Past performance does not guarantee future success. That is a rule of thumb that most hiring managers should have when interviewing talent. Everyone wants to hire and retain top talent, but how do you determine what top talent is? Most people think this means hiring someone who has already done everything. If you were a tech company you could hire a senior leader from Google or Apple, but they are surrounded by colleagues and infrastructure that is world class. They often fail when leaving such an ecosystem and go to join a smaller firm, as they were successful because of the system they were in, not in spite of it. Instead you should look for talent that has the potential to succeed. But how do you do this?
Education means nothing
Show me one large company that would have made a 16-year-old kid named Richard Branson CEO of their business. Richard Branson did not finish high school. In fact, without a high school diploma, he would not have even been invited for an interview at any large organization. It is not just Richard Branson either. Jay-Z also dropped out of high school. Francois Pinault the founder of Kering – the group that owns Gucci among other brands, left school at the age of 11!
When you extend this to people without college degrees the list is even bigger. Ralph Lauren, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Coco Chanel, James Cameron, Larry Ellison none of them have a college certificate. Ironically, many of those same people would not make it on to their own companies graduate trainee scheme as they would have been considered underqualified at the same point in their career. Always remember that academic certificates are not an indicator of capability or potential – this has been proven countless times.
Focus on drive NOT ambition
Do you know the one thing all high performers have? A drive to work hard and achieve big scary goals and when they achieve them, set new goals. They are not satisfied with their achievements. When you interview candidates, you should talk about what they want to achieve in their life, not the next 3-5 years as is typical in an interview. Talking to a 22-year-old that tells you that they want to change the world and leave a lasting legacy gives you a much better insight than someone telling you they want to get promoted in 3 years’ time. But the test comes when discussing drive – they may want to change the world but what are they doing about it? Everyone claims to be ambitious, very few demonstrate the drive to fulfil those ambitions.
In fact, one of my favourite interview questions when assessing for potential is to ask someone what they would do with their life if I gave them $1billion. 98% of people will buy a big house, go on holidays, buy expensive cars and clothes etc. That is not the mentality of a potential superstar. But the other 2% will clearly stand out. In my experience, I have seen two main responses. The first says that they will take care of their family and then dedicate their life to setting up charitable foundations and helping as many people as possible. The second will tell you they will start a business and try and turn it in to $2billion. Think about the answer in terms of Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos – drive is something that cant be turned off. They both built businesses that earned them more money than they could ever spend. So, what did they do? They decided to start space companies instead of sitting around on the beach. They arent working to pay the bills, they are driven to achieve big things even when they have no reason to be.
Alternatively, if you dont like this type of theoretical question you can focus on more practical questions to identify their level of drive. A simple question would be to ask what the persons side hustle is – someone with high drive is always working on something. They will work hard for the company during work hours and then afterwards they will be working on something else because they cant turn that switch off. If they dont have a side hustle perhaps they are training to compete in a marathon or some other kind of sport. Failing that, are they showing signs they are investing in their own growth by learning new skills or concepts in their spare time for fun? Anyone doing these things when they dont have to is usually a clear sign of high drive and drive is the true indicator of potential.
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