Find Corporate Athletes (and Hire Them Immediately)

In any work environment, it’s vital to employ people with a wide range of talents, backgrounds, and personalities. However, it’s no longer enough to seek candidates who are experts in single, individual functions. Today, intellectual agility and the ability to contribute thought leadership throughout an entire enterprise are now the top criteria recruiters should seek in potential executives.

I like to call these modern superstars “corporate athletes” — versatile professionals who have the ability to contribute productively across an enterprise to advance a company’s success.

The Rise of the Corporate Athlete

Modern companies — large or small — are losing the luxury of allowing people to work within individual silos. In today’s corporate structure, the lines between departments have blurred, and cross-collaboration to achieve companywide goals has become commonplace.

For that reason, enterprises must actively seek executives who possess broad business acumen and persistent intellectual curiosities that enable them to comprehend and contribute to entire organizations. 

Much like the athletes you see playing professional sports, corporate athletes are packed with natural talent and flexibility. They’re the ones with nonlinear career tracks, and they’ve held a variety of roles across a number of industries. 

Part of this stems from their willingness to accept risk. They exhibit a large dose of self-confidence, and they are more confident when asked to tackle things outside of their comfort zones (or areas in which they have a lot of experience). 

Additionally, corporate athletes possess certain intangible human qualities that allow them to excel as managers and creative thought leaders. They have gravitas, exceptional coaching skills, the ability to read the dynamics of a room, and the ability to effortlessly connect to the essence of an organization.

Corporate Athleticism: It’s Not on a Résumé

It can be tempting to take the easy route and judge candidates based solely on their résumés. As we all know, a résumé should be a factual representation of one’s career path. However, they rarely provide a full picture — this holds especially true when assessing whether a candidate qualifies as a corporate athlete. 

There’s an easy, non-formulaic way to identify corporate athletes: Take the time to get to know the person behind the résumé.

Identify a candidate’s character — not just her career path — and understand in a granular way why she made the choices she made and took the paths she took. Perhaps you’ll even discover that someone else made a few career decisions for her. 

Asking broad, open-ended questions is a great way to become familiar with the psychology of a candidate. For example, when I used to conduct interviews, I would always ask candidates to give me a thumbnail sketch of their backgrounds — brief elevator summaries of their careers. Some people took 10 minutes; others took 30. But those who delivered thoughtful, articulate, and succinct overviews were typically the candidates who ended up being corporate athletes because they framed high notes and passionate aspects of their career journeys. 

Unfortunately, in modern times, it’s getting harder and harder to find candidates who can speak and write in articulate manners. However, through simple discussion, you can quickly analyze whether someone possesses the intellectual aspects that make corporate athletes so vital. 

You just can’t learn these things through algorithms or by looking at résumés; you need to peel back the layers of your candidates. You need to dial into them as human beings and have revealing conversations.

Going above and beyond to identify the corporate athletes in your candidate pool might take more time and effort, but the ultimate reward of finding and hiring the right person will make it all worthwhile.  

A dynamic lecturer, keynote speaker, media expert on employment issues, and frequent contributor to global professional journals and newsletters, Smooch Repovich Reynolds is managing partner of the Global Investor Relations and Communications Practice Group at DHR International, a global executive search firm.

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