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Employability Today: Part 5 – Selecting Top Talent

Selecting Top Talent

Employability Today: Part 5

In Part 4 of this series we will look at the third and fourth pillars of Employable Talent – Strategic Career Planning and Active Financial Planning.  We will answered what these processes are and why they are important for today’s world of work.

For this next section, we will look at how to select the best candidate.  What to look for in a potential candidate and some new interview practices that will lead to a higher retention rate.

The fact is that most senior leaders are better at evaluating someone in their organization to then say they are not delivering, than it is for them to evaluate a person in the interview process to see if they will be able to deliver what they are looking for in the first place. The problem here stems from the poor foundation of interview management evaluation and process. 

One major hindrance on properly evaluating Employable Talent is emotional attachment. In our culture, we are socialized to want to like people and people to like us. So, we avoid asking definitive, directed questions that could cause one to fail in their answers. If one has enough courage to ask these questions and then the interviewee stumbles the interviewer is more likely to change the question in order to assist the interviewee. Instead, when one stumbles with their answer, the interviewer should prompt, “Take a few minutes to collect your thoughts as this is an important question.” It’s been found that people avoid this tactic as to not earn the reputation as a “mean interviewer”, however, not getting the answers needed in the interview can cause a wrong hire, which does more damage in the long-term for both the new-hire and the organization. 


Look to Miles LeHane for your executive and managed search needs – helping you find the right person with the right experiences and the right cultural fit.


The essence of Employable Talent is for one to use this concept to enhance their interview skills and see the value of how to look for such talent proactively versus reactively. Once you understand the context of employability today, many of your actions and activities will spring forth naturally. You’ll be better able to recognize individuals who can make specific contributions within your operating culture and to look past traditional indicators, such as what college they attended, what classes they completed, or the other tickets they punched. You’ll be able to identify individuals who can enhance your organization’s mission and generate contributive value. 

Selecting Best CandidateWith many potentially qualified applicants from which to choose, how do recruiters know who represents the best overall? One method is to identify “Employable Talent:” individuals who are aware of their own unique contributions as well as their blind spots. 

Most people are not willing to admit that they don’t know where their own true genius lies. They may be aware of the types of jobs and tasks that they don’t like to do and may even be able to rattle off their career-related weaknesses. But do they know— and can they describe—the unique and precious contribution that they bring to a team, department, or division? As an employer, you must identify those who understand their unique contributions as well as their weaknesses and blind spots.  

Winners Answer Candidly 

During interviews, job candidates are often asked, “What are some of your strengths?” Invariably, people can easily rattle off their strengths. Then they’re asked, “What are some of your weaknesses?” Most how-to books and articles advise job candidates to mention weaknesses but immediately turn them around and show how they’re actually strengths. 

That might have been a useful technique in years past, but today you want job candidates who are willing to objectively discuss their true weaknesses. We all have them. The candidate who avoids the issue is not being honest with you. Similarly, you should be candid when job candidates ask you what doesn’t work so well within your organization. 

A healthy percentage of the Employable Talent you will encounter started off in some other line of work. The prudent ones had perhaps already been evaluating their options. Such individuals have already done the hard work of determining where they should focus their attention and why a career in a new field would be motivating and inspiring. Ask them through the use of open-ended questions, why they chose their current field of endeavor. Ask in particular why they chose to interview with your organization. They’ll likely have more well-developed answers than others who merely are seeking to leave a particular industry or to land a new job quickly. 

Employment Interrupted 

The stigma of evolutionary job change is gone: Everyone is faced with it proactively or reactively. Learning and achievement are what counts—along with the skills that people acquire along the way that make them even more valuable, employable, and ready to add value to the next position or post. 

Suppose a job candidate has some periods of unemployment and you want to explore what he or she did during that time. You can ask open-ended and probing questions about their positions with other companies. You might ask, “In hindsight, what would you have handled differently today?” Or, you could ask, “What career experience was not as successful as you hoped it would be?” 

By asking open-ended questions, you get to explore their thought processes, their natural leadership style, how they express themselves, and what lessons they’ve learned. That opens the door to what I call the “contributive-value interview.” 

The Contributive Value Interview 

With advances in technology replacing routine positions, along with the globalization of competition and new ways of operating effectively, the career-ladder and accomplishment- based interview presentation styles do not effectively showcase the types of skills, knowledge, abilities, attitudes, and adaptability required to succeed in today’s workplace. 

Enter the approach highlighting the candidate’s “contributive value” and “critical thinking.” An estimated six or more candidates compete for every available position, compared to one or two historically. If a candidate hopes to be selected, this new style of job search must carry through the entire search and interviewing process. 

However, one thing many candidates fail to do is to look at the job requirements from the point of view of the CEO, what is the company looking for and how can the candidate then add value to the organization. Rather, they look at it from what they’ve achieved historically. They tend to authenticate on what they can do rather than how they think. It’s important for candidates to realize what balance of the Four Pillars this employer is looking to hire. 

During such an interview, your job as the employer is to look for the non-verbal cues that tell you how far along the job candidate is in terms of the Four Pillars. 

You’ve known the more obvious cues for years. Does the candidate arrive on time, dress appropriately, and appear prepared? Is the individual nervous or calm? What is his or her demeanor? How does he conduct himself? How well does she connect with you? How professional are his or her communications skills? 

While the old ways do not necessarily need to be thrown out, this new approach, emphasizing critical thinking, logic, collaboration, consensus building, and core values can build trust and respect across all cultural lines and boundaries. 

This new way of processing involves more than simply focusing on end results. Employers now factor an applicant’s employment journey into their resume and interviewing approaches. Today’s well-written Executive Summary will present an insight into this journey and will open up a dialog during the interview to probe the thinking, logic, and actions that were taken to add value to an organization. 

More than ever, one’s approach to daily operations at work and references take center stage. If they hope to land new positions, candidates need to present themselves as coordinated “packages” on paper and then again in the interview. Different thinking is necessary for a new age of sustainable global competition. 

Winners Follow Instructions 

A young man arrived at an interview for a part-time position and was disqualified as soon as he arrived. The problem was that the job candidate arrived wearing a jacket and tie, which would normally be a fine gesture. However, during the phone conversation before the interview, the job candidate was told several times that the company maintained an informal working atmosphere. 

What’s more: Following this phone call, the job candidate received an email reiterating the company’s relaxed atmosphere as well as explaining where to park, how to enter the building, and so on. When he arrived overdressed, he indicated that he had not listened and had not read, signaling that the young man would, in the future, likely head down his own path, oblivious to the directions that he received. 

Winners Come Prepared 

When HR recruiters or hiring executives are evaluating job finalists, the criteria shift from objective position specifications to subjective criteria. Subjective criteria can be as subtle as a handshake. Job candidates would shriek to learn that interviewers often rate a candidate’s clothing, handshake, level of eye contact, and vocabulary highly. Although perhaps only 5 percent of the criteria for potential employment opportunities are subjectively driven, these factors are key in deciding whom to hire from the final few. 

The extent to which a job candidate prepares and researches your respective position can tell you a lot about that person. A candidate with knowledge about your company and its objectives makes for an impressive interviewee, making your hiring decision easier. Determining whether such candidates represent Employable Talent is invigorating. 

Leadership Signals 

When someone has an appropriate professional appearance and speaks the right jargon, the efforts don’t go unnoticed; an impact is surely made. Impressive job candidates aptly demonstrate leadership during an interview without dominating the conversation or being overly aggressive. 

Suppose a job candidate is seated in the lobby, waiting to be called in for the interview. You arrive and say, “Hi, we’re ready to start.” The job candidate extends a hand, addresses you by name and says, “Thank you. I appreciate you spending time with me today for this interview. I understand that we have 45 minutes. Is that correct?” By offering an interrogatory not a declarative statement, this candidate is already engaging in relevant dialog. 

Suppose the candidate says, “I understand we have approximately 45 minutes to interview for the position of regional director.” Now, the job candidate has mentioned the name of the position and has helped to ensure that both of you are on the same page. When interviewing dozens of people, it’s possible for recruiters to get out of sync on occasion. So, when a job candidate mentions the position involved, it can prove to be helpful. 

Winners Self-Assess 

I was working with a client, and I said to him, “You’re going to meet the CEO for the first time. This person is going to cordially greet you but be looking for negatives. What might this person see?” So, my client assessed himself as objectively as possible and came up with three possible negatives. 

I was working with another client who was going to interview with a large, publicly traded company for a senior-level position. He would be encountering multiple days of interviews with individuals, groups, and boards. It was a rigorous process. Finally, on the last half of the final day, he would meet the CEO for several hours. 

At the end of the CEO discussions, as the job candidate bade the CEO farewell and was walked down the corridor with an assistant, he was asked one more question. I call it the “Columbo Question.” In virtually every episode, Columbo would make a person feel as if the questioning were done. Then he would say, “Oh, one more thing…” and ask a question to put the person off- guard and perhaps offer a crucial piece of information withheld during the earlier discussion. 

The Columbo question that the CEO asked of the job candidate who had just spent multiple days being rigorously interviewed was, “Are you over getting fired after 15 years at your last company?” As you might guess, this caught the individual off-guard. The first word out of his mouth was, “No.” Then he went on to say, “I’ll never forget my 15 years there.” 

The problem was that he led with the word “No.” Consequently, he didn’t get the job. Why? The organization was a highly visible public company. Suppose the company ends up in the public spotlight after a negative event, and a news reporter sticks a microphone in front of a senior executive and says, “Are you concerned about this situation?” If the executive leads with the word “No,” the company is in trouble. That “No” becomes a sound bite on the news. The reporter will go on to say that the company does not care about the impact of the situation or the people affected. 

Throw Them A Curve Ball 

Your job is to be on the lookout for candidates who seem to exhibit the Four Pillars. During job interviews, you could ask questions that you anticipate could have a negative impact on the interviewee, to see how that person will respond. 

Why ask job candidates difficult questions? Why try to catch them off-guard? If candidates are thinking only about their own experience, the response tends to be, “No, I’m still grappling with that,” or “I really didn’t get fired,” or another similar statement of resistance. If candidates pause for a moment and consider how a particular answer impacts other people and how it reflects upon themselves, they are more likely to answer in a way that will be supportive of the organization. 

More often than not, such a candidate represents someone who has a strong personal sense of balance. Especially in the case of senior-level positions, it is important for an executive to respond in ways that help people feel good—even when reporters are sticking microphones in his or her face. Such an executive will provide a response that you could run with on the evening news. 

Confronting Failure, Seeking Closure 

Is there a way to identify individuals who are not adept at coming to closure or achieving completion? This is where contributive-value interviewing comes into play. We all have had a project or outcome that wasn’t as successful as we had hoped. It is vital to know why a project failed and how we could have impacted that. 

In contributive-value interviewing, you may ask a job candidate to pick a project—successful or unsuccessful—that he or she worked on in the past. Job candidates who can explain how and why their projects worked or didn’t work and what they would do differently provide solid ground for ongoing discussions. 

I suggest asking a job candidate to explain a situation when he or she was in charge and things didn’t go according to plan. What would the candidate do differently in the same situation now? If an individual can’t give you a coherent answer, he or she may not be a viable candidate, particularly for a leadership or management position. People who offer well-reasoned responses as to what they would do differently have the potential to learn, grow, and flourish.

Unless recruiters, CEO’s, and management change their traditional frame of reference regarding employment and understand it in today’s context, they’re going to continually face disconnects with members of the talent pool, less-than-desirable results, and unexplained turnover.


In the next installment of Employability Today, we will focus on how to retain top talent within your organization and how to combat one of the biggest frustrations of CEO’s today. Discover the key to keeping your best employees!



Dr. David Miles is Chairman of the Miles LeHane Companies, Inc. He is a member of the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD), a member and founding chapter President of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the Association of Career Professionals (ACP) and a Charter Fellow of the Institute of Career Certification International (ICC International), as the largest global non-profit certification Institute.  Author of The Four Pillars of Employable Talent and Building Block Essentials.  Follow David on Twitter @David_C_Miles

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