Validating Talent

Back in April, I wrote a post on Discovering Talent, with five recommendations to help make sure your sources for bringing talent into your recruitment shortlist are up and running.  

With the talent floodgates open, and assuming you now have dozens of applicants in your pipeline, making that shortlist should be pretty simple.  Well, to some extent.  Back in my Defining Success article, you’ll have seen what you need to help refine your shortlist - the KPIs, the mandatory experience, the skills and behaviours you need to see evidence of.  This is pretty much your list of non-negotiables, and anyone that doesn’t meet them is probably not going to shine in your open role.  So it's ok to disqualify them.  

Now let’s say you’ve got five people in your interview shortlist and on paper, they’ve got the non-negotiables covered.  You’re already in a winning position right?  Not necessarily.  It's time to do some serious diligence in a career spanning interview.  This is not a time for trick questions, or a friendly chat over coffee.  You need to find out if your shortlist can walk the walk and make a difference in your business.  Here’s five points to stay on track when validating talent and help you make your final decision on the ‘chosen one’…

Cutting In

Some candidates are very concise in their answers, and others less so.  After ten minutes of rambling, you might be wildly disillusioned about a candidate who hasn't learned the art of the executive summary.  Don’t be too proud, they’ll keep going if you don’t interrupt them and likely end up drifting wildly into non-relevant territory.  That’s not their issue, its yours.  You have a job to do which is validating their career journey, so interrupt them politely.  You don’t have to be rude - you can smile and quickly playback what they’ve just said, and move onto your next question.  For example, “Ah, so Glen was clearly pivotal in that project, that’s great!  Now, tell me what were your departmental KPIs?” is a polite and easy way to stop your candidate in their tracks without bruising their ego.


It’s all about track record.  Seriously.  When you’re working in product roles, everything comes back to outcomes and moving the needle for the business and its customers.  So be curious about statements of accomplishment, and find out their value.  A significant systems integration or product launch is a great achievement, but why?  What was the problem it was trying to solve?  What were the metrics that needed improving?  What do the metrics look like now?  What was the value created?  Don’t scrimp on the answer here, you need to know that your candidate is focused on outcomes that matter, not just delivery. 

The Pull Factor

Find out how your candidate navigated between all of their job roles.  This can reveal important tell signs about the value they’ve created to their business, their clients, or the people around them.  If they’ve consistently hit it out of the park, they will have been pulled to better opportunities, such as their #1 client hiring them, their old boss recruiting them for a stellar new role, the MD asking them to take a promotion, or a referral from a former peer into their new boss.  On the flip side, if you’re consistently hearing that the departure was mutual, they weren’t getting on with management, their role shrank, they missed their KPIs or someone else got promoted over them, then maybe this candidate isn’t going to be the right match for you.

Real-World Examples

When a candidate starts describing their attributes and why that makes them perfect for your role, it's time to get curious.  “I’m a team player, an excellent communicator and I know how to lead teams.”  Think how many times you have heard these statements in the past.  You may have used them yourself when you were interviewed back in the day.  Now is a good time to probe.  What examples can they give you that demonstrate their supremeness in communication, or their ability to play a strong role in an effective team?  Let them explain it and make sure it's clear in your mind.  Can you picture it, or have they skirted around the answer?  Equally don’t be afraid to ask the question about your candidate’s kryptonite.  What makes them falter, and are they aware of the blind spots?  What are their coping mechanics to turn those weaknesses into strengths?  Again, ask for examples of how these play out in the real world.  You’re shooting for the most accurate picture of your candidate possible. 

Stop at the Red Light

If you’re frequently hearing the word ‘we’ in relation to performance and outcomes, it's time to pause.  “We delivered a 5x uplift on user engagement across the site with the rollout”  It sounds great on paper, but you should prefer ‘I’ to ‘we.’  Get specific and ask what their exact role was in the delivery of that outcome.  Were they pivotal in the achievement or riding someone else’s high?  Again, this is a good indicator of whether someone can actually do the job you are hiring for.  Distinguishing between bold claims and fact could be the crucial difference between getting a hire right or wrong.  

It’s a lot to remember isn’t it?  The main point is to never take anything as read.  Yes, on paper everything looks great, and you can set a theoretical task to test for aptitude.  But the real story lies in the career journey.  Look for patterns, seek out the facts, and you give yourself the best chance of validating the right fit for your company. 

What's inspired me recently...

A few years ago, I read Yvon Chouinard’s ‘Let my People go Surfing.’  As a fan of the Patagonia brand, I was desperate to read the perspective of their founder.  At the time, his words felt profound.  Truly understanding your business impact on the planet, and putting the best interests of the people at the centre of your business felt aspirational to me, but materially out of reach.  Its quite amazing what a global health crisis can do to totally reshape trading and the candidate market.  While it feels like we’re all starting to adjust to getting ‘back to normal,’ its very much a new normal and I like the challenge I’m seeing to businesses on their ethics and employer value propositions.  Momentum has well and truly shifted.  Seems like Yvon had it right all along…

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Glen Duncan

14th June