June 03, 2021

Defining Talent Prior to Hiring

Written by Lisa Jaster

Finding a talented employee who is also the right fit for your company is an arduous task. We make it harder by incorrectly communicating what we are looking for in job posts. Then, to add insult to injury, we use a document full of ambiguous terminology, and hand it off to an HR team that wasn’t at the table when we wrote the job description.

Of course, if you want to talk about ambiguity, let’s start with where the problem begins. If you’re going to hire talented individuals, do you know what the word talent means to you and your management team?


What Makes Someone Talented?

Everyone is searching for talented individuals who can fix their organization or take them to the next level. Managers spend hours crafting job postings that list a myriad of critical skills for the company, but they miss the opportunity to draw out the proper attributes required.

Some of the best-crafted job descriptions are interchangeable between organizations. When I see brief nods towards attributes, those are also written out so vaguely that I can’t tell what the company requires.

My favorite is “must be capable of managing risk.” Hmm. Are you thinking about patrolling through minefields or placing soft mulch under a swing? Oh, you meant talking clients through high-risk investment payoffs?


Define Talent

If you are recruiting, hiring, and trying to retain talent, step one is defining what talent looks like for your organization and precisely for that team. This should be an in-depth and honest conversation with your leadership team, including Human Resources. Because we often have blind spots in this area, you may need to bring in some outside help to evaluate what attributes your team currently lacks.

Are you a metrics-driven company or a service-focused company? Is efficiency key, or do you pride yourself on a specific type of work environment? Be honest with yourself.

Are you bringing new people in to change the work environment? What would you want the organization to look like in six months if you found your ideal candidate? In a year? In five years? Are you in a growth stage, or are you working on doing more with less?

Even the most talented individuals are not suitable for every job, so you have to decipher what the word “talent” means to you.


Know What You Are Looking For

Now that you have a grasp of what you are looking for, the next step is helping your potential internal or external hire understand what kind of talent you need. Including job requirements in the posting only if they genuinely are skills that a person needs to succeed.

If you need a licensed engineer, state that, but dictate that an engineer with an existing PE (professional engineering license) is desired if the license isn’t critical right now but will be in the future. Still, you are willing to interview anyone with the ability and desire to earn their license in the next 3-5 years.

Now you’ve indirectly added the attributes ‘goal-oriented and driven’.

It’s also okay to indicate what you are not looking for. Maybe you want someone who wants to be an SME (subject matter expert) who will continue to grow within the role and doesn’t want to one day manage a team. That should come across in the posting just as quickly as when hunting for the next change agent.


Let The ‘Talent’ Understand Your Organization

Don’t shy away from including company personality indicators. Walking into Shell Oil Company was not the same as walking into M&S Engineering for me. Shell is clean lines with vending machines and designated areas for everything from phone rooms to workstations. M&S had animal heads on the walls and random flat surfaces spread out in the workspaces where employees gathered and looked over blueprints.

It’s important that potential employees can get a feel for the organization before they drive or fly in for an interview. It will help them know if they want to apply. 

Don’t be vague if you are searching for natural talent that you can bring into the fold and retain. Know and communicate what talent looks like to you. Don’t shy away from expressing actual needs and desired outcomes.


Show Authenticity

Don’t waste time explaining the company culture. Show potential talent the culture by how you recruit, interview, and hire. How nice would it be to read a job posting that states, “searching for an innovative manager with an engineering background that can lead a team to create solutions in a technically restrictive domain?” That tells me a lot about the organization and what they think a talented leader looks like.

Remember, the goal is to hire the right talent for your organization. That’s different than just “hiring talent.” 

Lisa Jaster graduated from the West Point Academy with a BS in Civil Engineering and was commissioned as an active duty engineer officer. During 2003, Lisa deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom as a company executive officer, later serving as the battalion operations construction officer. She attended the Army Engineer Officer Advanced Course at Fort Leonard Wood, MO, and earned her MS in Civil Engineering from the University of Missouri-Rolla in 2004. After leaving the Active Army, Lisa was employed by Shell Oil Company for 12 years. From April to October 2015, she took a six-month leave of absence and attended Army Ranger School, being one of three females that graduated from the first integrated Ranger School course. Lisa is married to a fellow reserve officer and has two children. She lives an active lifestyle competing in anything from ultra trail runs to CrossFit competitions. She loves martial arts training, specifically Jiu-Jitsu, and is always looking for the next challenge to tackle.

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