The Ideal Candidate: Three Common Virtues for Uncommon Success

If you’ve ever sat through an interview, you’ve probably heard or asked this question:

“How would you describe the ideal candidate for this position?”

I’d venture to guess that no interviewer has ever answered this question like this:

“I’m looking for a real jerk – somebody unmotivated and unwilling to learn. I’d appreciate it if they showed up late frequently and acted rude to co-workers and customers. Personal hygiene is optional. I’m really looking for someone who displays arrogance and aggression in most everything they do, and don’t really care if they aren’t loyal to the company.”

That would be weird.

We’re really looking for the opposite of all of these things, right? I was recently asked this question, and was able to boil it down to about three criteria – the three virtues of an ideal candidate:


Humility is the queen of all virtues. If someone is humble, they are not arrogant. With humility comes an understanding that we don’t know everything, which manifests into a more natural openness to learning. After all, you can’t fill a cup that’s already full (thanks Avatar). Not focusing on yourself automatically makes it easier for you to listen more actively and engage in the present moment – a big plus in any setting.

Emotional Intelligence

Psychologist and author Daniel Goleman breaks emotional intelligence down into five main components:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-regulation
  • Motivation
  • Empathy
  • Social skills

I would also add to emotional intelligence the ability to adapt and think on one’s feet relatively quickly.

Show me a leader, co-worker, employee, friend, or family member that displays all five of these traits and try to tell me you wouldn’t want to spend more time with them!


The final “ideal candidate” trait is ownership. Those that SEEK ownership solicit input from others, equip themselves and their team with proper resources, empower others to make well-informed decisions based on group objectives, and pursue knowledge to sharpen their skills. A candidate should be able to describe times that they took ownership by admitting a mistake, working with others, and leading by lifting others up.

Wouldn’t we all like to work with someone that embodies these virtues? How about befriending or even marrying someone like this? You betcha.

How would you score yourself against this trifecta of traits?

This list may not be exhaustive, but relentlessly pursuing these virtues can only ever help. Mastering these virtues may never be fully possible, but the act of practicing them will always make us a more ideal candidate for any of life’s fruitful positions.



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