What actually is Talent - is it obvious?

For HR and Recruiters. Thoughts on the whole debate about how do you go about getting talent for your organisation. Can a trip to the circus throw some light on how to improve your recruiting performance.
Talent - what actually is it? And especially how do you assess it in recruitment terms?

I had a major birthday at the beginning of this week. As a birthday event we as a family went to see Cirque du Soleil. If you have never heard of them - they are basically a French Canadian troupe of circus performers. But as they would be the first to say - it is not a traditional circus as they blend, acrobatics, street theatre, mime, dance, song etc into a very impressive spectacular. They are the inspiration for this blog post as they were quite frankly stunning in the grace and ease of doing amazing acrobatic stunts. It was obvious when watching, that these were very talented people who were incredibly good at what they do. They were streets ahead of any other similar performers I have ever seen.

The point is - seeing them on the job and in their environment it was clear they had lots of talent, it was obvious. However without seeing them on the job - how would you be able to assess how good they were? How would you interview an acrobat for instance? Even if you could get them to do a few moves on their own in the typical interview situation, without the specialist equipment, choreography and interplay between others in the troupe the effect would be lost. Whilst acrobats, jugglers and mimes etc are not typical work roles the principal still holds. How can you assess a worker with just a CV, interviews and a psychometric test that if we are being honest you probably don’t really understand? This is of course the problem recruiters, managers and HR face.

In a typical interview hiring process, how can you really determine what someone will be like to work with; in your environment, and with your co-workers and culture etc? We have all come across people who have worked well in one work place and not performed in another. How do you pick the ones who deliver: the tools of psychoanalysis and profiling have in recruitment terms often disappointed; Interviewing is notoriously difficult at picking the real winners; Assessment Centres in theory try and mimic the work environment however most workplaces I see don’t get anywhere near the resources for Assessment Centres to pretend to offer realistic workplace scenarios; Job Trials - may work for a cafe but is not likely to attract the best accountants or professionals. So whats to do...

I don’t have a secret technique or tool that will blow the others out the water. Except for this...

Perhaps we just need to accept that the assessment tools and techniques we have are by no means perfect. We could however turn the problem on its head. Instead of spending quite so much time and resource on filtering the applicants perhaps we could spend a bit more than we typically do on influencing which applicants choose to go on the list in the first place. After all, if we get higher quality applicants then it will on average matter a little less if our assessment tools and techniques aren’t as perfect at picking the winners in advance of them actually starting the job and settling in.

Many businesses seem to short change themselves when attempting to market themselves to candidates. However there are those that do it differently and the ones we see doing it well are the ones who place more focus on getting good quality applicants onto the list. They think about the candidate experience and make sure that good candidates are not turned off by poor websites, poor availability of relevant information, badly implemented recruitment systems, insensitive communications and yes - bored HR staff and managers who don’t know how to recruit well. Working in IT systems in the 1980s (yes, I was there and still remember some of it...) we used to say shit in = shit out.

My tip for improving your recruitment outcomes is to focus on the first parts of the process. Look at the things that we know work in attracting the better candidates. Revamp your systems - make them inviting to use for the candidate not just for you to filter them out. Information - candidates are hungry for it - put just a fraction of all that information you will have in HR out so candidates can see it on your website. Use the techniques that have been proven to work. Put in Talent Pools. Revamp your referral systems - you should be aiming for >30% of hires from referrals (more is quite possible). Weed out your agencies - you will probably find that some (many?) of your current ones are not representing you well - do a mystery shop with them and find out, it can be very revealing Winking Make sure you do treat the good ones well - invite them into your business so they really do understand what you are all about.

But most of all, ask yourself why people might come to you for work and why they would pick you as an employer. Think beyond your own experience, the people you looking for, are after all not employees - yet. They will not understand your employer proposition as well as you and your colleagues do. As any marketeer will tell you if you don’t understand the customers motivations then it really is hard to sell them. Think what their impression of your business will be from first contact as someone potentially interested in a position.

In recruitment, Talent is not obvious. Candidates can look good on paper and perform well at interview and still disappoint.
That said, in a circus setting it is, you can see obvious Talent and have a great experience by going to see Cirque Du Soleil.