How to spot rare talents
Hiring the right people can be a huge challenge for businesses, particularly startups that are growing rapidly. The best performers can be as much as five times more productive than the average worker, so knowing how to spot this talent can be a huge competitive advantage.
Tech startups, in particular, bemoan the shortage of developer talent and the need to attract the brightest graduates away from the high salaried city jobs. George Anders, author of The Rare Find, believes that there are techniques that can be learned and applied to ensure that you identify the best candidates — and it’s often about looking beyond the confident candidates with the best CVs. He spoke venture capitalists, tech giants, traders, doctors, military leaders and Hollywood talent agents about how they hire and has distilled his findings into the book. Anders pairs these observations with research from psychiatrists, economists, recruiters and business strategists. He aims to demonstrate how anyone can perfect the ability to recognise future greatness and discover tomorrow’s stars.
Be absolutely sure you know what you want
One of the biggest pitfalls employers fall into is starting to look at candidates without knowing what they want. It takes a great deal of patience and discipline to stop people from jumping into the interview process before they’ve got the brief right. Anders explains: “You can burn through a load of interviews without stopping to think. You end up hiring people who have marvelous skills that are irrelevant.”
Look in unexpected places
Sometimes you need to think laterally. People tend to play it too safe when they are looking for employees. You can stretch your horizons geographically or into different industries. He says: “Some of the best sports coaches I talked with would go out and get to know other parts of the globe. Or a rural coach would go and learn about talent spotting in Chicago. Hollywood casting directors might go and check out the Iranian film industry.”
Learn to love the ‘jagged CV’
Exceptional talent doesn’t always come in neat packages. It’s easy to spot people with the best grades from the best universities and think that they are the real talent. However, often it’s the people who have seemingly failed, or dropped out or changed their career paths that are the change-makers. He says: “Post-Enron, we should realize that just because they have marvelous transcripts doesn’t mean they are marvelous people.” He cites computer scientist David Evans, who built a department from scratch at the University of Utah. He found researchers who were smart but also unfocused and restless – high school failures and dropouts. In this process he found Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar; John Warnock, co-founder of Adobe Systems and Jim Clark, founder of Netscape.
Don’t be blinded by achievements
While it’s good to maintain hope and optimism about candidates in the early roles of their career, at the top of an organisation due diligence is really important. Too often employers find someone who makes a very good first impression and then switch from evaluating them to trying to close the courtship. “Once that switch gets flipped, people don’t want to hear anything that would be a detriment. You end up hiring people who should have been examined more closely,” he says.
Take small, controlled risks
There are lots of different paths to the top, and sometimes you need to take a risk on candidates who might not have the direct experience, but have the talent and ambition. Anders cites the fact that in publishing many of the most successful books were signed for very small advances. “You can sign a lot of books at £5,000 or £20,000, but if it’s £1,000,000 you run the risk of overpaying for something that was good but not that good.”
However, risk-taking doesn’t work in every industry, such as aviation. “I met with an art gallery manager who evaluated artists by saying ‘surprise me’. You can’t hire pilots by asking them to surprise you — that’s not going to make a successful airline.”
George Anders’ book, The Rare Find: Spotting Brilliance Before Everyone Else, is out now
By : Olivia Solon,