Sometimes you meet or get resume from promising people who simply have no experience in the field you are hiring for. How can you judge their potential without your usual references? They might be new because they are just starting or they recently switch their career path. But without relevant experience, what signs should you be looking for to identify A-players?
2 very good answers found on Quora, one for Yishan Wong, probably the most interesting Quora user on recruiting topics.
Here’s his answer:
This is derived from my observations of young engineers and new managers, so it may be limited in relevance to other fields:
- Has a lot of book-knowledge about the field: means they probably cared enough to study up on it even before they started getting field experience.
- Grasps core concepts more quickly than peers, especially more experienced peers.
- Very motivated and puts in extra time. Sometimes, pure effort and personal energy is the sole differentiating factor in performance.
- Cares about small, key details. Most people who are mediocre at something will gloss over details, but a common sign of people who turn out to be exceptional performers is that they care about details that others discount.
- Has a lot of good ideas on how things can be improved. Good ideas, not just ideas.
- Easily identifies other experts around them and tends to pay attention to them (either actively or quietly), i.e. looking for top-performing role models for examples of how to grow.
You have to distinguish strongly (I can’t emphasize this enough) between evolutionary and revolutionary potential. For a young and growing field, the former kind of high-potential people are a lot more important. For a mature, plateau field, the latter are more important. Evolutionary potential people won’t question assumptions too deeply, will know all the canonical stuff and charge ahead and add a lot of value very quickly that strengthens prevailing paradigms. Revolutionary potential people will cause creative destruction and disturb and weaken paradigms. They may cause more damage initially than add value. Some are pure destroyers.Even at much smaller scale, you have a difference.Evolutionary is fairly close to Joel Spolsky’s Smart, and Gets things Donehttp://www.joelonsoftware.com/ar…Revolutionary is closer to Done, and Gets things Smart
But at much larger scales, the distinction is more marked.
Revolutionary potential people are alphas-in-waiting, and if they can’t make alpha, will choose delinquency over following another alpha. They will generally gravitate to positions where prevailing alphas are losing their grip and are vulnerable to a take-down, or at least poaching of enough following to fuel a rival authority center. If they can’t find a suitable revolutionary opportunity, they will generally slack off on the margins.
I like revolutionary potential people a great deal more than evolutionary potential people, so my way of spotting that kind of talent is to keep an eye on the margins. Look for apparent slacker-cynics who seem to have a lot of talent, but also seem to be wasting it. In a sense, they are the evil twins of evolutionary potential people thatYishan Wong has described well. They are similar in many ways, but with just enough subtle differences in the DNA so they turn into evil twins. So I’ll reproduce Yishan’s DNA list and splice in the evil-twin mutations.
- Has a lot of book-knowledge about the field: but often very non-standard/non-canonical. Will often be missing core canonical knowledge skills, but know far too much about obscure stuff. Things that will seem bizarre to the field’s leaders. Will almost certainly fail standard skill tests like those recommended by Spolsky.
- Grasps core concepts more quickly than peers, especially more experienced peers, but will usually prefer to articulate them in very strange ways.
- Apparently unmotivated and wastes a ton of time. Puts in a lot of energy and personal effort in invisible, hidden private side projects that are relevant to, but not aligned with, the employer’s/field leaders’ ideas of priorities.
- Cares about small, apparently irrelevant details. Most non-revolutionaries will agree on which details matter. Revolutionaries will come across as obsessive compulsive about strange non sequitur things.
- Can generate good (but not great) ideas on how things can be improved if forced to, but is generally contemptuous of the idea that they should be improved and will avoid that kind of work. Far more likely to secretly believe that incumbent things should be put out of their misery.
- Easily identifies other misfits, dissenters and revolutionaries-in-waiting around them and tends to pay attention to them (either actively or quietly). Will be constantly looking for ways to grow a subversive team of mutineers on the margins.Obviously, in young, growing organizations that have much of the potential of the existing paradigm/vision left to realize, this profile is somewhere between useless and fatally dangerous to bring on board. But for mature organizations, or ones that are somehow “stuck” or unable to grapple with a specific new challenge, this is often exactly what you need. The trick is to spot such brewing mutinies early and co-opt them and give ‘em enough rope (i.e., resources) to either cause a successful revolution (i.e. hang the incumbents) or hang themselves.I find it incredibly funny that employees of startups/young organizations have a self-image of being revolutionaries when they are the exact opposite (though they may be participating in revolutions on a larger scale, the actual revolutionary DNA is usually entirely confined to the founders). They see no cognitive dissonance between their kool-aid drinking and their revolutionary pretensions. In fact, in revolutions, the only people who are not drinking the kool-aid are the leaders.Except for the founders, people who join startups later are classic evolutionary potential people with a self-perception of being revolutionary, whose own startup-dreams are very easily reined in by stock options. True revolutionary potential people rarely even think hard about walking away from incentives designed for evolutionary types. They have a certain self-destructive bloody mindedness that makes them do such obviously financially unsound things. So if you want to retain such talent, the best incentive you can provide is to create opportunities for them to unleash some mayhem.
If you like genetic/optimization analogies, revolutionaries are mutations that can help you escape local optima because they have a perverse taste for moving away from local optima. Evolutionary talent can help you get to local optima if you’re already somewhat close.
If you like your paleo archetypes, they are the modern middle class equivalents of alpha-challengers who are dangerous not because they are stronger or more skilled warriors, but are simply not scared of death or intimidated by authority/reputation. They are willing to stake it all and lose it all. Few modern middle class people have that level of bloody mindedness, but revolutionaries are generally less prone to middle class fears like unemployment, destitution, homelessness, losing friends, falling from a social class or bankruptcy. They may have delusions about their ability to handle such things, but the point is, deluded or not, they are not scared of such prospects and therefore act in crazy ways with respect to normal carrots and sticks.