Crash course: How to find hidden talent

The best person for the role might be closer than you think.

by Natasha Abramson
Last Updated: 21 Jan 2020

Recently, Taco Bell announced it would offer $100,000 for some general manager positions - an increase of up to 100 per cent. The reason will be a familiar problem for many businesses - they were struggling to attract the necessary talent.

This might seem odd, especially for a well-known brand with access to a wide range of job-hunting apps. One conclusion is that there’s a talent shortage, and in some industries and for some functions there clearly is. But could it be the case that businesses are failing to find ‘hidden’ talent that’s right before their eyes?

Possibly. Talent is nascent potential, performance in waiting. It is also contextual. For talent to develop and grow, it needs to be cultivated in the right environment, says Tomas Chamarro-Premuzic professor of business psychology at UCL and Columbia Universities, and author of The Talent Delusion. This means an individual may not be suited for certain roles but could perform exceptionally well in others.

So before you offer big bucks to outside hires, what can you do to find the hidden talent that’s already in the firm?

Look harder. "Organisations can do better when it comes to identifying what talents people actually have," says Tomas Chamarro-Premuzic. "We're still living in an age that over relies on hard skills, credentials, the stuff that you report on your resume or your LinkedIn profile," the psychologist said. "That provides a very limited impartial perspective on your talents because it doesn't tell me anything about your people skills, your creativity and your ability to manage yourself or manage other people, your learning ability or your adaptability."

Invest in psychometric tools. "Life is quite data-driven," says Tom Gowing, regional director of Morgan Philips-owned recruitment firm Fyte. "Whether we realise it or not, data is the driving force behind a lot of marketing. And you can, to a certain extent, put that behind some hiring decisions. Not exclusively, but it's another thing you can use to help you identify the right person," he explains.

Don’t overvalue experience. It can keep talented people hidden from view. For example, a person with high potential might apply for a role they are perfect for but will often not get the job if there is another candidate with more experience. "Because companies have a short-term focus, they overestimate the importance of whether someone has done something before or not. And typically, companies go for the more experienced candidates. They see it as a safer bet," said Chamarro-Premuzic.

Develop a strong employer brand. As Gowing explains, no matter where the talent lies, employers still need to convince people to want to work - or stay - there. This is ultimately best done by building a great employer brand and developing a strong purpose. "You need one or both, preferably, alongside your social media presence. It’s really high up there in terms of requirements." It differentiates companies from each other in order to attract the right talent.

Image credit: Getty Images


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