Are We Hiring For Talent? I Don’t Think So!

by Etienne Besson on 15 March 2012

in My musings,Recruitment

Recruiters love to use the word “talent”. It sounds nice. But I believe that we still hire for skills and experience most of the times.

What Does Talent Really Mean?

We’re using the word talent more and more often, but it’s usually just a replacement for words like candidate or employee. Talent Acquisition is usually another expression for Recruiting and Talent Pools are often simply CV databases.

I won’t look it up on Wikipedia, but I read somewhere that talent manifests when people do things naturally. An IT Manager once told me that for him talent is when a person does things easily, maybe even without formal training. To him it is also an indicator for the ability to learn new things quickly and without much effort.

I also asked this question on Twitter:

Challenge: describe “talent” spontaneously in a tweet. What’s the first thing that comes to your mind?

And here are the replies I received:

  • @KirbyCole: “guitar or piano solo, first thing in my mind from word #talent”
  • @ryskicheyne: “Susan Boyle?? You did say the first thing…”
  • @jeffhilgers: “Winner.” -> by the way, please say hello to Jeff if you go to #TruStockholm on 28-29 March 2012 😉
  • @Kan_G_74: “talent = mouton à 5 pattes : candidat revé de l’entreprise” [talent = rare bird: the candidate companies are dreaming of]


Lets agree for the sake of argument that for many people talent has to do with the ability to perform something at a high level, successfully, and maybe even with apparent ease. But in most cases it also took a lot of time and effort to achieve this level of mastery.

So is talent simply another word for skill or ability? I think that talent usually also implies the potential to further develop this skill.

So Are We Really Hiring For Talent?

No, most companies don’t hire for talent.

What we really do is look for skills and experiences that match the job description. Because lets be frank, we often start the recruiting process when it’s already too late. This means that we can’t recruit somebody with great potential who could do a fantastic job in 6 months time.

Instead we will hire the person who can do the job well enough right now. This means that they already did this specific or a similar job before. And of course we can’t develop them too much because then they would ask for a new job and we would have to start the recruiting process all over again.

But Why Is It a Problem?

Humans like to learn new things and increase their abilities. And if we can’t do that then we become frustrated. That’s usually when we start updating our CV.

What Would Be Real “Hiring For Talent”?

I believe that hiring for talent should not only focus on the current skills, but also on the potential. But this also means that you must be willing and able to offer real development opportunities.

Otherwise it’s probably better if we go back to talking about candidates and employees.

But the question remains: are you hiring for talent or just trying to find somebody who can do the job right now (and will hopefully do it for as long as possible)?

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