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The importance of talent spotting

Nasser Oudjidane
December 19, 2022
The importance of talent spotting

Separating the awesome candidates from the also-rans is part-and-parcel of recruiting. In this blog we look at how to spot talent more effectively, and we share some articles, podcasts and pearls of wisdom to help you identify those elusive A-players.

Why talent spotting matters 

In the excellent Conversations with Tyler podcast, Tyler Cohen and Daniel Gross, authors of the book, ‘Talent: How to Identify Energizers, Creatives, and Winners Around the World’, claim that the world is failing at “identifying talent”, and discuss how hiring leaders can do better. Daniel is an angel investor with a track record of talent spotting by investing early in companies like Stripe, Instacart and SpaceX, while Tyler not only hosts the podcast, but is an economist, writer and academic in his own right.

Their discussion covers a range of themes, and we’ve covered some of the highlights below.

Don’t fret about dark horses

Daniel states: “In the venture business  – much more so than, I think, almost any other business –  you live in constant paranoia of missing out on great talent…some type of different market or some type of different person becoming really big and really important. In venture, of course, your errors are errors of omission, not commission…You’re deeply thinking about dark horses.”

Daniel goes on to underline the value of “learning to appreciate the humility” in not knowing where the next big thing may appear from, and points to the Dunning-Kruger effect, which posits that people are often ignorant of their own ignorance. In the recruiting world, this can lead to bad hiring outcomes.

Get the interview process right

Tyler references a recently published book on SpaceX’s launch, which “indicates that Elon personally interviewed the first few thousand people hired at SpaceX to make sure they would get the right people. That is a radical, drastic move. You know how much time that involves, and energy and attention”.

The pair also share some ideas on good interview questions to ask. Tyler reveals that he’s had success with an interview question used by PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel:

“It’s simply to ask the person, ‘How ambitious are you?’ A yes-or-no answer, actually, is fine. If they say no because they think you mean something bland and a little mainstream  – they say, ‘No, I’m not ambitious, but I want to do this.’ They say it with great passion and charisma  – that’s excellent. If they’re just stumped by the question, they have no idea what they actually want to do  –  that, to me, is a negative.”

In praise of neuroticism

Neuroticism, or “the degree to which a person experiences the world as distressing, threatening, and unsafe” (Encyclopedia Britannica), is often construed as a negative. But Tyler and Daniel aren’t so sure.

“I think for the very highest level of top creative achievers, you want to look for some neuroticism,” Tyler says, with evidence to back it up. “You see this most clearly in musicians and artists, the very greatest ones.”

“That said, for most jobs, you want it in some kind of check, but there’s a whole host of jobs where neuroticism is just a positive.”

As you can see, there are lots of great insights in the book and podcast, and we’re far from the only fans – check out Angular Venture Weekly’s write-up on Tyler and Daniel’s talent-spotting travails.

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