Book Recommendation — The Rare Find: Spotting Exceptional Talent Before Everyone Else

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I recently had the chance to speak on a panel with George Anders, Michael Schrage and Roy Bahat at #sxsw. We were given a single question and asked to weigh in.

“If you could hire one amazing person or 100 average people, which would you choose?”

My answer? I would hire 100 average people. I’m not sure corporate America can spot greatness from a hole in the wall, and besides, hiring 100 average people gets America back to work. This is what Russia and China do, by the way. Their leaders know that revolutions begin on empty stomachs — so they keep their citizens employed in order to calm dissent and keep the people placated.

Nobody riots when Louis Vuitton flows freely on the streets of Moscow or Beijing.

But that’s another story.

So lots of healthy discussion came out of our panel. We discussed how to define a great hire, how to spot talent, and what corporations need to fix — in recruiting, HR, training, on-boarding, compensation — to ensure that great hires are identified and given a reason to stay within an organization.

It was a hoot.

My fellow panelist, George Anders, wrote an excellent book called The Rare Find: Spotting Exceptional Talent Before Everyone Else. You know I don’t recommend many books, but after appearing on the fancy dais with him, I downloaded the book and read it in a day.

And it’s awesome.

George describes many of the myths of recruiting and how exceptional talent doesn’t really fit into a neat little package. Some of the most talented people have jagged resumes — but along the way, these people demonstrate strength of character and resilience. And people who recruit can’t often spot the best and most talented candidates. In fact, The Ladders just published a report that says you have 6 seconds to make an impression on a recruiter.

How disgusting and unfortunate is that?

Most people who hire are doing it wrong. They start by putting an advertisement on a job board and find themselves knee-deep in a teeming sea of resumes. George’s book challenges us to do things differently. He encourages us to look at talent differently and suggests that we can compromise on experience; don’t compromise on character. He also encourages hiring managers to use their own career as a template. I know that my career has been amazing and I don’t have a straightforward path. Why would I dismiss people outright who have gaps in their resumes or a story that doesn’t necessarily fall into a linear plane? Finally, he suggests that we rely on auditions to see why people achieve the results they do. This is why the concept of a free-agent nation is so compelling to me. I don’t believe in unpaid work-experiences but I do like the idea of paying someone to complete a project before an offer of full-time employment is made.

I love the book. It’s a quick read and has a ton of interesting stories about how talent is hired in many organizations — from major corporations to the special forces.

And I love the fact that Harvard Business Review brought such amazing people together at #sxsw and invited me to participate. (Thank you.) A recap of the tweets can be found here. My favorite tweet from the panel came from Michael Schrage (quoted below) who can see the forest for the trees.

Awesome and so true.

Anyway, the panel really made me think differently about talent — and I was on the stage. I’m still hiring 100 people because I’m an American and I want to get everyone back to work; however, I now think some companies are making a pretty good attempt at identifying talent.

More HR professionals need to read George’s book, though.

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