Years ago I asked a client, a senior partner at Goldman Sachs, where the prestigious investment bank found its best candidates. Expecting to hear Harvard Business School as the answer, I was surprised to learn his preference was for any athlete who made it to the Olympics. “Given a choice I’ll take an Olympic athlete over anyone,” he said.
This answer becomes obvious as soon as you consider it. If someone can muster the focus, harness the discipline, and accept the sacrifices necessary to reach that goal, chances are good that he or she can pull off anything you might have in mind.
Unfortunately, we don’t all come across that many Olympic athletes in our hiring process. But just this week, re-watching a video of Randy Nelson, Pixar University’s Dean, I heard an idea I like just as much. Nelson’s thought is this. If you want to hire someone to do something truly innovative, chances are you won’t find it on a resume.
Why? Because if the job you have in mind really is innovative, it hasn’t been done. So you need to look for a parallel predictor of success. And, according to Nelson, what you’re looking for is mastery. It can be mastery in anything: music, mountain climbing, even origami, I suppose. Mastery implies you’re dealing with a candidate who has set his or her mind not simply to accomplish something, but also to get to the top. In fact Nelson believes that no one will achieve mastery in the job if they haven’t achieved it somewhere else.
I’ve already started asking the question, “Can you tell me something you’ve mastered in your life?” I haven’t heard a great answer yet. Then again, neither have I offered anyone the job. What’s the best question you ask candidates? Or perhaps more importantly, if you’re the candidate, what’s your answer?