Hiring Talent

Hiring Talent

Taking another shot at the overall area of “skills vs. attitude” brings me to the troublesome world of “talent.”  It’s a big place:

  • in the entertainment industry, “talent” is the guy who can play the guitar.  The driver, the source of all the money, and yet, not the person who can make the money happen on her own.
  • in conversation, we use “talented” to describe people who can do things (sing, draw, paint, win at sports) that we can’t imagine being good at
  • in HR-talk, particularly “hiring A-Team books,” “talent” is used to refer to that set of skills that some candidates are naturally good at.

Mostly, I try to avoid the word altogether.  It’s dangerous.

<vocab junkie alert ON> Relatively small (six letters), “talent” can slip into conversation as a marker carrying all sorts of associated baggage.  Big hairy words (“colloquially,” which I tried to use in this post already and couldn’t spell without the aid of spell checker) get your attention.  Actually, the bigger the word, usually, the more exacting and specific its definition.  Small words (“ran”) are the ones with the humongous dictionary definitions. <vocab alert OFF>

We think of “talent” as a natural gift, something we either have or don’t have, are born with or without.  There is still an amount of mystery surrounding how a particular person is drawn to a particular field (art, music, management), but there’s not much doubt left about what, in the end, makes someone “talented.”

Several recent books (Talent is Overrated, Talent is Never Enough, Bounce, Outliers) make the case that talent is simply skill that’s been practiced.  10,000 hours appears to be the consensus–Mozart, Tiger, Venus & Serena–people who are good at what they do have been doing it, with attention and direction, more than you have.  You, too, can swing like a pro–if you put 10,000 hours (that’s five full-time years, by the way) on the links.  Practicing–not playing.  Trying to get better at golf.

  • NOT enjoying the day (although that can happen)
  • NOT hanging out with your friends (although one hopes you like your coach)
  • NOT getting some exercise (“working out,” per se, comes in addition to the 10,000 hours, not as part of)

Back to hiring, and talent, and hiring talent

When it comes to hiring people who are gifted in areas you are not, it may be helpful to think of their “talent” as “applied practice.”  Sometimes, you simply need to hire the result of those hours–some scientists, entertainers, certainly.  But when you are looking for a team player to produce a certain result, you may want to look for the person who understands how his practice contributed to his mastery.  These people can often help your other employees improve their level of mastery through practice, too.

On  being talented at hiring

Is there another way to apply this thinking to your business?  Anyone you know who appears to be “good at hiring” is good at hiring because he or she learned.  Nobody’s born knowing “how to hire.”  It may take more than a few years, and employees, before your business has invested 10,000 total hours in hiring (10 years in business, 5 employees–that’s 100,000 hours in the business), but it could happen.  And if you approach hiring as a skill that can be learned, through practice and coaching and attention to working on the troubled bits, you’ll make progress a whole lot faster.

What have you done to learn how to hire or to improve your hiring process?  Let me know in the comments!  thx