Looking for talent in the wrong places


The economy’s picking up. Apparently. One indicator of this is the jobs market. More employers are thinking about taking people on, more employees are thinking of changing jobs. This has led to an increased focus on ‘talent’. Employers want to recruit it, managers don’t want to lose it. We might like to think we have it (or at least try and demonstrate it through our application form). But what is talent?

Talent as a word has been misused in the corporate world. The dictionary talks about “natural ability”, which is akin to calling someone “gifted”. This focus on talent as something precious and rare means employers are looking for all the wrong things in all the wrong places.

When I first started my blog I decided to call it ‘HR potential’ because of the potential in people (human resources) to do great things. Christopher Demers summed talent up perfectly when he said, “Every one of us has enormous untapped capability…more that we can do when the conditions are right” (read Christopher’s blog here). Human Resources’ role as a function in releasing that potential is as facilitators, working with leaders, managers and employees. The reason employers can’t spot the talent right in front of them is because they’re too hung up on concentrating on the following things;

People who have confidence in their skills need to be able to back that up. If they’re not an internal candidate, competency based interviewing is the best way to get to the bottom of it. Conversely, those who are more reserved shouldn’t be overlooked as talent. Start looking for attributes such as resilience and humility instead.

Employers are in danger of conforming to the stereotype that talent equates with youth. People with decades of experience demonstrate how to hone their talent, and shouldn’t be passed over.

Intelligence is all fine and well but alone it’s not a predictor of success. A lot of employers get hung up on requiring university degrees. As Rory J Trotter points out in his post (see here) this blinkered view could mean we miss out on potential.

I totally understand the need for a candidate to hit the ground running, but don’t be dazzled by skills that anybody could pick up in a few months. Distinguish between this and skills which take years to master and perfect. Then decide which is really required for the job.

Of course intelligence and skills are still important, but alone they do not necessarily indicate talent or potential. Instead of focussing on academic brilliance, we should be looking for candidates with at least some of the following traits;

Emotional Intelligence
Candidates who can’t recognise the emotions of others and translate that into appropriate action, or can’t control their own emotions, rub everyone up the wrong way. That’s because communication and collaboration are both difficult without emotional intelligence. It can be learned but that takes time and practice.

Positive Attitude
Poor attitudes, such as cynicism and laziness can negate any benefits that intelligence may bring. Those with attitude problems struggle with skills such as relating to others and coping with change, and poison the team mentality.

Skills and intelligence are wasted if they’re being used to the candidate’s own ends. Dedication and commitment to the company’s direction of travel, and it’s values, is essential.

Willing to learn
Innovation and collaboration are both difficult for candidates who think they’re right all the time and don’t listen to the ideas of others. A willingness to learn demonstrates a commitment to growth.

I’ve never heard a recruiter say, “a mediocre person will do for this job”. We all want talented individuals to fill roles, and sometimes they are hard to find. We just need to know where to look for potential.

Picture credit: Ken Robinson

3 thoughts on “Looking for talent in the wrong places

  1. ChristopherinHR

    Very honoured to be included in this wonderful post. And I agree – if we can can get past all the limits and filters we use, sometimes without even realizing it, we would see there is talent all around us. An excellent write!

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