Hiring Talent

Hiring is a tricky business. We screen for experience. We screen for skill. How do you screen for talent? We should recognize that talent and skill are not the same thing. Skill is the ability to apply technique correctly. Talent goes beyond that. Talent includes the ability to know which technique will produce the right result. Talent is the ability to know when none of the techniques I know are a sure winner. Talent is the ability to quickly learn and assimilate new technique.

Talent != skill and experience – five years of c# programming experience does not equal talent.

Talent is not about knowing how to do something (skill) but about acquiring skill, deciding which skill to employ, and knowing why something will work or fail.

What we refer to as talent is what is required to put it all together. Talented people are able to get things done, they are independent, but ask for help when needed.

So how do you identify talent in an interview? How do you create a job description that describes a role requiring talent? How do you define incentives for talent? How do you keep talent from walking out the door?

Talent is usually domain specific. A person can be very talented in some domains, and completely useless in others. Talent doesn’t necessarily transfer between domains. So to hire talent, you need to know about the domain that you are hiring for.

I have hired frequently in two domains: technical project management and software development. I can tell you from experience, talent doesn’t often transfer between these two domains. Very few developers who attempt to be project managers develop or exhibit talent, and likewise some of the worst developers often turn into talented project managers.

You have to break the domains apart. Software development requires abstraction, problem solving, interpolation, focus. Project management requires communication, risk assessment, discipline, scheduling, negotiation, motivation.

So… What are the interview questions that allow you to discern talent in the domains that you hire in?

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