarding: Ultimately, we want friendly colleagues. I can think of former colleagues that might not be the most skilled employees, but they are always there when you need them, they take time to see how you’re doing, and they get involved in organising fun company events for everyone.

Also, looking back at companies I’ve worked in, most workplace conflicts start not because someone’s a bad performer but because someone was stubborn, rude, misogynistic, or a bully with their colleagues.

Being rewarding to deal with is perhaps the most overlooked factor when assessing candidates. I’ve heard many managers say that they don’t care about personality or if someone’s a good person – only their skills.

So, Thomas concludes – other things being equal, more likeable people will have a higher probability of succeeding in their careers and be considered more talented, mainly when people skills are a vital ingredient of job performance. And, let’s face it, they almost always are.

Able – look at job-specific skills

We might be more familiar with the second criteria of Thomas’ RAW model of talent – Ability. This criterion looks at someone’s expertise in doing the job – think of skills and knowledge – and intelligence, which looks at someone’s ability to learn and reasoning skills. Generally, top-performers have more “ability” than low-performers. Thomas explains that the most important factor relating to someone’s ability to do the job is IQ or general intelligence.

The importance of ability is evident. You could be the friendliest uber driver or a hard-working doctor, but if you don’t know anything about driving cars or medicine, then you and the people you work with will have a tough time.

I think this is the quality that we tend to over-assess in interviews. I’ve seen many interview processes where candidates do a take-home test, a technical discussion, an IQ assessment, a paired programming session, and finally, perhaps a so-called culture interview. The over-emphasis on job-related requirements leads to hiring top performers that might be arrogant or overconfident in their abilities whilst bullying those around them.

Focussing too strongly on ability can also lead to wasted time and energy. In most cases, a take-home test and technical interview might be enough when qualifying ability. Adding additional skills-related stages means spending time verifying what you already know from a candidate, leading to interviewers unnecessarily spending more time qualifying people. Candidates also risk feeling stressed by the multiple technical stages and lack of human interaction, leading to a poor candidate experience.

Willing – the importance of strong motivation

The third ingredient of talent is a candidate’s Willingness to work hard, also known as conscientiousness. Conscientious people tend to be responsible, organised, hard-working, goal-directed, and adhere to norms and rules. This personality trait has multiple facets; conscientiousness comprises self-control, industriousness, responsibility, and reliability.

I think hiring managers tend to underestimate the willingness factor, mainly because it’s easy for candidates to say they’re conscientious. It’s almost become a cliche to answer the question “what’s your biggest strength?” with “I’m a hard worker”. Finally, you’ve probably seen how there’s a whole self-help industry dedicated to productivity, where thought leaders try to convince us not to work hard but smart.

However, qualifying willingness to work hard is essential, especially if you’re working from home. For me, the move to working from home meant that I’ve faced distractions of a different kind – my bed, couch, TV, fridge, partner and pets that take away my focus from work. I also don’t have a line manager supervising my every move to ensure that I’m working. Because of these distractions, I’ve had to push myself harder and become more self-motivated.

Don’t get me wrong – working from home done right has immense benefits that outweigh the negatives. Moreover, working from home can make you more productive than an office, depending on the person. But with home-based employees, you will need people that are not easily distracted and do not need supervision. To find these employees, you need to assess their level of conscientiousness.


So, what should you assess when interviewing candidates? Thomas Chamorro-Premuzic’s RAW model for talent can give us a great framework to filter out the best talent from a pool of candidates.

The next time you’re looking to fill a new role, take time and ask yourself: first, what would make this person rewarding to work with? Do we need a team player? A humble person? Or perhaps someone with a very positive outlook? Second, what skills and experience does this person need? What qualifications, degrees, or job-specific abilities are we looking for? And third, how do we identify the most willing candidates? Which ones are the most conscientious and willing to go the extra mile? Finally, make sure you’re assessing all criteria equally and not over-emphasising one criteria over the others.

For more information on this framework, check out the book “The Talent Delusion” by Thomas Chamorro – Premuzic.

You can find the audio version of this episode in the link below.

Published by José Marchena

Hi, I'm Jose Marchena I’m a London-based internal recruiter, host of the Coffee with a Recruiter podcast and occasional blogger. I use this website to explore insights on recruitment, productivity and self-development.

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