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Apr 30, 2013

If a manager is concerned about hiring a high achiever, you need to be concerned about the manager!

We just ran a quick poll to determine if hiring managers would trade off experience for potential if they didn’t have to compromise performance or results. Two-thirds agreed.

How would you answer the question, and how would your hiring managers?

If you’re not on the same page, you’re working a lot harder than necessary.

Define the work required to be successful

I decided to run this poll after a techie hiring manager at a recent training session asked me how much experience  a person needs to have to be successful. My response: enough to do the work; some people need more; some need less; and the best people need the least.

That threw the hiring manager into a tizzy, and he left scratching his head.

The point: if you don’t define the work required to be successful, success is problematic.

The work determines what skills and experiences are required. The skills and experience don’t determine success. That’s why the idea of filtering based on skills and experience precludes a company from seeing the people it actually wants to hire: high-potential people who can do the work successfully with the least amount of skills and experiences.

If you want to see stronger candidates when posting jobs, emphasize the work that needs to be done rather than the skills needed to do it. For example, it’s far better to say, “lead and complete the marketing launch of the new fracking hydraulic high pressure control valve line by year-end,” rather than “must have five (5) plus years oil field industry experience, a BS in Mechanical Engineering, two (2) plus years of high-pressure fluid dynamics experience, exceptional interpersonal and communications skills, a go-getter attitude, and be able to work closely with engineering and operations in a lean manufacturing environment.”

Key to this: if you can prove the person is competent and motivated to do the work described, they have exactly the level of experiences, skills, and attitude required. You can use The Most Important Interview Question of All Time to figure this out.

How to find out if the candidate is on a fast track

Here are some other ways to find out if the candidate is on a fast track:

  1. Find out if the person was assigned difficult technical or business problems before their peers. I used to ask first-year accountants at big CPA firms what clients they were assigned and why. The best ones were always assigned to big accounts with difficult accounting issues to handle. It’s the same with the best techies (and everyone else) who get assigned the most challenging tech issues to work on, not the simplest ones.
  2. Given early exposure to senior management. On a search for an HR director I asked a young manager at a small division if she ever worked with company executives. She went on to tell me about a special project she was leading, reporting directly to the corporate CEO (a Fortune 250 company) to implement a worldwide high-potential program. Of course, she was on it, too.
  3. Assigned leadership roles in multi-functional teams before others with more seniority. As part of the most significant accomplishment question I have people describe the teams they were on and their roles. For those with the best team skills these expand over time in size, scope, influence, and responsibility.
  4. Seeks out more responsibility and opportunities to fail. I remember a young manager of financial planning I placed who consistently went out of his way to get assigned to jobs over his head where it didn’t matter if he stumbled a bit. He’s now the EVP of a major Fortune 300 company. This is a common trait of high achievers.
  5. Ask about the biggest accomplishment achieved with the least amount of skills and experience. Don’t be surprised that the best people are consistently given bigger challenges far beyond what would be expected given their current level of skills and experience. Also, don’t be surprised that they’re typically successful.

Finding the high achievers

High-potential candidates get more done with less experience, and master whatever skills are required, faster than their peer group.

I find it difficult to comprehend why any manager or business leader would preclude these candidates from consideration. Yet 95 percent of jobs posted online do just that, and these very same managers and business leaders continue to complain they’re not seeing or hiring enough top people.

If you’re a recruiter who still box-checks SKAs, ask your clients if they’d like to see some high achievers who can absolutely do the work required but have less of the skills and experiences listed on the job description.

Most will say yes. Then go find these high achievers who can do the work and are excited to do it. If they say no, be concerned, since you’ll just be spinning your wheels.