Human Capital & Careers

Hidden Talents

Reducing people to numbers is a sure way to miss what makes some individuals special.
Laura DeMarsFebruary 15, 2006

There’s no going back. Having succeeded at helping human resources streamline and automate transactional HR functions such as payroll and benefits enrollment, CFOs are looking to do more. They are hard at work bringing their analytic and quantitative skills to higher-level processes like recruiting, training, and performance review. And surely these endeavors are worthwhile.

But when it comes to assessing people, data warehouses and spreadsheets are no substitute for a firm handshake and a good conversation. Analytics might inform decisions, but they shouldn’t make them.

A candidate may look ordinary on paper, but there are many intangibles that can make him or her a star performer in practice. Leadership, creativity, and initiative are attributes that may not be evident on a résumé or in a review file. “Drive and motivation are probably the hardest qualities to measure, because the only real way to do it is by observing people for a couple of years on the job,” says James Benton, a senior executive in the human-performance practice at Accenture in New York.

Executive recruiters, who spend their careers judging talent, say that people rarely fit into neat classifications. They suggest looking for signs of “learning agility,” curiosity, and empathy to get a feel for who job seekers really are. “Résumés make it easy to see whether candidates have the knowledge and qualifications for a job but don’t say how well they’ll fit in,” says Charles Eldridge, managing director of the financial-officers practice at Korn/Ferry International in Atlanta.

Finding hard-to-measure qualities could be as easy as surveying candidates’ behavior during the interview process, says Lorraine Hack, executive director at recruiter Russell Reynolds Associates in New York. “Pay attention to how they treat the assistant before an interview, whether they are humble enough to ask questions, and whether they are willing to lead the discussion,” advises Hack.

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