If a manager is concerned about hiring a high achiever, you need to be concerned about the manager.

Last year, we ran a poll to see what percentage of hiring managers would hire a person who was light on experience but high on potential. Two-thirds said yes.

And how long does it really take to get one year of experience? Check this out:

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The continued use of skills- and experience-based job descriptions forces a company to hire average people. Because the best people learn faster and get promoted more often, they also have less experience and fewer skills. Offsetting this is something better: more upside potential.

I'm often asked how much experience a person needs to be successful. My response is always: enough to do the work. Some people need more, some need less, and the best people need the least.

If you want to see stronger candidates when posting jobs, emphasize the work that needs to be done rather than the skills needed to do it. For example, it's far better to say, "Lead and complete the marketing launch of the new fracking hydraulic high-pressure control-valve line by year-end," rather than, "Must have five-plus years oil field industry experience, a B.S. in mechanical engineering, two-plus years of high-pressure fluid dynamics experience, exceptional interpersonal and communications skills, a go-getter attitude, and be able to work closely with engineering and operations in a lean manufacturing environment."

Once you know what the person needs to do to be successful in the role, just ask the person what he or she has accomplished comparable to what you need done. You can use the "most significant accomplishment" to frame the question and get the information needed to make an accurate assessment.

Here are some other clues to look for to determine if the candidate is on a fast track:

1. Assigned difficult technical or business problems before peers were.

I used to ask first-year accountants at big CPA firms what clients they were assigned to and why. The best ones were always assigned to big accounts with difficult accounting issues to handle. It's the same with the best techies (and everyone else): They get assigned the most challenging tech issues to work on, not the simplest ones.

2. Given early exposure to senior management.

On a search for an HR director, I asked a young manager at a small division if she ever worked with company executives. She went on to tell me about a special project she was leading, reporting directly to the corporate CEO (of a Fortune 250 company) to implement a worldwide high-potential program. Of course, she was on it, too.

3. Assigned leadership roles in multifunctional teams before others with more seniority.

As part of the most significant accomplishment question, I have people describe the teams they were on and their roles. For those with the best team skills, these expand over time in size, scope, influence, and responsibility.

4. Seeks out more responsibility and opportunities to fail.

I remember a young manager of financial planning I placed who consistently went out of his way to get assigned to jobs over his head where it didn't matter if he stumbled a bit. He's now the EVP of a major Fortune 300 company. This is a common trait of high achievers.

5. The biggest accomplishment the person achieved with the least amount of skills and experience.

Don't be surprised that the best people are consistently given bigger challenges far beyond what would be expected given their level of skills and experience. Also, don't be surprised that they're typically successful.

High-potential candidates get more done with less experience and master whatever skills are required faster than their peers. I find it difficult to comprehend why any manager or business leader would preclude these candidates from consideration. Yet companies do just that with 95 percent of jobs posted online, and these very same managers and business leaders continue to complain they're not seeing or hiring enough top people. If a hiring manager is concerned about hiring a high achiever, you need to be concerned about the manager.

Published on: Jul 4, 2014
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