How to Spot Rare Talent Among Hundreds of Applications

Finding unicorn talent…

As an In-house recruiter, you’re all too familiar with the process of sifting through CVs and identifying applicants who stand out. Often referred to as ‘unicorn’ talent, these rare finds are every recruiter’s dream. Unfortunately, due to the repetitive protocol of dividing resumes into two piles – one consisting of applicants whose credentials, experience and skills largely fit expectations and one of people who fall short of the job requirements, it becomes increasingly hard to spot these hidden talent gems.

The ‘in-betweens’ can often get lost in this process, with the rarest talent also potentially residing in the ‘forgotten’ pile. How can you ensure that you spot these unique candidates while helping your company leverage great talent?

Compromise on experience, don’t compromise on attitude…

Traditionally, the ideal candidate was defined as an ‘experienced’ ‘qualified’ individual with the right ‘skill-set’. The number of years a person had spent in a particular industry was considered directly proportional to their knowledge and expertise in that industry. This translated into them being the best hire or the most likely candidate for a particular role. But, with the inevitable rise of millennial employees and changing business models, the focus now is more on practical knowledge and the right attitude versus years of experience. Several articles have been written about this and the experts agree that we should hire for attitude, train for skill.

In an interview with Forbes magazine, Mark Murphy, author of Hiring for Attitude, as well as the bestsellers Hundred Percenters and HARD Goals, sums it up quite aptly, “It’s not that technical skills aren’t important, but they’re much easier to assess (that’s why attitude, not skills, is the top predictor of a new hire’s success or failure). Virtually every job (from neurosurgeon to engineer to cashier) has tests that can assess technical proficiency. But what those tests don’t assess is attitude; whether a candidate is motivated to learn new skills, think innovatively, cope with failure, assimilate feedback and coaching, collaborate with teammates, and so forth.”

So when you’re faced with the choice between what seems like the perfect candidate and one that seems to have an edge because of their positive outlook and innovative attitude, you know which way to go…

Be certain of what you want…

A major mistake that employers make is searching for candidates before they fully assess what they are looking for. This way, you end up looking at a resume and thinking ‘Wow, this person has so much experience and great technical skills’. What you fail to ask yourself is whether this person has the right skills for the job, fits into your company culture and will add value to your current business objectives.

For example, imagine you have two CVs in front of you. One is of a well-experienced candidate having at least 7 years of experience, a degree from the top 10 universities and a long list of remarkable skills. On the other hand, you have a candidate who has about 2-3 years of experience and a limited number of skills (you’re unlikely to even look past this section of the CV to check if he/she has any other credentials of value). The obvious assessment is that more experience and skills = better candidate. But, ultimately, your decision should be based on what your vision for that role is, what you hope to achieve via this new hire, and what are the key things that would make this addition a success for the company’s long-term objectives. This might sound like a much more complicated process, but it will save you a lot of time and money in the long run.

Look for the diamond in the rough

According to author George Anders, Editor at the Wall Street Journal and author of The Rare Find: Spotting Exceptional Talent Before Everyone Else: “Instead of insisting on a rigid set of credentials, Anders says, hiring managers ought to focus on what the job really requires and give a fair shot to candidates whose resumes may be what Anders calls “jagged,” or full of ups and downs.”

Several large companies today are embracing the idea that spotting rare talent involves looking past the obvious ‘shining’ characteristics in a CV and analysing other attributes that could be indicative of a candidate’s potential for a role. Granted, it’s not always easy to gauge this by looking at a CV, but perhaps it’s time to make a third pile of CVs, one that consists of candidates who have a ‘hidden’ potential.

How do you define ‘rare talent’?

What constitutes rare talent in your company? Are you looking for exceptional employees or has your focus largely been on filing up one role and moving on to the next? If you’re having trouble identifying the right candidates, maybe we can help. TalentSpa provides fixed price recruitment solutions to over 2500 organisations from business start-ups to FTSE 500 companies. Connect with us on Twitter or LinkedIn to know more.