How To Find The Talent You’re Looking For

image representing the search for top talent

Everyone is looking to find the talent they need.   That prodigy that will transform your average start-up into the next Google or Facebook.  The rockstar that is the proverbial knight in shining armour that courageously kills the villains and saves the kingdom.  That person who checks off all the tick boxes of your ideal candidate profile.

But let me tell you a little secret.  A prodigy without strong leadership is going to make as much of a difference to your business than the color shirt you wear to work.

I know.  I’ve worked with one. A team, one prodigy, and a leader who lead to early. It was a start-up with a bunch of slightly crazy and fully confident people with a vision to change the world. Good people. With experience, intelligence and excellent educations.  All the right tickboxes.  And then there was The One. Fresh out of university and labelled as a genius by his peers and teachers alike, he was really as good as his reputation indicated.  Still, however, the start-up failed.

Then, I once worked with a handful of people considered to be of average intelligence and with no particular talent.  No rock-stars and no prodigies. Just a bunch of average people who loved coming to work each day. They, however, performed miracles and transformed a start-up to a sustainable, strong business.

So are you really looking for a prodigy?  Or are you looking to find the talent that can help you grow your team or business?  Are you overlooking talent because you’re too busy searching for a prodigy that might not even exist?

Finding the diamond in the rough

Exceptional people are exceptions. They are indeed hard to find.  But not because they’re scarce, rather, because you don’t know what to look for.

Diamonds and gold were also scarce until someone figured out what to look for in order to make more abundant.  Now, diamonds are intentionally mined slowly to maintain the value, even though the resource is more abundant.  Education was similarly a scarce resource before universities became more accessible. MOOCs making it even more abundant than ever before.

What if the talent you’re looking for is not so rare as you think?  Also what if you’re just not looking for what matters? What if you’re not seeing what’s right in front of you?

So why aren’t you able to find the talent?

Simply put, you’re not finding what you’re looking for because you’re trying to find the talent.  What you’re looking for when you have a checklist of an ideal candidate is a carbon copy of a predecessor or a role-model you’ve seen somewhere else.  You’re looking for good while you should be looking potential.

You look at what other organizations do to decide what’s best for you.  They use Scrum, so if you can find someone who is familiar with Scrum, you’re more likely to be successful.  Or, they have a developer who does mob-programming, TDD and is good at using Jenkins (or any other very specific tool or technology or process), so that’s what we should be looking for if we want a “good” developer.  Or, their Product Owners have experience in the financial industry so we should only look at candidates with financial industry experience.

What you’re looking for is a set of learnable skills which anyone can master. Yet, talent usually doesn’t show up as a list of skills on a resume.  Two similar resumes might uncover one talented person and one average one. Talent shows up in the how not the what.  It shows up in the ability to work within a team, to think creatively, to learn a new skill, to negotiate, to resolve conflict, to remain calm under pressure.  Most of all, talent shows up in the uniqueness of the person, not the similarities.

What should you be looking for?

A talented person stands out because they do things differently.  The right talent is not reduced to a job title or a specific skill set. True talent is able to hit the floor running regardless of the tools and technology used.  And looking at a resume to find the talent you need, is like looking for diamonds in a fully mined quarry.

So what should you rather be looking for, and how?

1. Values

Values are first and foremost the most important thing you should be looking for in your search to find the talent.  This is the difference between the employee who will speak up when they see a dysfunction vs avoiding and lying to hide it.  This is the difference between people supporting each other vs competing with each other to win at all cost. This is the difference between a workforce who will go that extra mile or say “it’s not my job” and walk away.

To evaluate values, observe behaviours passively rather than listen to words in an interview.  Asking someone the values they live by in an interview usually doesn’t result in an accurate assessment.

To assess values, list the values most important to your organization and include behavioral tests during the recruitment process.  Observe the behaviors.  Do they respond when they say they will?  Do they show up on time?  Are they flexible when you ask them to move chairs or meeting rooms?  Do they offer to help the person walking past requesting help?

2. Personality

An interview is like going on a blind date.  You don’t really know who the person is as it’s a staged event.  All you’re seeing is the best version of that person, based on an interaction with only a handful of people, mostly not even the people they will be dealing with most of the time.

To find the missing piece to complete your team you want to find a personality match.  You don’t want to put someone into a box, rather, you want to understand how to include them in the team or how they can contribute best.

What is their communication style?  What is their leadership style? Are they introverted or extroverted?  What do they like to do? Are they vegetarian, love hiking and being outdoors while the other team members are meat lovers who haven’t seen the sunshine in years?

Although personality shouldn’t be a final deciding factor, when you are aiming to find the talent, it does say a lot about a person and how they will fit into the team (or not).  Maybe you need someone with a strong personality that will challenge the status quo. Maybe you need someone to calm down the fiery personalities.

The goal should be to find balance and understanding.

To evaluate personality styles, there are a number of excellent psychometric tests available, even some free ones.  Do them before the interview for a more effective conversation.

3. Diversity

Diversity is valuable for many reasons, including the obvious ones such as providing a more comprehensive view of a specific knowledge area or product.  The main benefit of diversity when it comes to identifying talent, however, is that the more diverse a person is, the more flexible and open-minded they are.

To evaluate diversity, look at the resume.  Have they been in the same role at the same company for prolonged periods? Have they tried different roles?  Do they continue learning?  Do they have international experience, have they worked with different types of teams, organizations, and products?

In the interview, questions that might indicate diversity might include asking them about themselves. Can they talk about different topics?  Have they been to other countries and experienced other cultures? Do they have interesting hobbies?

4. Passion

Talent and passion is the same thing.  When you’re trying to find the talent, search for someone who is obsessed with something.  A true passion is something they feel so strongly about that they will continue doing it even when they’re not paid for it.

What do they volunteer for?  What do they do in their free time? What books do they read?

To evaluate passion, go to places and events where people passionate a specific topic go to.  Find Meetup groups on a topic of interest.  See who talks about your topic on Quora and who contributes on Github.

Rather than rely on what they say in the interview, find proof of what they do in real life.

5. Thinking

Thinking is a skill just like any other skill that can be learned. There are different kinds of thinking with the two main mindsets being a fixed mindset and a growth mindset.

Organizational ambidexterity is the natural result when you have diverse thinkers in your organization.

To evaluate thinking, present them with a problem and ask for their advice.  How would they solve it, taking you through each step of their thinking process?

A talented person will provide a unique perspective and ask a lot of questions to make sure they understand the problem. Ask them to rephrase what they said.  When you truly understand something, you’re able to explain it in simple terms and in different ways.  When you merely memorized the correct answer, you can’t rephrase.

Ultimately, however, what you are looking for is possibilities rather than problems.  Listen for warning words such as “the problem with this” or “it’s too complex to explain” or jumping straight to the solution.

Drawing the solution (or problem) is also an accurate way to evaluate thinking.  A chaotic drawing indicates a more right-brain thinker, with a perfectly organized and logical drawing possibly a more left-brain thinker.  A lot of details indicate a detail-oriented thinker compared to a model- or high-level thinker.

Find what you’re looking for

Finding talent is easier than you think. Everyone has innate talent.  Just like each person has a unique fingerprint, so too every person has a unique set of talents.   It’s up to you as manager or recruiter to either develop and use those talents or overlook and discard it.

To find what you are looking for, identify the behaviors, patterns and characteristics you’re looking for rather than exact tools or skills.


Image courtesy Unsplash.

Karin Dames

Karin Dames

Productivity coach at funficient
With 20 years experience in the software development industry, Karin specializes in helping teams get unstuck, innovate, communicate and ultimately be more productive. She believes in efficiency through fun implementing lean, agile and gamestorming as tools for process improvement. Her goal is to create more happy, healthy and whole workplaces where each person thrives and productivity soars.
Karin Dames
- 2 years ago
Karin Dames