How to Be a Great Talent Scout for Your Team

Three business professionals scouting in a desert by looking through telescopes

Few people would argue with the critical importance of attracting, developing and retaining great people for your team. The results we generate in our functions and departments are commensurate with the skills and character of the people we recruit. And while many organizations have developed a shared-services approach to recruiting—often led by Human Resources—effective managers are relentless and creative talent scouts taking an active role in building a pipeline of great and sometimes atypical candidates.

  • A sales manager regularly scheduled meetings with representatives from competitors at industry trade shows. When I asked him about these potentially awkward and often clandestine meetings, his response was, “I know every top performer at our competitors and when one of them wants to make a change, I want to be the first one they call.”
  • A customer service team manager for a business-to-business software firm regularly passed her business card along to individuals in retail settings who she observed offering great service to customers. When I inquired about how this had worked for her, she pointed at her senior team leader and offered, “I recruited him as an entry level representative after from a cell phone store where  watched him handle angry customers and a gruff boss with remarkable grace and effectiveness. He is remarkable.”
  • Another manager received a curt, “I am not sure why I am interviewing this person,” comment from a human resources executive as he headed to the conference room for the meeting. The candidate had very little direct experience as a product manager for the firm’s systems products. However, she had been a store manager and then regional manager in the industry being targeted by the firm for a new system. Following the interview, the human resources executive offered, “I get it now. Great candidate.”

    The examples above underscore some great and unconventional talent scouting approaches. Effective managers are fully invested and constantly involved in building a pipeline to meet future needs. They look for people with great potential in unconventional places and they are not afraid to take calculated risks because they always have a backup plan.

    Here are some secrets of team managers who are great talent scouts.

    They Focus on Scouting for the Future

    Scouting talent for your team is a forward-looking activity. Much like the general manager of your favorite sports team, you are looking to the future to build bench strength and to replace those individuals you are actively developing for larger roles. In a growing firm or function, you know you are going to be promoting some team members, losing some to other functions and expanding your team to meet increasing demand. You need to begin working today to scout for the talent needed to support your area tomorrow or six months from now. If you wait until the job requisition is posted, you are already late.

    A Great Scout Looks Carefully at Culture Fit

    They look for individuals who complement the best attributes of their firm's culture. For example, they understand that hiring an individual who prefers to operate alone into a highly collaborative culture is inviting trouble. The best scouts look for people who exhibit behaviors and approaches that reflect the strengths of their firm's culture. They balance this with the need for diversity to help support learning and cultural evolution.


    They Focus on Character, Not Just Pedigree

    One of my early mentors described a hiring dilemma he faced when presented with two intriguing candidates with very different backgrounds. One candidate had an incredible pedigree from a leading school and a series of jobs from big name firms. The other came from a state school and had a series of interesting entrepreneurial ventures and some under-employment.

    When my mentor dug in and checked references he learned of the remarkable character and unyielding commitment and creativity of the individual with the lesser pedigree. He hired her over the protests of several of the firm’s senior managers who were impressed by the other candidate’s credentials. This individual now runs the largest and fastest growing segment of the firm. Character counts: don’t be blinded by pedigree.

    The Best Scouts Look for Talent in Unusual Places

    As outlined in the examples above, great candidates do not have to be cookie-cutter clones of the people you have on staff. Nor do they need to have followed identical paths in your industry with like-kind firms. Talent scouts look for attributes and behaviors that are applicable to their own world.

    The ability of the individual working in the cell phone store (described above) to solve problems for upset customers is remarkably transferrable. The individual with direct industry experience in the target market of the technology firm brought a wealth of knowledge that proved essential for quickly and effectively entering this new market. 

    While prior experience and results are great indicators of the potential for future success, relevant experiences can and do happen outside of your industry or technology. 

    They Are Sensitive to Not Recruiting Clones of Themselves

    One manager I work with has a team of individuals who meet with candidates to evaluate fit. One of the core challenges of this interviewing team is to strive to recruit individuals with diverse backgrounds from different cultures and industries. They are on alert and accountable for not creating an army of clones in their workplace. 

    The Bottom-Line for Now

    Much like great sales professionals who work tirelessly to build a pipeline of opportunities, top managers invest time and effort in building a pipeline of talent. They are perpetual talent scouts in search of great team members, outstanding experts and individuals with the potential to grow into major contributors on their team and in their firm. They understand that nothing happens—or, at least nothing good happens without the right talent on the team.