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If you hire only those people you understand, the company will never get people better than you are. Always remember that you often find outstanding people among those you don’t particularly like. Soichiro Honda

Over the last few months, I spent a fair amount of time looking for people to add to my team. Actually that’s not quite right – other people spent time recruiting. I thought I didn’t have to do the work myself. After all, the positions didn’t report directly to me.

I was wrong.

Recruiting is hard and most of us aren’t very good at it. We don’t know how to differentiate outstanding candidates from ones who have a great résumé and interview well but don’t pan out on the job. In these days of hyper competition for talent, we also not know how to spot candidates who might don’t look that good on paper but are exceptional talents.

One technique I’ve used effectively is to ask candidates about their current team. Diminishers might start by talking about their team but the conversation will quickly shift back to themselves. Multipliers, on the other hand, will extol the contributions of the people on their team, often providing details on individual employees. Multipliers are usually worth hiring, regardless of their résumé.

In the book “The Rare Find: Spotting Exceptional Talent Before Everyone Else” George Anders interviews ‘the world’s savviest talent judges’ and comes to similar conclusions. His advice:

Be careful with “talent that shouts”; the spectacular but brash candidates who might have trouble with loyalty, motivation, and team spirit.

Instead we should try to find “talent that whispers.” These are rare candidates overlooked by most recruiting systems because they have so-called jagged résumés; unusual, almost erratic backgrounds, littered with both successes and failures. In the right settings, these candidates can do spectacular work.

So how do decide whether to hire someone with a jagged résumé? Anders provides three rules:

  1. Compromise on experience; don’t compromise on character. You can teach people to do a job but you can’t teach them to be hungry for knowledge.
  2. Use your own career as a template. Ignore the commonly-held beliefs on what’s required for success and concentrate on what you’ve seen work.
  3. Rely on auditions to see why people achieve the results they do. Exceptional talents recovery quickly from setbacks. They are passionate, sometimes irrationally so.

The book has lots of great advice for everyone who is passionate about attracting and developing exceptional talent. But don’t forget the title – exceptional candidates are a rare find.

This blog was originally posted on Manage by Walking Around on Tuesday, October 6,2015.
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