Identifying High Achievers by Examining Their Wake Effect

by Adler, Lou Tuesday, April 13, 2010
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High achievers leave a lot of evidence in their wake. As long as you know what you’re looking for, much of this can be easily found during the work history review portion of the formal interview or during the phone screen. Once you find it, you then need to determine if the person is a fit for the actual job available, and if the job offers a significant career move for your candidate. This takes a bit longer, but if it’s affirmative on both counts, then the fun can proceed (i.e., recruit, negotiate, close, hope).

The hunt for evidence starts with this definition of a high achiever:

• Highly motivated to do the work required
• Consistently delivers high-quality results on time and on budget
• Personally driven to become better
• Works well with a broad and diverse group of people
• Will commit and deliver consistently without making excuses
• Volunteers for tough tasks or will take them on despite personal inconvenience
• Overcomes challenging obstacles to meet personal commitments
• Will do more than expected and expand the role of their primary jobs

Top people aren’t conservationists, at least in terms of leaving footprints and making an impact. Much of this is in the form of recognition, assignments given, or results achieved. It all can be unearthed during the work history review portion of the interview. In a phone screen the work history review should last about 15-20 minutes and about 30-40 minutes for a full interview. It should be much longer for senior-level positions. Here’s how to conduct this portion of the interview and what to look for to determine if your prospect is a high achiever worth pursuing:

1. Find out the actual dates of each major job including months and years. Many people hide non-positive information in their resumes so it’s important to create an accurate position-by-position calendar.

2. Get an explanation of any gaps in employment. If there are gaps, look for areas of self-initiated personal development or special training. Achievers wouldn’t consider wasting this valuable time.

3. Determine why the person changed jobs and why each new job was selected. Achievers tend to carefully select jobs based on some major overriding career goal. Look for this pattern and look for logical connections among the moves.

4. Determine if the job change achieved the desired result. Non-achievers tend to move from job to job based on circumstances out of their control or personal convenience. The reasons why a job is accepted is typically more tactical, emphasizing compensation, location, security, and basic job content. Achievers, on the other hand, tend to focus more on the strategic aspects of the job including the potential for learning, impact, and growth.

5. Within each company ask about major projects, accomplishments, and results achieved. Achievers demonstrate a consistent pattern of increasing performance and more significant results. Quantify this with specific details and look for trends and growing impact and influence over time.

6. Benchmark the person’s performance. Compare the person’s specific performance to others in the group by asking about rankings, standings, differences between the top and average, and what the person would need to have done to be at the top level.

7. Ask about any type of recognition received. Achievers receive lots of recognition, so look for this and be concerned if you don’t find much. Recognition includes items like raises, bonuses, awards won, promotions, patents awarded, assignments to bigger projects, presentations at industry conferences, published whitepapers, huge blog followings, commendations of any type, scholarships, honorary societies, and leadership awards. The amount of recognition received, when it was received, and what it was for are the best confirming evidence of the high achiever pattern.

8. Prepare a graphical work chart for each major position. Don’t use personality traits or personal affability to assess team skills. Instead, track the growth of the teams the person has been involved with over the course of his/her career. For each major job have the person create an org chart, plus add the titles of the people the candidate has worked with on different major projects. Find out the person’s role on these teams and how the person got assigned. Look for increasing cross-functional influence, leadership roles, exposure to more senior executives, and increasing involvement with those outside of the company.

If your candidate is a true high achiever, it won’t be too hard to find ample evidence during the work history review. Of course, if you find it, you then need to determine if the person is a good fit for your current job opening and if the opening offers the candidate a strong career move. Then all you have to do is recruit and close the candidate. (In my book, Hire With Your Head, I demonstrate in detail how to do this.) After you get the person on board, don’t be surprised if the person continues to achieve at a similar pace and gets all the recognition he or she deserves.