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Education competencies: Assessing talent

This competency is one in a set of complete functional and behavioral qualities that, when fully realized, can help lead to professional success. View all competencies.


Is a good judge of talent; accurately projects what people are likely to do across a variety of situations; hires the best people available from inside or outside; assembles talented teams.

Proficiency level

Level 1: Basic Level 2: Intermediate Level 3: Advanced Level 4: Expert
Is a good judge of talent Can identify good talent Can quickly identify good talent with limited exposure to the individual Has a nose for talent and actively recruits it, both inside and outside the organization
Can articulate the strengths and limitations of most people close to him or her Articulates the strengths and limitations of people Can quickly and accurately assess the strengths and limitations of people Astutely determines appropriate talent needs and matches talent to task
Hires good people from inside or outside the organization Hires the best people from inside or outside the organization Identifies raw talent and is willing to expend time and energy to develop it Brings out the best in people and provides for ample training and enrichment opportunities
Assembles good teams Consistently assembles good, talented teams Seeks to assemble the best talent from a diverse pool of people Considers the overall organizational culture when assembling individual talent

Actively assesses what people are likely to do across a variety of situations Correctly assesses individuals’ strong points and weaknesses and projects how they may respond to various situations Able to modify situational dynamics such that individual weaknesses and strengths are most effectively compensated for and augmented

Overdoing assessing talent

  • May be hypercritical of others; too quick to replace rather than work with a person
  • May be unwilling to alter an initial judgment about someone; not open to further evidence
  • May miss on slow starters and on quiet and less expressive people
  • May select on surface characteristics
  • May assemble a team of individual performers who aren’t good team players
  • May prefer currently talented people who aren’t broad enough for further growth

Essential questions

To improve your proficiency, ask yourself the following questions on a regular basis:
  • Am I actively seeking to recruit individuals of diverse backgrounds and experience to meet the immediate needs of the organization?
  • Am I considering the future needs of the organization?
  • What are specific initiatives that I can implement immediately to enrich my staff?
  • What is my track record for accurately pinpointing others’ strengths and weaknesses?
  • Who may be mismatched with a specific task/job/assignment? Should I move that person into something else?
  • Are there any situations that require adjustment to make the best use of someone’s strengths?
To avoid overdoing assessing talent, ask yourself:
  • Am I acting too quickly to replace someone instead of trying to develop what’s lacking?
  • Am I shortsighted in judging what a person is now versus what he or she can become?
  • Am I considering both internal and external talent to meet the needs of the organization?

Interview questions

  • Think back to a period of time in which it was vital to your success for you to demonstrate your ability to quickly identify good talent with limited exposure to the individuals.
  • Share with me your methodology for assessing the strengths and limitations of people for the purpose of matching the talent to the task. Tell me how you applied your methodology to a specific situation.
  • Most people agree with the adage that “people are the most valuable part of an organization.” Share a period of time that demonstrates your ability to act upon that truth and bring out the best in people and provide them ample training and enrichment opportunities.
  • Describe two situations that exhibit your skill to consider the overall organizational culture when assessing individual talent.
  • Share with me a situation that demonstrates your skill to accurately assess the strengths and limitations of people, and then leverage their strengths and mitigate their limitations.

Learning on the job

Learning on your own: These self-development remedies will help you build your skill(s).
  • Accurately assess talent: Look below surface descriptions of “smart,” “approachable,” and “technically skilled.” For each job, role, task, or assignment, create a success profile of what a successful candidate would look like. Match talent to task.
  • Interview for talent: Get guidance from a recruiting/staffing organization for guidance on how to conduct a good interview. Volunteer to be part of an assessment center team where you will be trained to observe and assess people as they undertake tasks.
  • Understand yourself: Learn all you can about yourself; ask others to help you. Try a 360-degree feedback assessment. Understanding others begins with understanding yourself.
  • Think back on your career: Make a list of the most talented people you have worked with and another list of the people that were mediocre. Determine common characteristics of the people on the two lists and why you felt one was talented and the other not so.
  • List all the authority figures you have worked with: Divide them into the most talented and the least talented. Determine the major differences of the people on the two lists and why you felt one was talented and the other not so.
  • Seek balance, variety, and diversity: Surround yourself with people who are not like you.
  • Set reasonable standards: Try to wait long enough to have choices, but not long enough to lose a very good candidate. Be willing to look at additional data, and be flexible.
  • Have a long-term view of talent: Surround yourself with talent, even those who may surpass you one day. Give feedback regularly—negative as well as positive—to help talent develop.
  • Read two or three books on personality: Learn how people and their gifts differ. Check your people assessments with others you trust for their opinion.
  • Use the knowledge of others’ talents to improve yourself: Hire people of different talents, and study how they think or how they exercise their strengths. Relate this to your talents.
Learning from develop-in-place assignments: These part-time develop-in-place assignments will help you build your skill(s).
  • Go to a campus as a recruiter.
  • Build a multifunctional project team to tackle a common problem.
  • Chair a taskforce on a pressing problem.
  • Assemble a team of diverse people to accomplish a difficult task.
  • Resolve an issue in conflict between two people or groups.
Learning more from your plan: These additional remedies will help make this development plan more effective for you.
  • Learning to learn better:
    • Use objective data when judging others. Study others more than evaluating or judging them. Project how they may act in a given situation.
    • Examine why you judge people the way you do. List the people you like or dislike and why. Discern what you have in common with them. Study one person in detail, and compare to your own methods of operating.
    • Pre-sell an idea to a key stakeholder. Identify those whose support you need. Collect information that you need to be persuasive and try to pre-sell your solutions.
  • Learning from experience, feedback, and other people:
    • Learn from those in authority. Distance yourself from your feelings, and analyze what they do and do not do well. Choose to imitate the successful behavior.
    • Learn from mentors and tutors. Be open and non-defensive; solicit and accept feedback.
    • Learn from interviewing others. Ask what, how, and why they do what they do; where they learned it; and how they keep it current and relevant.
    • Consolidate what you learn from people. Write down rules or principles you learn, and share them with others.
    • Get feedback from those in authority. Communicate that you are open to constructive criticism and are willing to work on issues they view as important.
    • Learn from limited staff. Look for ways to bring out the best in others who may lack skills or experience. Motivate by being a positive force, even in negative situations, and by giving feedback. Recognize when it’s time to stop trying something and start over.
    • Use multiple models. Select role models of towering strengths (or glaring weaknesses). Learn from characteristics rather than from the whole person.
    • Learn by observing others. Objectively study what he or she does.
  • Learning from courses:
    • Take a supervisory course. Review the common practices of effective supervision.

Recommended readings

  • Ashby, Franklin C., and Arthur R. Pell.Embracing Excellence. New York: Prentice Hall, 2001.
  • Bolton, Robert, and Dorothy Grover Bolton.People Styles at Work—Making Bad Relationships Good and Good Relationships Better. New York: AMACOM, 1996.
  • Brinkman, Rick, Ph.D., and Dr. Rick Kirschner.Dealing With People You Can’t Stand. New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1994.
  • Calvin, Robert J.Entrepreneurial Management. New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc., 2001.
  • Cornwell, Patricia Daniels.Point of Origin. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1998.
  • Douglas, John E., and Mark Olshaker.The Anatomy of Motive: The FBI’s Legendary Mindhunter Explores the Key to Understanding and Catching Violent Criminals. New York: Pocket Books, 2000.
  • Falcone, Paul.The Hiring and Firing Question and Answer Book. New York: AMACOM, 2002.
  • Fields, Martha R.A.Indispensable Employees: How to Hire Them, How to Keep Them. Franklin Lakes, NJ: Career Press, 2001.
  • Fulmer, Robert M., and Jay A. Conger.Growing Your Company’s Leaders. New York: AMACOM, 2004.
  • Greenhalgh, Leonard.Managing Strategic Relationships: The Key to Business Success. New York: The Free Press, 2003.
  • Harvard Business School Press.Hiring and Keeping the Best People. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2003.
  • Kummerow, Jean M., Nancy J. Barger, and Linda K. Kirby.Work Types. New York: Warner Books, 1997.
  • Lawrence, Paul R., and Nitin Nohria.Driven: How Human Nature Shapes Our Choices. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, Inc., 2002.
  • Levin, Robert A., and Joseph G. Rosse.Talent Flow: A Strategic Approach to Keeping Good Employees, Helping Them Grow, and Letting Them Go. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2001.
  • Mazzarella, Mark C., and Jo-Ellan Dimitrius.Reading People: How to Understand People and Predict Their Behavior—Anytime, Anyplace. New York: Ballantine Books, 1999.
  • Michaels, Ed, Helen Handfield-Jones, and Beth Axelrod.The War for Talent. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2001.
  • Myers, Isabel Briggs with Peter B. Myers.Gifts Differing: Understanding Personality Type. Palo Alto, CA: Davies-Black Pub., 1995.
  • Poundstone, William.How Would You Move Mount Fiji? Microsoft’s Cult of the Puzzle—How the World’s Smartest Company Selects the Most Creative Thinkers. Boston: Little, Brown, 2003.
  • Sears, David.Successful Talent Strategies: Achieving Superior Business Results through Market-Focused Staffing. New York: AMACOM, 2003.
  • Smart, Bradford D. Ph.D.Topgrading—How Leading Companies Win Hiring, Coaching and Keeping the Best People. New York: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1999.
  • Still, Del J.High Impact Hiring: How to Interview and Select Outstanding Employees. Dana Point, CA: Management Development Systems LLC, 2001.
  • Wainright, Gordon R.Teach Yourself Body Language. New York: McGraw-Hill/Contemporary Books, 2003.

Next steps

Copyright © 1992, 1996, 2001-2003 by Robert W. Eichinger and Michael M. Lombardo. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This work is derived from the LEADERSHIP ARCHITECT® Competency Library developed and copyrighted by Robert W. Eichinger and Michael M. Lombardo for Lominger Limited, Inc.

This competency is one in a set of complete functional and behavioral qualities that, when fully realized, can help lead to professional success.