How to Spot Top Talent During the Interview Process

how to spot top talent during the interview process

If you look around the blogosphere, you'll see that a great deal has been written on the interview process, including how to interview, the various approaches to interviewing, behavioral interviewing techniques, what questions you should and shouldn’t ask, etc. However, what has not been written about as much is how to evaluate the responses that candidates provide to those questions. To that end, I will provide you some insight on how to spot top talent during the interview process.

The first recommendation I have is this: the first interview is NOT about whether you like the person or not. This person may be your next best friend, but that does not mean they can do the job. Therefore, the first interview is purely about determining if they can do the job. While the second and third interviews (and yes, there should always be at least three before you make a hiring decision) also serve to further determine if they CAN do the job, a little about DO THEY WANT TO DO THE JOB, HOW THEY WILL FIT IN WITH YOUR COMPANY CULTURE and finally, how you, their supervisor, will get along with them. 

With the above in mind, the following responses will help you to spot top talent during the interview process.

how to spot top talent during the interview process
  1. The ideal candidate should be able to describe a process that resulted in them achieving a result rather than just talking about tasks they worked on. When it’s all said and done, it’s about getting things done to accomplish the objectives.
  2. Listen for past experiences andlessons they learned rather than listening to them tell stories. You want to know that they are continually learning, reading, attending workshops, etc. Be very cautious of KIA’s (Know It Alls). The best candidates are those who are always seeking ways to improve themselves,and they are transparent, which means that they can share how they learned the hard way.
  3. They should be able to describe the critical elements to plan implementation. For example, when you ask them about how they go about assessing their team or the existing processes and systems, they should describe in detail the specific methodology and steps they use to evaluate, develop a plan for improvements and track and measure the progress to achieve the end result.
  4. They should describe creative and effective strategies. To test this, ask them how they interview. How do they know that the person in front of them is right for the role? If they say, “I have a keen gut feeling and can sense it,” that's the wrong answer. You want to hear them describe a detailed process that incorporates several elements, including creative interviewing techniques, other team members, assessment tools, reference checks, etc.
  5. Listen for “we” language, rather than “I” language. Top talent will share credit and work as part of a cohesive team. They don’t describe “doing it themselves” and take work from others when they perceive it isn’t being done right. They will describe how they helped others. CAUTION: make sure you also hear what their specific role was. Did they just bring coffee, or did they actually contribute something meaningful, and if so, what? Top Talent can distinguish between what their responsibility is and what belongs to others.
  6. Evaluate their active listening skills. Top talent will ask for clarity. They don’t leap to assumptions and will occasionally repeat your question to be sure they are answering what you asked. They will ask if what they responded to is what you were looking for.
  7. There is minimal drama in their stories. They don’t blame others, and they don’t describe themselves as victims or heroes. You will hear no dramatic tones of voice or see any finger pointing. They simply provide the details of how they accomplished results.
  8. They come prepared: they talk about the research they have done on the company and you and have prepared great questions about the role, their responsibilities and what resources they will or will not have. They will ask about the stability of the company (financially and emotionally). They take notes, so they can reference them after the interview. These are all great signs that they are looking for a career and not just a paycheck.

Your turn: How do YOU spot top talent during the interview process?

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