The Art Of Finding Extraordinary Talent

I once asked a graphic designer when she knew her work on a specific task was finished. Her response was:

When there’s nothing left to take away

I like that. There’s a point of differentiation here, that it’s not necessarily what you include, but what you remove that perfects your art.

I reminded a candidate of this a few weeks ago. She wasn’t a graphic designer. She was, as it turns out, a rather good marketing manager, but her CV proclaimed that she was:

  • A hard worker
  • Motivated
  • Enthusiastic
  • Keen to learn

You get the picture.

I sense, sometimes, the hand of ChatGPT in this blandification of the talent market. If it were up to AI, we’d all be a bunch of highly motivated, enthusiastic tick boxes seeking our next opportunity.

Remove all extraneous information from these CVs and what are you left with? A name, unless your recruiter is stripping that out too, because you might be biased against people with foreign names (again, who is making these assumptions?)

Finding extraordinary talent is not meant to be easy, but we have to assume that sometimes, extraordinary talent lacks the ability to promote itself.

Sometimes, extraordinary talent turns to ordinary measures because the CV is never their first thought.

And sometimes, ordinary talent can produce extraordinary CVs.

We are frequently misled, frequently taken down garden paths only to find that while the garden is well-tended, the house is ramshackle.

A song and dance

The thing about Extraordinary Talent is that they’ll have done extraordinary things. This is not rocket science, unless you are hiring rocket scientists.

You will have one of two conversations. You may have a conversation not unlike one I had a few weeks ago where I met a candidate whose former boss built a whole agency for her. Yeah, she was that good.

She was brimming with self-confidence, metrics, poise, and the knowledge that the right role will offer itself up to her (in the end, three did).

I did nothing to tease out that information. I simply listened, and believed.

I have, in the past, listened and not believed. It helps, having been there.

And you may also have a conversation where you feel that you are desperately trying to tease information from your candidate. You are therefore surprised to learn that they’ve tripled revenue single-handedly, largely because they don’t see that as extraordinary, or they don’t see that as something they’ve achieved alone.

They’ve overdosed on humility.

They’re not making a song and dance about their extraordinariness. Some people just don’t view personal promotion as a thing to be indulged in.

Our job – as recruiters or hiring managers – is to know when we need to extract information, and to know how to evaluate the information we’re being given.

Each of these candidates – the humble and the confident – come with the same abilities to do the roles requested of them. Often, the confident hiring manager hires the confident candidate, and the humble hiring manager hires the humble candidate, and forever shall we hire people like ourselves.

To find extraordinary talent, sometimes we have to cut away at the ordinary, as self-promotion is not always the exclusive domain of the extraordinary.

Sometimes, we have to listen to some extraordinary stories. They may be true, or they may be false.

And sometimes, we have to ask extraordinary questions of people.

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