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Sep 17, 2015
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

Tt goes by many names: The A-player, The Game-Changer, The Superstar.

Notice the sports theme? Maybe it’s because companies scout these candidates like high school prodigies and hiring one is celebrated like signing a top draft pick.

According to the generally accepted definition, “top” performers are roughly four times as productive as “average” performers. Sometimes the difference is far greater. A truly exceptional employee can transform a company and deliver an incredible ROI, but many hiring managers pass them by.

Here’s how to attract, identify, and hire The Superstar

Learn to recognize a Superstar

A superstar delivers performance. That at least is what a superstar employee does. Understanding what a superstar is takes a bit more analysis and can be difficult to recognize, even after several rounds of intensive interviews.

One tell-tale mark of an exceptional employee is innovation, which is derived from an insatiable desire for improvement. Innovators are bold enough to think differently and this leads to original and even revolutionary creativity.

Think about how Thomas Edison “improved” the gas lamp, what Henry Ford did to the horse, and how Steve Jobs forever changed personal computers. All three were innovators and superstars by anybody’s standards.

Another characteristic shared by all high-performers is a thirst for knowledge, which manifests itself in constant reading and countless questions. Not all superstars are world-changing inventors or CEO’s of massive tech companies.

Some might have little or no job experience on their one-page resumes. However, superstars will distinguish themselves by how quickly they master new roles, learn industry terms, and how many questions they are willing to ask.

1. Sourcing methods

When it comes to actually finding exceptional talent there is no substitute for word-of-mouth. It can be hard to describe attributes like “innovative” and “insatiable desire for improvement” on a resume without coming across as delusional, but the recommendation from a trusted source carries real weight. Most people recognize talent when they see it and are willing to promote an individual they know to be exceptional.

Success attracts successful people. If a company has demonstrated a track record of rewarding talent the talent will beat a track to the door (“if you build it, they will come…”).

2. Use the interview well

Candidates are asked any number of questions in the interview process about their strengths (and weaknesses), work history, technical skills, etc. The questions might be valuable or not, depending on whether the hiring manager uses them to construct a comprehensive picture of the candidate. Most interviews hold top candidates back from demonstrating their capabilities, ideas, and innovation.

Hiring managers simply cannot afford to bore top candidates with standard interview questions. Instead of dwelling on past history, the interviewer might ask candidates to solve actual problems and demonstrate that they have solutions for the future.

The most useful question to ask in any interview: “Where do you want to be in five years?” It separates the wheat from the chaff and the superstars from the simply average. Individuals with drive will be thoughtful regarding their future and their career path. They will have purpose in their professional decisions. From there it should be possible to work backwards, step by step, to where the candidate wants to be now.

All the major decisions: choice of college, first job, career choice etc. should form a complete and thought-out story. Remember: they are being interviewed for the next chapter in that story.

3. Close the deal

Superstars are a rare commodity and usually find themselves in high demand. Even if a hiring manager is lucky enough to identify a standout performer there is little guarantee the candidate will still be on the market by the time an offer is finally approved.

The classic ABC — Always Be Closing — mantra fully applies. The interview process should involve a certain amount of “selling” on the part of the hiring manager as well.

Superstars expect their performance to be both rewarded and recognized. If the candidate is exceptional, a smart hiring manager will freely admit it! There is no sense in trying to downplay a candidate’s abilities or accomplishments in an attempt to make a low-ball offer. Real performers will chose passion over profit.

Just like any sports team, a company must constantly strive after perfection to achieve excellence. Top talent will challenge the status quo and make others around them better employees. Championship teams are built around superstars.

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.