What is it all about?

Recruitment is one of the major activities that pertains to Human Resources and more specifically to Talent Management. Many of you will remember the enlistment session by the Men in black in the eponymous movie (MIB), which thought us that having a solid balance between brain and guts may bring us far; and running fast may help us even more. Today, I chose for a less expected movie as analogy for this topic. The judge is an intriguing story about big city lawyer Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.) who returns to his childhood home where his father, the town’s judge, is suspected of murder.

What do we see in this scene?

The movie is poignant, the story and acting is of high caliber and yet, there’s actually not much worth noticing about the topic of the day: recruitment. That is, till we get to this one short and almost stealthy passage. In this act, Hank has to assemble (recruit) his ideal jurors. People he can more easily sway to his side of the story. His approach is what makes this part worthwhile to analyze.

Talent, competence, skill and recruitment

Recruitment refers to the overall process of attracting, selecting and appointing suitable candidates for paid or voluntary jobs within an organization, either permanent or temporary. All steps require their own planning and actions. In this post we will focus on select and appoint.

Employees are recruited based on the added-value they can bring to the company. This includes the skills, competences and other know-how that will support the company’s vision, mission and strategy. But what does it mean? Let us start by defining talent, competences and skills to understand the difference.

Comprehending the nuance between these three words is not as simple as expected. I’ve been searching for an answer in books and on the internet to find out that most people use them interchangeably. Moreover there are different perceptions for each of these words.

We will use the following definitions for the rest of the post:
Skill: Proficiency, facility, or dexterity that is acquired or developed through training or experience.
Competence: A cluster of related abilities, commitments, knowledge, and skills that enable a person to act effectively in a job or situation.
Talent: A special and often innate ability that allows someone to do something well.

Both Skills and competences are considered “tangible” and measurable. We can indeed compare the skill level between two php or c++ programmers. Many programmers also add a score for their skills in their personal website (which I do too, here). In order to grasp programming, learn additional programming languages and improve its coding, a programmer requires an underlying set of competences such as analytic, logical and interpretive abilities. If a programmer becomes a team leader he will require an additional set of managerial skills as well as behavioral and professional competences. These can be measured (somewhat) and taught.

Talents however are something else. A talent is neither a skill, nor a competence. It is a combination of “je ne sais quoi” and original abilities that make a person naturally good at something.

A talented programmer will for instance have a naturally logical mind, be at ease with mathematics and understand algorithms the way others won’t. A talent could be seen as a personal and unique way to perceive something and be well aware of how it works and can be used. Talent is not measurable, because of its uniqueness. Talented people are rapid learners in their respective field; however, their talent should also be nurtured. While talented people have a head start, without practice and honing their skills they will lose ground to those who day after day put everything they have to improve.

Coming back to recruitment

Today, more than ever, we hear HR talk about talent management and talent development and hence the question: are we talking about talent, competence or skill?

In order to enroll someone, recruiters require benchmarks and measurables. We use resumes to measure the quality of a candidate. University degrees, years of experience and past employers are numbers and titles used to compare one candidate to another. As we’re talking about measurables, it also means that we compare skills and competences, or at least the perception we have built for each candidate. But what about talent then? Where does it come in?

Moreover, we shouldn’t limit recruitment to employees. We do recruit allies, partners and even friends and while the objective, purpose and processes are somewhat different, the underlying fact is that we recruit whom we want or need to spend time with.

How does this scene relate to the recruitment?

The first part of the video compares the perception of the ideal juror between Hank and his father. While morality is important, we notice that the main difference lies in the fact that the judge looks for competences (capable listeners and analytic), whereas Hank is looking for crackpots, moon-landing deniers, etc.

With other words, he is not interested in competences and prefers to focus on eccentricity and foolishness which are personality traits and in this case deviations from established norms. These are neither skills, nor competences and even less talents and yet this distinction is what makes them useful in this context.

People work with people and we are all “not that different” as many personality tests are there to attest. That is why recruiters also use profiling models to measure and categorize the personality or behavior of candidates.

Measuring everything about a person may give a semblance of apprehending that person and yet, more we delve into the numbers and less we see…

In the second part of the act Hank asks the question and the jurors respond to it.


What can we learn from Hank?

In our western society we tend to present ourselves by what we are rather than who we are.
Hi, my name is Hank and I’m a lawyer… And then, as a second step what we do: as a lawyer I can help you with
A more personal example would be: I’m Hank and I’m a father of 2.
Basically, we are or at least promote ourselves as labels.

Hank understands what makes a person tick and he uses it to his advantage. As an experienced lawyer he also has a knack for assessing people and in this case the quality of the juror with one simple yet unexpected question. “Bumper stickers… What do they read?”

The purpose of this question is to learn more about the people, by getting out of the labels’ comfort zone: who they are, what they like and how they think. While it doesn’t focus on values, morality, aptitudes or directly involves personality traits, it puts people at ease and gives them a way to tell a very short story about themselves. The bumper sticker is an extension of each juror and without even realizing it they each tell about who they are and not what they are. The words are flowing out.

Asking the perfect question is important, however, how to ask is yet another story. In this act, Hank asks the question in a blatantly nonchalant way, just the opposite of his father’s suggestion: “subtlety and a velvet touch”. He doesn’t conceal the fact he needs information and sounds unconcerned yet emphatic when actually asking the details. He made it so that people feel comfortable responding even if at the beginning there is hesitation as to why this odd question.

I recall the recruitment processes for both my first and second job. In both cases I was positioned or positioning myself as the junior with potential. In both cases I got the job, not due to the competences or skills I already had, or for those I would be able to develop, but because I had personal experiences that made me view the job from a different perspective. Through a couple of questions, the recruiter gave me the opportunity to tell about who I am using my own stories and anecdotes.

I am a member of an international organisation called Junior Chamber International ( JCI ); together we developed in Brussels a campaign to help unemployed young graduates find a job. The campaign is called (Y)Our Future and we deliver CV assessments, inspirational talks and coaching sessions to help young professionals find a job in these times of crisis. What I realized during these events is that in our society we do not lack skills. We do not lack competences and we don’t even lack talent. What we do however lack is introspection; asking ourselves what we can and what we want to do – which directs us back to the previous post about Flow.

Hank teaches us that:

While this is important in recruitment or when looking for a job, asking ourselves and to the others about who they are rather than what they are can make a big difference and provide a better understanding. It open new horizons, is uplifting, honest and develops better relationships. By selecting the people he needs, Hank guarantees that the message he conveys will be understood, and while it may be perceived as manipulation it also means there is a connection between the jurors and himself.

The companies below are actual people I trust (in Belgium and around), whom, with the use of different disciplines can help you learn and develop the skills and competences needed to ask the right questions in the best way possible, whether towards others or to yourself (introspection will be one of the next topics).

How about you? Do you have experiences to share or people you know who can help us learn from? Please do share.


Related training and consulting companies

Gloabl NLP
Wide Circle
Geerkens Consulting
Inside Out Coaching & Training
Tangram Management

Interesting links

Will be updating later also based on your suggestions.