Why I started Talent Prospecting

Why I started Talent Prospecting

I was sitting with a person I believe may be a genius. The irony that I am coaching someone my senior in age as well as my intellectual superior is not lost on me.


But coach him I must, because Dave, like many other quiet and humble people, has been completely undervalued by the corporate world.


An intrusive thought shoulders it's way up to the forefront of my mind; when it comes to being recognised in companies, MODESTY IS THE WORST POLICY.


What qualifies me to coach someone, you may ask? Well, nothing, to be honest. But interviews are not about being honest, they are about selling a tailored version of yourself, cut and altered to fit perfectly into whatever is required by the interviewer.


Those who can put on airs and convince others they are the 'best' will succeed, whether they are indeed the best, or simply the most convincing, is very difficult to discern in the process.


I have always been good at interviews as I talk a lot and can sometimes get carried away with myself. As a child I was what could be described as a show-off, confident, boastful and arrogant. It is a part of my character I dislike sincerely and have spent much of my adult life trying to change. That is, except, in interviews, where I must dig up the over-confident and self-aggrandising child so that he can win over interviewers. Companies love him, and reward him with promotions, pay-rises and status.


'I'm the best at everything, and everybody loves me,' is something my eight-year-old self would have said.


Yet this is the way we are encouraged to speak about ourselves to get ahead in business, especially in job interviews. This is rarely the case anywhere else in society, where someone who constantly trumpeted how great they are would be regarded with smirks and sidelong glances (unless you are a presidential candidate, in which case you might just get elected).


So why do we encourage this behaviour as a means of getting ahead in the business world?

How can corporate culture be so out of alignment that it continually preaches teamwork and yet rewards selfishness?



"I just don't feel comfortable talking about myself," said Dave.

He looked down at his notes and shook his head.

"It's not me," he sighed, "I just can't do it."


"You can," I implored.

I felt uneasy, this person was one of the most hardworking, clever, and selfless employees I have ever had the privilege of learning from and he just lacked the one thing you cannot do without if you are to thrive in business; the ability to self-promote.


"It's only a sixty minute interview, tell the truth, that you are the top performer on the team, you're a mentor to everyone, including your manager, and that you are the best candidate for promotion."


Dave blew a stream of air through pursed lips.

"Self-praise is no praise," he said.


This is a maxim drilled into Irish kids by parents who wish to instill humility in their children. It is beautiful and wonderfully simple; work hard, help others, be humble, and if you do, people will recognise your worth.


A feeling of immense sadness hit me in that moment. I was literally training someone to be immodest so that they could get what they deserved in their work life. Of course Dave did not admit to being a modest person. That, by definition, would mean that he wasn't. In his tenure at the company thus far he had been overlooked for a string of internal promotion opportunities, as each time another colleague with a greater flair for interviewing had wowed the hiring manager. 

This is not altogether unsurprising as of the big five personality traits, extraversion is most highly correlated with getting promotion opportunities. 


I later reflected on corporate culture at large. Of how many higher-level managers I knew who talked a good game, and were championed for their immodesty. I considered how transparent this lack of self-awareness is, yet how often it is rewarded in the business world.


I vowed to give voice to the quiet. To find a way to ensure companies reward the most competent over the most confident, and to make sure than honesty is again regarded as the best policy.


Trawling through academic research concerning all things related to success in the business world and what makes good leaders, I found endless evidence supporting the idea that one need not be the most outspoken and extraverted person in the world excel in the upper echelons of the corporate world. Conversely, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that introverts can make better managers than extroverts.


Research by Adam M. Grant, Francesca Gino and David A. Hoffman found that introverted leaders get the most out of engaged and pro-active employees as they encourage them to take the initiative while fostering their development and motivation.


Another study found that quiet leaders build better relationships with their teams by building relationships based on trust, support and respect. This in turn leads to better performance, commitment and employee satisfaction.


I developed Talent Prospecting as a concept in light of countless situations in my professional life where I saw great employees being overlooked because of their innate humility and self-awareness. On the flip side of this I saw those who were promoted on the back of an incredible interview crash and burn spectacularly as they did not have the skills to perform the job in question. 


Now, instead of me trying to coach people on how to succeed within companies, I show companies how to identify and reward their star employees, especially those who do not have the loudest voice in the room.


It is important to remember that humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less. 


We champion and revere these people in our society, it's time companies begin to put systems in place to recognise and reward them equally.


There are countless examples of people like Dave in organisations, those who add immense value to the business but do not get the rewards they deserve as they are overlooked in the place of a flashier (but less competent) colleague. 


According to Price's law, 50% of the productive work in your company will be done by the square root of the number of staff you have. For example, if you have 100 employees, your success will be disproportionately dependent on your best 10 people.


For companies, getting your best people in positions where they can have the most beneficial impact is not only vital for your culture, but crucial to ensuring the long term success of your business. 


When evaluating your human capital, never forget the profound words of J.R.R Tolkien: all that is gold does not glitter. 



Conall Horgan

At Talent Prospecting, we are experts in helping organisations identify and retain their top talents. If you are interested in partnering with us, please visit our website talentprospecting.com and book a free consultation

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