Identifying and targeting top performers during the sourcing process is the key to any successful employee recruiting efforts. Every hiring manager and supervisor would love to have a rock start sitting at every position in the company, but that is very hard to attain. Unless you are Apple or Google or another company that consistently attract top performers, it is difficult to get those high performers to consider your company. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t other great candidates out there, but how do we identify and source those candidates?
First, let’s start with a personal story. I tend to consider myself a very good employee (full disclosure – I am not a writer). I understand my job, perform it a high level every day, have strong interpersonal communication skills and rarely miss work for any reason other than scheduled time off. Now that I am done patting myself on the back, let me say that there is no way that I should have ever been hired into the job that launched the process to get me where I am now. When I first saw the position advertised that I was hired into almost 10 years ago now, it was for a full-time developer position with Delphi and Advantage Database Server experience. I met none of those qualifications. I was a technology director that had classic ASP programming experience using SQL Server and Access. Not exactly a perfect fit, right? What I did have, was initiative. During my first interview after answering the following question, “Tell me about your experience with Delphi and Advantage.” I politely told the interviewer that I had none of the experience they desired. However, if given the chance I would do everything possible to learn the required skills. After I left that interview, I immediately went to Barnes & Noble and bought a book on Delphi programming and started learning. When I somehow got a second interview, I explained that I had purchased a few book and had done some learning on my own and was able to answer some working, functional questions about the Delphi programming language. Thankfully, the CEO recognized that kind of initiative is pretty rare, hired me and the rest is history.
Is initiative the key characteristic of top performers that we should really focus on and identify with as we start recruiting for open positions? Of course not. Education and related experience are all key indicators of how well an employee is going to perform at your company and are really just a piece of the puzzle. But, I have also worked with people who has MBA’s, were honors graduates and left work at 5:00 and didn’t think about it again until they came in late the next day at 8:14. I found this blog over at salary.com the other day. While I agree with most of what was written, I have trimmed my list down to 5 and ranked them in this order:
1. Initiative – Is the employee willing to put in time to become better at what they do? Are we dealing with someone who wants to work 8:00-5:00 or an employee who wants to do better and be better at their job, otherwise known as work ethic.
2. Adaptability – Can the employee adapt to changing work or business requirements. If you are stuck in your ways of how things ought to be done, then you are missing exciting new ways to improve on current processes and meet client needs.
3. Team Player – I hate nothing more than employees that are only there to cause problems and just can’t find a way to work with others. I have worked with some smart, talented people over the years that just could not figure out how to work in a team setting. Those people have to go.
4. Flexibility – I wrote a blog recently about onboarding new employees and how employees don’t like to be surprised with job expectations that weren’t there when they were hired. The fact is, things change all the time and you need to have employees that are willing to fill the gap created by these new items. Top employees will do this without blinking.
5. Related Experience – You can educate talented people to fill a role inside your business. Some companies are launching onboarding programs that encourage new hires to visit different departments in the company and then allow them to choose where they are most comfortable. What you can’t teach experience, it only comes with time. And unless you want to pay for that experience, finding an employee with some related experience is a great way to bring value to your company. What have you done, not what can you do.
Identifying the potential in top performers is not an exact science. There are always variables that must be taken into account when searching for candidates to fill an open position. One trait may be a potential indicator for one position but mean nothing for another. Ideally, we should attempt to look at the whole picture and not hire based on any one key indicator. That is not always the easiest thing to do, but it could be the difference between hiring a top level talent or continuing to deal with consistent turnover.