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Is Talent Overrated?

Posted by jamesseetoo on February 5, 2010

It’s a fact of life that when you live in Southern California there’s less opportunity to read than there is when you live in New York City or any other place where you have to rely on mass transportation. After all, when you’re crammed into a sardine can with your fellow human beings pressed all around you a good book or a cheap newspaper can be the life-preserver that saves you from drowning in too much contact with your fellow human being.

Granted, there’s always the sport of people watching which is pretty interesting, especially when you’re there’s a myriad of people from all over the world sitting on top of you but all in all, you end up getting a lot of reading in.

So I’ve turned to audio books. Yes, I know it’s a geek thing but at least I have them on my iPod, well maybe it’s not so cool since it’s a Classic and not a Touch, but hey, books take up a lot of space and 64GB just doesn’t cut it. I listen while I’m sitting in my car and while it’s not the same, at least I’m listening to someone reading.

And one of those books is: “Talent is Overrated” by Geoffry Colvin. Colvin’s book sets out to dispel the idea that people are born athletes, musicians, writers – well you get the idea. Basically he says it’s hard work that wins the day. Hurray for the tortoises of the world! He makes a pretty good case that someone like Mozart became a genius by working really hard from a very young age with a father who was not a musical but a pedagogical genius. That’s pretty compelling.

So, as a recruiter, if I’m looking for “talent” am I looking for the wrong thing?

Well, yes and no. I think of talent as a raw material or if you’re more technologically savvy you can think of it as bandwidth. The real question is, is that bandwidth being used properly? Like empty bandwidth or a raw material like crude oil there’s potential in talent. But is that potential being realized? And it goes beyond schooling or starting out with a great company. Those things are great for a resume but the real question is, what has the candidate accomplished?

Colvin uses Jeff Immelt, CEO of GE and Steve Balmer. CEO of Microsoft as examples of talent that was refined from the beginning. They started together at P&G and he uses them as examples of people who have distinguished themselves from all the others who started out at P&G at the same time. Now, I would say that yes, they’ve both distinguished themselves but in my mind, they haven’t really achieved anything good for their companies, but that’s another discussion.

It’s enough to say that regardless of pedigree, and yes, there are some companies that love pedigree (Ivy League, Harvard Business School etc.) these are not necessarily indicators of achievement. It’s what you do with the talent you have that counts.

So if you’re putting together your resumé or interviewing, make sure you speak to achievement. Here’s a tip, try framing your achievements in terms of SMART: Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic, Time Bound. In other words, what did you do, how did you do it, what was the result compared to the goal, did you make your goal on time?

People have said to me, “you’re a talented recruiter,” and I always say, it’s not talent, it’s skill.

Remember, your skills are your job security.

Best,
James Seetoo

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