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Why there’s more to hiring exceptional talent than looking at the CV

Neel J Shah
December 19, 2022

Every recruitment manager wants to find a candidate who’s smarter than Albert Einstein, more charismatic than Dwayne Johnson and can return a serve faster than Emma Raducanu. But as we’ll explore, when you’re looking to fill a vacancy, it’s easy to overlook A+ talent because we’re sometimes too focused on a narrow list of credentials. A-players are hard to find, but in this guide we’ll look at how to identify and assess quality pros without ‘credentialising’ your candidates.

What is an exceptional talent?

An exceptional talent, or perhaps an ‘A-player’, is someone whom your organisation can’t do without. Rick Crossland, author of The A Player, writes that A-players are the employees who “drive all the profitability and growth”, and are often “a person of high integrity...whom you would enthusiastically rehire”. In a formal context, some countries like the UK offer a Global Talent Visa for leaders and potential leaders in fields like tech, academia and the arts. So far, so simple, right?

Why the traditional way of identifying A-players isn’t working 

The more talented, capable and personable people you employ, the better. But while no one can knock the ambition or intent behind building an all-star team, what are the metrics we use to determine who the stars actually are? Below, we’ve cooked up some food for thought.

  • Academic credentials aren’t everything

    In previous years, many employers effectively hung signs at their door which said, ‘unless you have a first-class degree, don’t apply’. But the dial has shifted, and nowadays, some of the biggest companies in the world – like Google, Apple, Netflix and Tesla – no longer require candidates to have graduated from uni. Of course, booksmarts are invaluable, but they don’t necessarily tell you about a candidate’s competencies or their social skills. And if you want to create an inclusive work culture, then only hiring candidates from a gilded academic path (often assisted by structural inequities) is not going to help you assemble a diverse workforce.
  • History is not destiny

    Just as academic qualifications are no guarantee of a successful hire, the premium we put on experience could be overstated too. The reality is that an employee could do brilliantly in one role, but under different circumstances, might struggle. There is also the phenomenon of recency bias, where we tend to place greater value on more recent history, which may lead us to ignore useful indicators from the more distant past. The upshot is that we need to think about a candidate’s potential – not just their past.
  • Internal sourcing is undervalued

    Sometimes, in the search for that magical unicorn, we can overlook the talent that’s right in front of our nose. People can surprise you, and redeploying an existing employee could bring out the best in them. Plus, by sourcing internally, and taking referrals seriously through initiatives like sourcing jams, you’ll spend less time and money chasing those pricey A-players.
  • Character matters

    We can talk about talent all day, but if the person you hire turns out to be a bit of a toad, where does that leave you? There is a time and a place for an exceptional maverick, but while the Chicago Bulls could get away with having one Dennis Rodman, you’ll want to assemble a team of dependable folks who contribute towards a positive team spirit.
  • What about the B and C-players?

    As early 2000s Real Madrid taught us, a team full of Galacticos rarely reaches its potential. Output can be measured in different ways, and ultimately, you need grafters working in core functions in order for those A-players to shine. Ultimately, it’s about fostering a strong team ethic and remembering that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Read more Intrro guides

We’ve put together plenty of articles and insights which could help you enhance the way you hire. Check out some of our latest guides:

  • Remote working: an opportunity or obstacle?
  • Why a good recruitment strategy is about more than just volume
  • How to get better at hiring.

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