Tech & Work

Hire talent and passion over skill and experience

As a hiring manager, knowledge and training are traditionally the most important areas you look at when evaluating a candidate. Maybe it's time to shift your focus.


By Joe Santana

For more than 17 years, I’ve made it a practice to hire talent and passion over skill and experience. I’ve never been disappointed—even when I took this idea to considerable extremes. For example, some years ago, armed with a one-page talent-and-passion search profile, I hired a young woman as my Operations Assistant. The fact that she did not even know how to use the spreadsheet program that was necessary for the job did not deter me from hiring her over two candidates who were accomplished pros with the same software. Like all the others that I had hired primarily for their talents and passion, she learned the software in a short period of time and turned out to be one of my most productive and fully engaged A-players.

Unfortunately, talent and drive are two of the most often overlooked qualities of a job candidate during the search and interview process. Generally, when people are being interviewed, the hiring manager uses a task-and-experience job description to find candidates. Then the hiring manager focuses on a resume, which highlights skills acquired through schooling, training, and/or experience. While skills and experience are important attributes that should be considered, talent and passion are even more vital to real job performance success and should be given greater weight.

I have found that people do their best when they are doing things that they naturally do well (have talent for) and enjoy doing (have a passion to perform). On the other hand, when people are performing jobs for which they may have had adequate training, but for which they lack talent and driving passion, they tend to be mediocre and disengaged. Over past decades, I witnessed again and again how two equally trained professionals could perform the same job and produce opposite results in terms of quality and customer satisfaction solely because of the talent and passion, or lack thereof, that they brought to the task.

What falls under the umbrella of talent and passion?
So that there is no confusion as to what I mean when I say talent and passion, let’s take a moment to outline each concept. By talent, I mean the natural predisposition to be highly effective in certain areas. For one person, it might include explaining ideas, for another it might be sensing the emotional state of others and having the ability to adjust as needed to build rapport and confidence. When people perform work that requires them to use skills that rest on the foundation of their natural talents, they tend to excel far beyond what would be expected by their amount of education in that field.

By passion, I mean the feelings or emotional responses that move us to behave in certain ways. How often have you heard the business phrase, “park your emotions outside and just focus on giving the job 100 percent”? The fact is, neither you nor I nor anyone else—including the person who first uttered those words—can actually do that. Those chemical reactions that fire us up or bring us down have a large impact on our ability to generate 100 percent. By making sure that you hire people who will be naturally fired up with passion by their work, you will find an incredible source of natural super-performance power.

Help desk agent hiring profile
So the question now is, how do you develop a position profile that gives talent and passion the prominent positions they deserve in the hiring equation? As an example of this process, I’ll show you how to build a talent-and-passion hiring profile for a help desk agent.

First, start by asking yourself what the most successful agents appear to do easily. Let’s assume your answers include that successful help desk agents can:
  • Quickly determine the next step in problem resolution based on a telephone conversation and can smoothly facilitate the caller through the process.
  • Immediately get a sense for the needs of different callers and can respond in a manner that keeps them in control of the call and the situation.
  • Easily figure out how to interpret and navigate through various software application tools (e.g., the screens on the help desk workflow management application).

Next, ask yourself, what do good agents generally enjoy about this role? A quick look at some of our exemplary performers might reveal that the best help desk agents:
  • Thrive on the thrill that comes from solving problems.
  • Enjoy being considered knowledgeable about processes as well as being highly effective in brokering relationships between the caller and experts who can fix a problem.
  • Enjoy having a sense of ownership over their work and being viewed as heroes by customers who ask for them specifically.
  • Enjoy flooding themselves with multiple levels and channels of stimulus. For example, by handling a phone call while entering a ticket on one screen while looking for the answer to a question on another screen.

From this, you might draw that the person you are looking for to fill this role has the following talent-and-drive profile:
  • Talents: The individual has natural capabilities in verbal communication, empathy, listening, attention sharing, sensing patterns, and organizing a process or set of steps (e.g., the ticketing system).
  • Passion: The individual loves to help people and to be valued for the quality of his or her work. This person likes to feel he or she is in the groove and moving at a fast pace.

To complete the hiring profile, you can add specific skills and experience, such as any software tools that are needed. However, again, I would encourage you to hire for talent and passion over pure skill and experience when faced with the choice of one or the other.

Remember: There are some qualities that you just can’t teach, and talent and passion are two of them. Someone who does not know how to use your help desk ticketing management application but who has a talent for sensing patterns and organizing a process or set of steps will quickly learn how to use your help desk tools. On the other hand, someone who lacks empathy will never quite get the knack of keying in on and meeting the needs of the people calling the help desk.

Joe Santana is coauthor of Manage I.T. Joe has over twenty-one years of IT experience and has held numerous executive-level positions with enterprise and outsourcing companies. For a free e-booklet containing the first chapter of Manage I.T. or for more information about the book, visit www.manageitbook.com.

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