The Big Five Keys to Talent

4 min read

A headhunter’s perspective on Potential versus Experience

I’m sure many of you have heard me say, “People are hired for what they’ve done, but fired for who they are…”It’s true…been saying this for many years. Our retention for placed candidates is insane – 93% stay at least three years. According to the WSJ, the national average is only 35% employees stay longer than three years in a job. So why are we successful? Because we take a different approach. Sure, we look at a candidate’s experience, but we meet all of our candidates and closely assess them for Potential. Yes, potential. My clients will take potential over experience any day of the week. Moreover, this notion is now supported by a recent article in the Harvard Business Review (June 2014).I will send anyone interested a PDF copy of this article. I highly recommend it to everyone. Follow the advice and you will experience more professional growth than others, be happier in your job than others, and make more money than others. According to this June HBR article, there are four necessary components to Potential:1) Curiosity, 2) Insight, 3) Engagement, and 4) Determination. Let’s take a closer look and look inward. Do you have these?

Curiosity: do you have an intellectual desire to learn more; are you a seeker of new experiences and knowledge? Are you open to change? This is probably my favorite component because finding people who are genuinely curious these days is becoming increasingly rare. Who has the time? Are you content to mentally check out when the 5PM work whistle blows? Or are you on your way to an stimulating extracurricular activity of some sort? Do you read books? Are you active in the community? Or perhaps you are simply a “helicopter parent” spending all waking moments indulging your children. Hey, I had three, but I let them roam a bit and they are doing just fine. Are you an intellectually curious person seeking out new challenges? How are you cultivating your mind? If you are, where is this on your resume? Include a section, “Outside Interests”. It’s one of the first things we look at when getting a new resume. LOL, the fact that you have read this far is a strong indication that you meet this criterion. Congrats!

Insight: this is the ability to gather and make sense of information that suggests new possibilities. Do you see patterns? Good at puzzles? Are you good at taking raw data and putting into a format that makes sense? Insight is the father of Judgment. Do you make good decisions in a logical way? Have you always had good relationships with people…able to select good friends to hang out with? My dad used to tell me, “show me who your friends are and I will tell you who you are”. Account managers and producers all need excellent insight to be successful.

Engagement: this one is relatively simple and, in most cases, you either have it or you don’t. Unfortunately, you can’t teach this. Simply put, this is the ability to connect with someone. Not small talk, but to have a meaningful conversation with someone one-to-one. And, sure, it helps if you have some life experiences to share with the other person. My standard advice to young people: take experience over things. This attribute is actually the critical component for a successful producer. If you can’t connect as a producer or any kind of a salesperson, you are doomed for failure. When I meet with candidates for coffee, I can tell within the first five minutes of the conversation if this individual can connect.

Determination: My favorite. Determination can overcome most obstacles, but because of burnout, a determined person must also be an interested person to perform over the long haul…interested in what he/she is doing. Otherwise, burnout will creep in. I LOVE candidates who have this attribute. They are candidates who played competitive sports at the collegiate level, worked their way through college while working full-time, had a paper route at the age of 12, or worked in several summer internship programs. And there are those candidates who were raised in very humble beginnings where Mom and Dad were working multiple jobs to put food on the table. That builds family character. I LOVE these candidates!

Motivation: I add this one only because individuals motivated by something qualitative are always outperform their peer groups. It could be motivation by fear, money (producers), family, legacy, purpose. My favorite is: “I want to be the best of the best”. I heard that two years ago from a freshly minted college graduate from George Mason University. He is a producer with a large DC-based client of ours. He’s absolutely killing it.


So what does all this mean for you? It means if you have all these attributes, you had better buckle your seat belt. You are going places. These are the attributes that the “big-time” Tier One insurance brokers and agencies are seeking now in the WDC metro market. I know. These are the candidates getting all the good jobs. Don’t be left behind. It’s in your hands. You are in control now.

THE TAKEAWAY: Take a look in the glass and ask yourself, “Do I have these attributes?” And if you don’t, the next question should be, “how can I develop these attributes better?” And if I really want to get ahead in my career, just maybe I should think more about what I do both during and after work to develop these key attributes of highly successful people. VR Robert Houghton

Recent Posts