Looking to Hire Exceptional Employees? Look Beyond the Resume.

by Mar 7, 2023Business, Culture, Growth, Talent

When you are hiring exceptional people is never easy. You’re trying to fill an open position, you’re hoping to find someone great for the opportunity. But that’s the catch, right? How do you assess whether someone has that extra gear to take their work from good to great?

It turns out there is a way to help assess whether someone has the potential to become an exceptional employee. And you need to look beyond their résumé to find it.

A cut above the rest

I was recently speaking with a CEO friend of mine, Joel Trammel. At some point, our discussion centered on a subject that’s top of mind for just about every leader out there: hiring top talent.

Joel told me about his philosophy when looking for people he believes have the potential for exceptional performance. He does that by looking for ways in which people have proved themselves exceptional in other ways, and that usually doesn’t mean grades.

I was intrigued and asked him what he looked for to assess this trait in candidates.

He pointed to a recent example where he was interviewing a young engineer for an open position. A line at the bottom of this engineer’s résumé popped out to Joel: It said that this young man had set the American college record for the 200-meter butterfly.

That one bit of data told Joel much more about this young man than anything else on his résumé. He thought about how many thousands of swimmers had competed in that event over the years and how they had put in tens of thousands of hours of training since they were a kid, getting up at 5 a.m. each day to jump into a chilly pool to squeeze in some laps before school or work.

And, after all that, this young man had swum that event the fastest of any American in collegiate history.

For Joel, there was no better evidence that this was someone who could become an exceptional employee. This was someone who was a cut above the rest, disciplined and willing to do whatever it took to exceed. He hired the former swimmer on the spot.

Hunting for the exceptional

We can learn from Joel’s story that we can learn a lot about someone and their capabilities from learning more about what they do outside of work.

Participating in athletics is a great place to look for examples of how someone might show exceptional capabilities.

We’ve recently hired a new CEO adviser at the CEO Project who has competed in Ironman competitions for years. That race involves swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112, and running a marathon (26.2 miles). He aimed to qualify for the world championships in Hawaii, which he did. Any way you look at it, that’s exceptional.

But people might also show their exceptionalism if they competed on a math or debate team, started an online business at 14, or even excelled in e-sports. Another example might be someone who has painstakingly built a baseball card or stamp collection over decades worth thousands of dollars.

These are all instances of someone operating at the highest level in an area where they have passion. They have demonstrated high commitment and discipline to achieve something remarkable. That’s often the trait that separates A-players from the rest of the field.

Assessing true potential

Now, I realize that some readers might be asking whether it’s acceptable to ask candidates about their experiences outside of work. Yes, you can ask about these experiences because they relate to how someone might perform at work. You have to be careful about bias due to answers, but that is for another article.

Of course, you’ll also want to assess whether the person is also a cultural fit for your organization and has the technical ability or other specialized skills they might need to perform their job.

But if someone has checked off all those boxes, you can ask where they have demonstrated exceptional abilities in activities outside of work that show their true potential.

The idea is that when someone has demonstrated high capabilities in one area, they can also deliver in other ways.

Beyond the résumé

So, when looking for your next employee, please don’t stop at what they’ve listed on their résumé. Go hunting for examples of other places they have stood out and proved exceptional. When you find that, then you know you have a real winner on your hands.