Beyond the Skills Checklist: Selecting the Right Talent

Every team is only as good as its players, so it only makes sense for organizations to reach for the cream of the crop when recruiting new members. On the other hand, many hiring managers may not understand just how much of an impact a few superstars can have especially when comparing productivity in the workplace. According to one report, high performers are up to 400 percent more productive than average performers. In other words, one superstar can be as productive as up to four average teammates. That’s enough of a difference to make finding these bright spots a high priority during the hiring process but we all know it’s not as easy to accomplish as it sounds.

High-Performers are Rare

In a perfect world, you would fill your ranks entirely with superstars and your organization would be well on its way to ruling the world. Of course, there are not enough A+ players to fill every vacancy, and there’s usually no need to, either. Top performers make the biggest impact in medium and high complexity positions, and they are unlikely to be satisfied with low-complexity positions that do not offer enough long-term challenges. Plus, B players are often reliable, talented, supportive individuals who also have an important role to fill in any organization and may find it easier to adapt to different cultures, environments, and sets of challenges. Still, acquiring skilled, quality talent remains one of the top recruiting challenges, and the struggle to avoid filling key positions with lackluster talent is drawing the time to fill a position to several weeks or more. Organizations that are serious about winning the competition for these superstars need to find an advantage, and there are several areas on which to focus.

Change Starts from Within

Before you can start sorting through applications and interviewing candidates, it’s critical to first identify what it is you are looking for. This may seem obvious, but too often the definition of good is limited to educational background, work experience, a handful of skills and compelling references. The trouble with this approach is that candidates can (and probably should) stack these in their favor. From puffed-up resume lines to a carefully refined list of supporters willing to provide an excellent reference, the standard list of good traits will, at best, provide you with a small pool of people who meet your basic requirements. However, are any of them the perfect fit for the pivotal roles in your company? How can hiring managers tell the difference between two candidates who tick all the boxes on paper?

No matter how driven, qualified, experienced, and brightly shining any candidate is, if he or she doesn’t find your company culture to be a good fit for their career and personal needs, that person will never be a star in your organization. The right candidate may be short a few skills or missing experience in a technical area, but time and training can take care of such deficiencies. Finding candidates whose energy, personal strengths and career goals align with your company’s objectives and workplace culture is far more important, as those characteristics tend to be inherent in the individual rather than acquired by experience.

For companies that already have a solid culture foundation, one that is defined, understood, accepted, and championed by the entire team there is a distinct advantage when competing for top talent as you’ll already have deep insight into some less-tangible qualities that you should be looking for in your top players. For organizations that do not have this foundation, that becomes the starting point. In the short term, look to your current roster and identify peak performers to create a profile: which qualities, characteristics, and strengths make them stand out from the crowd while also remaining perfectly matched for their position and your company? Then, set a long-term goal to tackle the project of defining your company’s culture.

How to Identify Top Talent

The first step is to develop a success profile that captures not only the skills and experience desired for a candidate and what the expectations of the position are, but also the contextual elements that will help identify candidates that will be a good fit rather than just qualified for the job. These contextual elements, the less-tangible and more personality-based factors are often the defining features of people who will make a good fit for your team. According to a report from the Harvard Business Review, a variety of personality types are required to make the team strong so there is no one right answer. Instead, organizations must identify and define what is necessary for the role, then find the person who meets that description. Beyond technical competencies, success profiles should include the following:

  • Behaviors. What observable behaviors are required for success in the role? These actions and activities should result in effective performance and contain important competencies necessary for success in the role.
  • Experiences. Which jobs, roles and situations should an individual have engaged in throughout their career? Look for specific accomplishments from the individual and don’t limit the scope to only things learned on the job.
  • Traits. What are some tendencies that will influence the behavior and actions of the individual? This should essentially answer the question, Who are you? Some of these traits may include things like being results-oriented, relationship-focused, pragmatic, risk-tolerant (or averse), rule-following (or disruptive). Again, there is no right or wrong answer: it’s about what’s needed to fill the role.
  • Motivators. Which values, purposes and aspirations will shape the career and life choices of the candidate? The common interview question of where a candidate sees themselves in 10 years scratches at the surface of this fundamental element of a good fit. Understanding the driving factors behind these aspirations will help you see if the goals of the individual align with those of the organization.

Hiring for Purpose

A baseline set of skills and experiences will always be an important component of the talent selection process as most organizations need candidates who can hit the ground running once hired. However, hiring managers must look beyond these lists and look for an alignment of goals, motivators and characteristics to find a shared purpose. Seek to find alignment behind your organization’s “why” and the candidates. In fact, one survey found that 89 percent of executives said a sense of collective purpose drives employee satisfaction. In other words, once the baseline competencies have been identified in a pool of candidates, look for the one who has just as much to gain in satisfaction as you do in productivity.