How to Spot Talent (Hint: Experience is Overrated)

Top recruiters are changing how they work. Or they should be. That’s because the market today for top talent is too tight, and business is too volatile and complex, for the old method of focusing on “competencies” when hiring and developing talent to work.

Instead the focus needs to be on potential: That is the ability to adapt to an ever-changing business environment and grow into new roles.

This is the thesis put forward by Claudio Fernandez-Araoz in the June 2014 Harvard Business Review, entitled “21st Century Talent Spotting” (although I prefer the front cover’s title, pictured.)

HBR June 2014 cover copy

He declares we are in “a new era of talent spotting – one in which our evaluations of one another are based not on brawn, brains, experience, or competencies, but on potential.” (The first era of recruiting, he explains, was based on physical attributes, the second era focused on IQ, and the third era was focused on competence.)

The reason today is different, and competence, for example, is not enough, is because “what makes someone successful in a particular role today might not tomorrow if the competitive environment shifts, the company’s strategy changes, or he or she must collaborate with or manage a different group of colleagues.”

Therefore, the test is not whether they have the right skills, but whether they have the potential to learn new ones. 

And so to the big question: How do you tell if someone has potential?

The key is to focus on the following:

  1. The right motivation (real commitment to the pursuit of the right goals)
  2. Curiosity (seeking new experiences and knowledge, and openness to learning and change)
  3. Insight (ability to gather and make sense of information that suggests new possibilities)
  4. Engagement (using emotion and logic to communicate a persuasive vision and connect with people)
  5. Determination (wherewithal to fight for difficult goals and bounce back from adversity)

You discover if people have this, he says, both by mining their history and having in-depth interviews. Questions like “What steps do you take to seek out the unknown?” and “What do you do to broaden your thinking, experience, or personal development?” help elicit that information.

This thesis is something my colleagues and I at Apploi subscribe too, as do many of our clients. We are built on the assumption that the one-dimensional resume, which predominately shows work experience and education, is not enough on which to filter potential employers.

By letting candidates showcase themselves and their talents, and answer video and audio questions, companies are allowing potential to shine.

While a candidate might not have a top GPA, they can, for example, showcase community work they’ve done rebuilding their local center that was devastated by Katrina.

Or while their work experience may be thin, when challenged with a real-life complicated logistical scenario in a video question, their ability to think through challenges in a clear and rational way can shine through.

The results we see is that companies are now bringing in for interviews people they previously would have discarded based just on their resume – and those people are turning out to be top performers (and with lower turnover). What Mr. Fernandez-Araoz is saying, we’re seeing through our data.

It’s fascinating to see this concept being embraced by everyone from pioneers within the international community (UNOPs) through to banks and financial institutions through to leaders in the retail and services space.

Whether you’re hiring a barista or a barrister, there’s a growing consensus that potential deserves to play a major (and early) role in that decision. Do you do that? (and how?)


3 thoughts on “How to Spot Talent (Hint: Experience is Overrated)

  1. I agree experience alone does not make a good candidate, however, it may provide poiters to the 5 characteristics you mentioned. I think the interviews are the best way to ascertain the truth.
    I totally agree that in today’s environment, speed of adapting and continuing momentum towards goals are critical to success.
    As to your point of HR adapting to these, I am doubtful. They are in the same paradigm as some maketers in clicks vs. conversions. It’ s matter of performance measurements!

    1. I don’t know if i can see double or you typed the same sentence twice at the bottom. Other than that i totally agree with you. All this boils down to assessment of the person in person rather than the resume over the interview.

    2. Work experience is overrated, interviews is the worst method of selecting talent.
      It is either the interviewers are incompetent of selecting talent, or interviewers are hugely bias.
      We have seen a large amount of talents rejected by interviewers then go on to start up multibillion companies.

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