Finding Great Talent and Becoming a Rare Talent

Would you hire someone who had an early success but then was fired or failed?  After this person was fired, he went on to start a new company but that didn’t do well. Finally, he succeeded.  Would you hire him or would you pass, seeing the zig-zag of failure and success on his “jagged” resume?

Finding great talent or being a great talent yet to be discovered arefinding exceptional and rare talent that have failed and succeeded two sides of the coin George Anders addresses in his book, The Rare Find: Spotting Exceptional Talent Before Everyone Else.  Needless to say, finding great talent isn’t easy when all sides are trying so hard to avoid making a mistake. Let’s take Steve Jobs. He’s our example above. George writes about how Jobs had a “jagged resume,”  of success AND failure. Of course, most people airbrush their resumes to downplay their failures. They have to because the hiring manager doesn’t want to risk making a mistake. Yet, George says understanding how someone succeeds after a setback is key to finding superb talent, which we all know Steve Jobs did brilliantly.

We asked George some questions to help facilitate hiring managers and ‘rare’ talent finding each other.

 SuccessTelevision: You said, “Find the frontier. If you want to be extraordinary, restlessness is a virtue. It’s also a great traveling companion for resilience; if you can combine the two of them, your chances of finding society’s greatest opportunities in any particular decade are huge. Hang out with people just as driven and passionate as you.” Can you elaborate on how we can  join one of these ‘hotbeds of talent” Does this mean be an entrepreneur?   Hang out with people with similar passions?

George: “If you’re in a big organization, try to get transferred into the areas where the most ingenious people are working. This may not be the long-time, high-prestige areas. It may be the emerging market where your company is just getting started, ramping up. It’s more likely to involve the product of the future, rather than the product of the present or the past.

If you’re in a startup, or working solo, hang out with other entrepreneurs who share your values and are driven to succeed. Sometimes you’ll learn more from these peers — who are right in there, fighting the same battles — than you will from a mentor who knew how to get to the top 20 years ago.”

 SuccessTelevision: How should a company or an HR person go about finding great talent when they are in the hot seat for not failing or choosing poorly?

George: “Take a deep breath, and figure out how to make the talent hunt less risky. Maybe that means filling 90 percent of jobs with safe, competence-centered methods, so that you can take chances on the other 10 percent. Do your boldest hiring in areas where there can’t really be a big failure – put unexpected people to work on the smaller projects first, to see if they have the right stuff. You’ll be shielded that way if you made a misstep, and you can surprise and delight your bosses if you find some unexpected winners who are ready for promotions.”

SuccessTelevision:  You write about Steve Jobs and his “jagged resume”. What questions would you ask someone or what would you do to find that this person was actually a star?

George:“Focus for a few minutes on ‘What can go right?’ Get to know a candidate’s passions. What does she or he do superbly well? What’s their favorite part of work? You’re looking for someone who’s creative, or passionate, or incredibly self-reliant in ambiguous situations. Once you’ve found a standout strength, then you can figure out if there’s an in-house job where that candidate’s strengths will be invaluable, and apparent shortcomings may not matter at all.” 

SuccessTelevision: How can someone make sure the other side of the table, company or HR, understands that they’re a great talent?

George: “I got asked this in an author Q&A with, a Web community that’s packed with Silicon Valley’s rising stars. So that audience is exactly what you’re talking about – a group that’s burning with desire to be recognized for greatness. I offered four ideas about ways to steer the interview toward topics with “wow!” potential, so that such candidates can stand apart from the pack. The key ideas are as follows: 

  1. Ask the recruiter or hiring manager if he or she has ever considered some striking new approach — which  ought to be way smarter than what the company is doing right now.
  2. Ask if you could be hired to lead a team that puts this amazing new idea into action. (Note: this is how Google picks up a lot of its most interesting engineering candidates.)
  3. Establish your priorities — in a good way — go way beyond making a bunch of money for yourself. Figure out some way of getting across the point that what really excites you about the opportunity is the chance to work with some rare and crucial tools so that you can do a better job. The basic point: Great talents want to work with the very best technology so they can surpass what anyone else is doing. That matters more than vacation time, the dental plan, etc. I remember reading how ace director Brad Bird was excited about joining Pixar in 2000 because they had some 3-D animation software that he’d never had a chance to use before.
  4. Ask the company what’s been impossible for anyone to accomplish so far, and why?  This might lead you into areas like: beating GE in a key market. Or making an SUV that gets 40 mpg. Or becoming the No. 1 foreign competitor in China. Once you draw out a challenge like that, show that you’re ready to tackle it — and maybe even have some ideas about how to do so. Super-talented people crave big challenges. They aren’t looking for the big, safe division. They’re looking for the largest unsolved problems.”
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