Talent: How to Identify Energizers, Creatives and Winners Around the World

Recruiting teachers is one of the most important aspects of leadership’s work in schools. I am always trying to improve our practices to get the best teachers that we possibly can. Good teachers drive student learning. On the long flight from Uzbekistan to the USA, I read Talent: How to Identify Energizers, Creatives, Winners Around the World. I listen to one of the authors’ podcasts, Conversations with Tyler and Tyler was interviewing Daniel. They referenced the book, so I bought it with the goal of helping me and our school be better at recruiting. Tyler Cowen is an economics professor at George Mason University. Daniel Gross is an Israeli/American entrepreneur and together, they have written an excellent book about recruiting. The book’s main message is for recruiters to develop a mindset to spot talent and to hone your judgment and data evaluation skills. “There is a shortage of workers and leaders that can make things happen.” This post is a summary of my notes from the book on how to find those workers. Note to self – I should re-read Chapter 10 “How to Convince Talent to Join Your Cause”.

2- How to Interview and Ask Questions: I lost confidence in the value of interviews over the years. I think you can learn more about a teacher by doing extensive interviews with references and watching them teach. This book helped me re-look at interviewing as a valuable tool for learning valuable insight about a candidate. The key is to get candidates into conversation mode and telling stories. The idea is to get them away from prepared answers to typical interview questions and to learn about the “everyday” candidate. Unusual questions can force them to reveal their true selves. Cowen and Gross focus on the unstructured part of interviewing. The book has an appendix of good interview questions that elicit specific information. Below are some salient points that I want to remember.

  • If you hear a person doesn’t practice their craft/job in their spare time, they are poorly suited for a top position. It is good to have an obsession with continual self-improvement.
  • Stories teach recruiters how a candidate organizes ideas, and adds emotions and narrative.
  • Pushing candidates or asking for further examples will reveal broader stores of intellect and energy.
  • Beware of people stuck in their past; look for people seeking to expand their sphere of people they can impress.
  • Don’t overestimate articulateness – focus on the substance of the answers.
  • Changing the physical setting of the interview gets candidates out of the protective mode and stops the candidate from falling back on preparation.
  • Get reference checks also into the conversation mode and let them know that a fault or weakness of the candidate is not going to ruin the recruiter’s opinion of them.

3- How to Engage People Online: Good questions to ask colleagues at the start of recruiting season are as follows:

  1. Why are person-to-person interactions often more informative than a Zoom call?
  2. In which ways might a Zoom call be MORE informative than a person-to-person?
  3. Does online charisma differ from in-person charisma?

What the authors think are missing in Zoom calls are social presence (interaction with others / project self image), info richness (how a person enters a room) and synchronicity (technical delays prohibit the natural exchange of ideas). Online interviews drain away status-markers, such as male height (good for me!) and push people to get to the point succinctly. Turn off the video to make a Zoom call more intimate.

5 – Five Basic Traits of Personality The authors think about what personality traits recruiters should be looking for. They list 5 traits for recruiters to consider.

  • Neuroticism – This is a negative trait, anger, fear, embarrassment, sadness, etc.
  • Extraversion – Engaging with others
  • Openess to Experience – Curiosity, new ideas
  • Agreeableness – Desire to get along vs. contrarian/competitive
  • Conscientiousness – Good at planning and a strong sense of duty

These are difficult to measure in an interview but they are something to have in mind. The recruiting team should be talking about how candidates score in these personality categories. Conscientiousness and extraversion are the two qualities that equate to higher salaries. Charisma is important for CEOs not CFOs. Avoid unethical people and 1 in 20 are toxic. Avoid lemon and look for fraud, falsifying documents, etc. “Personality is revealed on weekends”. Look for people with stamina as they have more energy which is better than “grit”.

“If you are hiring an executive, try to discern what they are doing all the time to improve their abilities at networking, decision-making, and knowledge of the sectors they work in.”

6 – More Exotic Personality Traits to Think About Cowan and Gross further expand on other personality traits that influence worker performance and recruiting.

  • Sturdiness is the quality of getting work done every day with extreme regularity and without long streaks of non-achievement.
  • Generativeness is a certain vitality to individuals that can be striking. They talk quickly, move quickly and in general seem to be enthralled with life.
  • Insecure Overachievement is the quality of never quite feeling comfortable with your output, despite knowing at a deep level that it is good.
  • Pessimistic Perfectionism individuals believe that their work is never good enough…person smart but never quite ready to put their work forward.
  • Happiness (or Fun-ness) always having a smile and a sense of amusement can be a powerful quality, ensuring that the person is almost always invited to participate in another endeavor.
  • Clutteredness people cannot express their ideas in clear, simple fashion. When you ask them questions, they will respond by piling new info on top of the old rather than by clarifying their initial point.
  • Vagueness and Precision – What bucket does the candidate fall more in, thinking in never-ending, mushy concepts so hard to mobilize vs. people getting to the point succinctly which may rub people the wrong way.
  • Adhesiveness – Social intelligence; knowing in a grouop who is doing their job, who is slacking, who are the leaders, who is stepping out of line, etc.
  • Ability to perceive, understand, and climb complex hierachies – “they know how to allocate their efforts, don’t let insecurities blind themselves to big picture; take on most relevent challenges; find help; choose goals well
  • Demand Avoidance – people who have a hard time knuckling under bosses; some people go around cursing the boss and moving from one job to the next; highly successful individuals are very good at being selectively disagreeable
  • How good is a person at opening up and understanding new and different cultureal and intellectual frameworks?
  • Know where you are in the pecking order of schools? Ask why does the person want to work with us?

8 – Why Talented Women and Minorities are still undervalued. Women score highter than men on traits of agreeableness, neuroticism, extraversion and openess. Men have higher variance of agreeableness, women of extraversion. Predicting gender of a person via personality traits is 85% accurate; personality for women predicts earnings more so than for men. Talented women seem to boast less and show less overt agression; One study showed criticism from female bosses are perceived 2x more negatively than from male bosses; deeper voices perceived as more authoritative; women more likely to use narrow, highly specific words and mane more likely to use broader, bigger picture words. labor markets reward confidence, sometimes even excess confidence; high confidence is demanded more at the higher job positions; It is harder for ambitious women to be seen as likeable; men have greater confidence in their ideas; talent spotters should pay greater heed to women coming from nontraditional backgrounds and who are late bloomers; women are better at assessing the intelligence of both men and women; make sure you have women giving feedback into your hiring process; higher intelligence ratings go to people who smile and wear glasses; always have woman in 3-partner interview panel; they are better than men at detecting deceit or disingenuous;

  • Women behave more risk-averse manner than men do
  • Women more averse to competition than men
  • Women suffer from a confidence gap relative to men
  • women “put themselves forward” less

Regarding culture, interviewees from many foreign cultures are more polite and distanced/formal than white Americans. Individuals from different cultures are harder to read. Both sides in an interview with a cultural gap, take fewer chances and are less natural, tell fewer jokes and reveal less about one’s personal life.

9 – Search for Talent in Beauty, Sports, and Gaming, or How to make Scouts Work for You – AI picks out the top possible fashion supermodels and sends them a text message; Houston Astros skip in-person scouting and use video and Statcast to measure massive amounts of data.

One thing schools can do is invest in soft networks, this includes just doing quality work in a publicly observable manner more than intentionally trying to build a network. There are specific things schools should do:

  • Top schools explicitly cultivate cooperative networks across their alumni and also across current and former faculty and students.
  • Some organizations explicitly organize a collection of experts and later draw on that community for help and advice, perhaps for hires.
  • Social media platforms can attract talent. (Twitter, blogs, YouTube, podcasts)

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