7 Tips for Hiring World-Class Talent

Pepper de Callier

At the heart of every successful enterprise lies one clear driver. It’s not a clever idea, a product, a patent, the perfect location or access to capital—the first four are pretty common and, if they’re good, they lead automatically to the fifth—even in today’s economic climate. What is uncommon, however, is the ability to competently execute all the moving parts these elements demand and that’s where world-class talent comes in.

Make no mistake: in any economy there are more opportunities chasing “A” players, or top talent, than there are “A” players. Consider this: it is not unusual for top-flight executives to receive at least one or two calls a week from a recruiter or an investor with a proposal. And, when they are ready to make a move, it’s a safe bet that they will be evaluating more than one proposal before they make a final decision. Attracting and hiring exceptional talent takes planning, dedication, and a well-orchestrated effort.

The wisest leaders and hiring managers first ask, “How can we attract an “A” player before asking, How soon can we hire an “A” player. The first question portends a well thought-out and disciplined approach to a search for talent, the latter a game of “Go-Fetch”.

When it’s time for you to make your next key hire, pull your team together to consider the following points. Your time will be well spent.

1. Have a story to tell. A good story is the foundation of a successful search for talent. The story should be reduced to the conversational equivalent of an executive summary, which is used to assess initial interest and can be expanded with more details for sharing with serious, qualified candidates. It should include the truthful, factual, compelling nature of your opportunity and your vision for the future along with a clear, defensible statement of your differentiating characteristics and how this person fits into the picture—top talent are interested in substance. Without submitting to this discipline, you greatly reduce the likelihood of attracting a star. The reasons are simple: doing this demonstrates thoroughness, intellectual rigor, understanding and the importance you place on the position. Without it, it’s like trying to enjoy a wonderful glass of wine with a clamp on your nose—you can’t begin to fully appreciate and savor what is being put before you.
2. Define what you want. Be specific. Create a detailed position description outlining key selection criteria and expectations. The “I’ll know it when I see it” approach is a sure recipe for disaster.
3. Seek Balance. Many studies over the past twenty years have shown the simple fact that people are generally hired for their cognitive intelligence and are fired for their lack of emotional intelligence. Tune in and focus for red-flags in the interview process that indicate a personality out-of-balance. Develop a set of questions that various members of the interview team will ask in order to develop a robust three-dimensional understanding of who this person is.
4. Be Available. The weakest link in the search process is often the person who doesn’t communicate in a timely fashion. Every member of the search team should have each other’s mobil numbers and an agreement to return calls promptly. In other words, treat this effort with the importance you would treat a major acquisition—that’s what it is. Top talent view lack of timely communication as the inability to make decisions, or as a lack of interest—both of which are abhorrent to quality executives.
5. Be thorough. Go beyond standard resume information. Conduct a disciplined competency-based interview with all candidates, including internal ones who are under consideration. Pursue complete and accurate information on everything, from verification of university degrees to in-depth, critical-incident reference checking. Various studies over the last thirty years have shown that, on average, 24% of all resumes contain willful misstatements of material facts. Short-cutting this process of interviewing and reference checking can be a devastating and incredibly expensive experience.
6. Be flexible. If you are unwilling to explore the needs, wants and desires of a candidate with an open mind and a win-win attitude, or you’re more concerned with how you’ve always done things in the past, your chances of hiring a world-class talent will be greatly diminished. The intelligence, empathy and logic with which this process is approached create lasting, often indelible, impressions for both parties.
7. Be ready to act. Be ready to make a decision. Mandatory “beauty pageants” of candidates are a thing of the past. Top-tier talent is decisive and they don’t want to work with those who are not.

Attracting world-class talent has never been easy, but when you take the decision to do it properly, with discipline, awareness and structure, you will also be taking the decision to further distance yourself from the competition.