Traits to look for when you need to find talent

I recently wrote that hiring “oddballs” can give your company a competitive advantage. Non-conformists bring a diversity of talent, thought, and skills that can boost creativity and productivity. But what traits do you search for and how do you evaluate them in each candidate?

To find the most talented employees, I seek out four traits in every candidate. But first, it’s important that your culture is healthy and open enough to accommodate anyone – even oddballs. If your organization is all about performance, then employees will be accepting of talented people, period. Exceptional individuals want to work with other outstanding individuals – not in a culture where politics eclipses performance.

Cultural fit is still important, but turn the usual approach on its head: Instead of hiring people who conform to a certain mold, ensure that there aren’t any barriers to cultural fit. Interviewing for the following four traits will help you determine this and hire the best talent.

Four Traits That Signify Talent

1. Exceptionalism
Exceptional candidates have the capacity to push beyond their basic job responsibilities and be a valuable contributor to the business. For this trait, look for patterns of greatness: Great people often apply their skills in unique ways outside of work. Ask about their hobbies, volunteering, and other activities that may demonstrate their exceptionalism. For entry-level employees, inquire about achievements outside of school work.

2. Job-specific motivation

For this trait, Seek candidates who don’t just want a job but are motivated to work specifically for your company. Talented people are intrinsically motivated, which means they want to work for an organization where they can advance their skills and make a difference. If they cannot clearly communicate why they want to work for your business, it may not be a good fit.

Motivation is a two-way street: Your company also needs to sell the opportunity you are offering. What will motivate a talented individual to work for you? How will the job help the candidate advance his career goals?

3. Creative initiative

Talented, motivated employees don’t have to be told exactly what to do. They consistently take creative initiative, finding ways to do their job better, developing great ideas, and generally moving the organization forward. One red flag is candidates who say they were bored or stifled at their last job and as a result cannot point to any evidence of their creative initiative.

A question that will help you identify a person with this trait is: “If you were hired, what would you do on day one, in the first week, or in the first month?” Outstanding people will give you an action plan.

4. Value

Look beyond cost when hiring. Instead, determine the business value a candidate provides. Inexperienced hiring managers often get fixated on salary and forget that their responsibility is to bring on employees who will produce more economic value for the company than they cost.

Value depends on your organization’s needs. Sometimes it makes more sense to hire three $40,000 employees than one $120,000 professional. If you have a problem that requires some creativity but not much job knowledge, then three less experienced but talented candidates may be better. If you need someone with experience who will help the company grow, then a $120K person may be the right choice.

Prioritize Talent

The sum of all four traits is talent. Given the choice between a person with job knowledge and talent, I go for the talented individual every time. Knowledge is not particularly important in many jobs: People hire knowledge when they want someone to come in and get the job done without a lot of coaching or bother on anyone else’s part.

Knowledge can be taught. Talent is what is important because it drives businesses forward. Looking for these four traits will help you find it.

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