I just finished reading George Anders phenomenal book titled The Rare Find and I am totally geeked on talent. From a practical standpoint this is a great book because it is relatively short (240 or so pages when you exclude the footnotes), it is very well written and it is a compelling read. From our perspective as HR folks, this book will give you a much different perspective on how to get the people your company needs to succeed.
Anders spends a lot of time talking with very different companies with very different talent needs. A short list of companies he followed: the US Army, a small music label that signed Taylor Swift, and Teach for America, to name a few. All of these organizations need very different people with very different skill sets, but Anders found many similarities in their approach to talent acquisition:
- “Widen Your View of talent.” Many of the companies Anders profiled do not have a standard job description to find the right people. Instead some read resumes from the bottom up to glean an understanding of accomplishments outside of work or others look for talent in different geographic locations. The common thread is that these companies are willing to go outside of company norms. This was key for organizations such as Teach for America; For many years they recruited by asking puzzle questions and looking for the smartest people, after years of mediocre success they re-hauled their interview process to include auditions where candidates prepare a lesson plan and “teach” to a classroom of students. That type of interview has garnered a much higher rate of retention and success for Teach for America.
- Understand the “hidden truths” of the job. What will truly make the candidate successful in this position? What will make the position a success at your organization? Anders uses the examples of Harvard University hiring Lawrence Summers as their president. On paper Summers had many of the right qualifications: he started out as a professor at Harvard, was fully tenured at the age of twenty-eight and later moved to Washington D.C to work for the U.S. Treasury. Harvard thought they needed an extraordinarily smart intellectual who was used to fierce intellectual debates; instead they really needed someone who could careful navigate the diplomatic circles of Harvard donors. After a tenure marked by rancor and offensive comments, he resigned from Harvard.
- Master the art of aggressive listening. This is a skill that is vastly overlooked in our organizations; by developing aggressive (or active) listening skills we can learn much more than usual in a traditional interview. The key here is remaining focused and interested, you aren’t in the interview to make friends, you need to get information. The other key here is to continue to ask questions to get the true answer. Many of you have probably noticed that the really good candidates have stock answers at the ready. Aggressive listeners don’t stop at the “stock” answer they keep asking questions until they get the real answer to their question.
The above ideas are just skimming the surface of this book. It is filled with great concepts we can apply in our organizations. But we, as HR practitioners must have the courage to attempt these ideas. You and I can talk all we want about the great concepts in this book but it doesn’t mean squat if we don’t try to change the mindsets of those around us. That change requires courage, the courage to speak up when we don’t agree with something, the courage to pitch a different way of doing things, and to get back up and do it again when our ideas get shot down. Go out, buy the book and start rocking the boat at your company.