How to Double Your Business Impacts by Assessing a Candidate’s Career Trajectory

As seen on LinkedIn Talent Blog October 12, 2017.

Republished on Energy Central as 15 Ways to Assess If a Candidate Has High Growth Potential.

Any recruiter or hiring manager would be crazy not to consider a recruiting approach that could double the value they bring to the company. Well, this amazing result can be obtained by hiring individuals that have what is known as a “steep career trajectory” or high potential to succeed. If you’re not familiar with the term, a “steep career trajectory” means that you hire someone that is not only capable of doing the job that they are hired for but also for the “future value” that they will add.

That future value comes because they will stay with the firm longer. And during that time they will continually develop advanced skills and add even more value as they are promoted up into numerous higher level jobs.

How To Assess Whether A Candidate Has A Steep Career Trajectory

Once you understand the value of these strategic new hires, the next step for recruiting leaders is to develop a process for forecasting the career trajectory of candidates for your technical jobs. Some of the best companies (Google, Dell, Zappos and Amazon) have used a combination of assessment approaches including examining LinkedIn/resume content, asking references, adding targeted interview questions, peer interviews and employee assessment for their referrals.

However, before you can start assessing, you must answer the most important question, which is “What are the indicators of a steep trajectory for new-hires?” The top 15 career trajectory indicator factors are listed below, with the best predictors listed first. I also call them “game changer factors” because individuals with these advanced capabilities literally change the game at a firm because they make amazing new things possible.

The 6 foundation factors that are essential for having an above average career trajectory

If the individual doesn’t have at least five of these six foundation factors, the odds are low that they will have a steeper than average career trajectory.

1. A track record of continuous rapid learning

In a fast-changing world, ideas and solutions quickly become obsolete. Therefore there is literally nothing more important than hiring individuals that continually grow and learn on their own. Google found this to be the top indicator across all jobs. So look for candidates that continuously produce new knowledge or that on their own stay on the leading edge of knowledge in both their field and in the broader business environment.

2. A track record of continuous accomplishments

You can’t expect individuals early in their career to have multiple promotions. But you can expect candidates at every level to have a track record of continuously higher level job-related accomplishments. So look for a level of accomplishments that are uninterrupted and beyond the average for individuals at this point in their career. The best will also be able to quantify their accomplishments in dollars.

3. Continually seeking more responsibility

For more experienced candidates, look for individuals that have continually and rapidly moved up job levels. For all candidates, but especially for those with less experience. Don’t be overly concerned with formal job titles but look for them accepting increasing levels of responsibility and accountability, without plateaus or gaps.

4. Their leadership has produced results

A steep career trajectory and rapid promotion require an individual that moves beyond their technical job and accepts the role as a leader, even if it’s an informal sub-team leadership role early in their career. However, being a leader isn’t enough; you have to produce measurable results with each leadership opportunity.

If an experienced person already has had one or more formal manager or leadership titles, you only have to assess whether they desire to lead at higher organizational levels continually.

5. Evidence that they are self-motivated with drive

A new hire that has to be continually motivated and pushed won’t go as far and as fast as a self-motivated individual. So look for candidates with internal drive, a strong work ethic, a track record of continually “finding work” and seeking out and taking ownership of problems around them. If a candidate has at any point in their career plateaued in their level of initiative and drive, they must be discounted.

6. Projected long-term retention

Having each of the above five indicators is critical. However, these attributes can only produce continuing long-term value at your firm if the new-hire stays longer than your firm’s average employee tenure. In order to determine if a candidate is a retention risk, you should obviously look at a candidate’s past job jumping.

However, it’s also important to also assess the individual’s likelihood of staying at your firm longer than their past average tenure. Look for factors that might cause them to stay longer this time, including meeting their dream job criteria and their level of understanding of and passion for your company’s goals, products and customers.

Incidentally, you can still hire steep trajectory individuals that have a higher probability of leaving, but you must focus your retention efforts and stay interviews efforts on them to ensure that they have more than sufficient reasons to stay.

9 additional factors that make a strong career trajectory steeper

7. A track record of acting strategically

Those with a standard career trajectory are only capable of focusing on the present and what is happening immediately around their current job. So in order to get steep career trajectories, look for candidates with a track record of being “focused on the future.” That also means looking for those that have demonstrated a strategic “big picture” perspective by successfully “connecting the dots” by identifying and understanding the inter-relationships between multiple seemingly unrelated internal and external factors.

8. A track record of adopting technology 

There is little doubt that technology will dominate our future. So it’s important that you identify candidates with a track record of being first in seeking out and adopting new technologies. Those with a fear of change or new technologies need to be discounted.

9. A track record of influencing and selling

The future of management requires influence rather than command-and-control. Therefore you should look for a track record of successful executive presentations and influencing others to act as a predictor that this individual can get their agenda implemented. In a highly competitive and political corporate world, successfully influencing those that don’t report to use is essential.

10.  A track record of adaptability

All firms currently operate in what is known as a VUCA world. Defined by a great deal of uncertainty, volatility and constant rapid change. In this environment, it makes sense to look for candidates that are highly adaptable. Meaning that they have a track record of quickly pivoting, adapting, scaling and going in an entirely different direction when the competition, the market, or technology demands it.

11. Demonstrating they have speed and a sense of urgency

It’s simply a fact that certain new hires can do the same tasks and make decisions much faster than the average while maintaining quality levels. So your assessment process needs to identify candidates that possess “a sense of urgency.” This sense of urgency can be demonstrated by consistently finishing before deadline and a track record of automatically identifying ways to do high-value things faster.

12.  A track record of successfully implementing innovation

The top five firms in market cap (Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, Facebook and Amazon) all share a common defining characteristic, which is serial innovation. Therefore in order to dominate any industry, you will need employees at all levels that can successfully implement innovations. Look for a track record of purposely enhancing collaboration and getting their innovative ideas (or the team’s) quickly implemented.

13.  Demonstrate a global mindset

In today’s business environment; firms need to continuously grow their sales around the globe. So look for candidates with a track record of operating with a “global mindset.” They need to be able to understand the global economy fully, and as a result, they continuously come up with scalable solutions that can be applied globally.

14. A track record of aggressiveness and confidence

Although you want to limit new-hire arrogance. Candidates that have demonstrated a track record of self-confidence and aggressiveness are likely to go further and faster without prodding. Look for individuals that take aggressive action and that have justified confidence in their abilities.

15. Diverse thinking

Many firms focus on hiring diverse individuals. However, the best firms go a step further and focus on hiring individuals that think and attack problems in a diverse way. This broader but more impactful diversity approach requires that you hire and retain individuals that have demonstrated that they “think and act differently” than your average employee. Assess diverse thinking by giving candidates and advanced company problem and rank those higher that come up with an “outside the box” solution that your employees haven’t yet proposed. It’s also important that overall your new hires reflect your diverse customer base.

Final Thoughts

There’s certainly nothing wrong with hiring average people. However, if you want to increase your strategic impact, it also makes sense to supplement that effort by developing a process for targeting recruits that have a steep career trajectory. The business impacts will be much greater because they will provide you with both future leaders and the “future skills” that your firm will need in order to continually innovate and grow for years to come.

Author’s Note: If you found that this article stimulated your thinking and that it was actionable, please take a minute to follow or connect with Dr. Sullivan on LinkedIn.

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About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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