8 Clues You're Interviewing an Exceptional Person

8 Clues You

On September 22, 2021, the 4th edition of Hire with Your Head will be published by John Wiley & Sons. As part of the totally revised edition, I reviewed some of my favorite posts from the past few years and incorporated them in the new book. The following is a slight rewrite of one that appeared on LinkedIn’s Talent Blog a few years ago.

Over the past 40 years I have reviewed at least 30 thousand resumes and LinkedIn profiles and personally interviewed more than five thousand job candidates. After tracking the subsequent performance of hundreds of these people it became apparent that there were clues in the resume and work history that accurately predicted the likelihood the person would be successful even in roles that were promotions, different jobs, stretch assignments or in different industries.

Not surprising, the people who were the most successful generally had a different mix of skills and years of experience than listed on the original job description. The reason is a bit counter-intuitive: The most talented people do more and learn faster than their peer group. As a result, they get promoted more rapidly and therefore are lighter in terms of overall years of experience and depth of skills.

This pattern of achievement makes it difficult to find these people using traditional sourcing techniques. To get around this I suggest recruiters source on just a few critical skills and generic titles in combination with clues indicating the person possesses the Achiever Pattern. The Achiever Pattern indicates the person is in the top half or better of his/her peer group.

Following are some clues hiring managers and recruiters can use to spot the Achiever Pattern when reviewing resumes or conducting an interview. It’s just as important for job seekers to ensure these traits stand out on your LinkedIn and are discussed during the interview. This interview prep course will help interviewers ask the right questions.

Clues for Spotting Exceptional Performance and Exceptional People 

  1. Faster Rate of Growth. Those with the Achiever Pattern generally get promoted more rapidly than their peer group. Aside from a bigger title and job, this could be being assigned to lead larger or more important teams or handling more important and more complex projects.
  2. Strong Technical Ability and Rapid Learner. The best hiring managers tend to push their most promising subordinates giving them stretch roles, assigning them to difficult projects, providing early exposure to senior managers and influential executives and giving them advanced training opportunities. Look for this pattern at the candidate’s past few jobs. As part of this, ask how the person got assigned to the project and why. The pattern typically reveals the person’s core strengths, learning ability and potential. I refer to this approach as the “Sherlock Holmes’ Interview.”
  3. Outstanding Team, Collaborative and Influencing Skills. During the interview ask candidates to describe the people on the teams they’ve worked on as well as their role on the team. Those with the Achiever Pattern show a pattern of being assigned to growing and more important cross-functional teams. This could include early exposure to important business leaders. Find out how the person got assigned to the team, the reason they were assigned (this reveals the person’s core strengths), the success of the team project and what happened after the team project was complete.
  4. Rehired or Referred by Former Coworkers. For the past few jobs, ask how the person got the job and why they changed jobs. Those with the Achiever Pattern are typically promoted into the role or referred by a former coworker or hired by a former boss.
  5. Builds Great Teams. When hiring people for management positions it’s essential that they possess the Hiring Manager Achiever Pattern. Clues for this abound including low turnover, a formal approach to staff development, hiring former coworkers and hiring other top achievers validated by a major portion of their previous staff members getting promoted into bigger roles. These are the managers everyone in the company wants to work with and for so make sure you dig into this in detail during the interview.
  6. Receives Lots of Formal Recognition. It’s a good idea to ask candidates what type of formal recognition they received at each job. This could include special or bigger bonuses, letters of praise, public awards, some type of prize or some type of recognition at a company event.
  7. Intrinsic Motivation to Excel. At each job ask about where the person went the extra mile. Highly motivated people will have multiple examples and provide great details and insight as to why they took the initiative. The patterns reveal the type of work that is intrinsically motivating to the person. Map these to your real job needs to ensure a strong fit.
  8. Internal Mobility. The best people are given lateral moves to enhance their skillset and promotability. Ask about these moves, why they were given and what happened as a result. Be sure there is upward progress as a result, not just a series of lateral transfers.

Exceptional performers have an unusual gift: They are able to successfully handle different roles in different industries without needing the full complement of prerequisites. This makes finding and interviewing these people a challenge. It’s worth the effort. These tips will help you find some exceptional people everyone else has overlooked.

Posted in: Assessing Soft Skills, Controlling Bias, Current Articles

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