Job seekers want to know, “What sets apart top talent from the rest?” While the answer depends on role and company, four specific characteristics stand out, regardless of job responsibilities: (1) creativity, (2) intelligence, (3) hunger, and (4) humility. Notice that none of these are technical skills; for top talent, technical skill is assumed. What sets top performers apart is their mastery of the aforementioned “soft” or qualitative skills.
1. Top talent is creative
Top talent can envision a new future and carve out a path to it. They possess the constant and consistent ability to reimagine process, invent new products, retool work flows, and create new opportunities from existing resources. They are not only able to ideate but shape and drive the idea into existence. Candidates that possess this trait in abundance will monopolize the interview with story after story about their creative experiences.
2. Top talent is intelligent
While this seems obvious, it isn’t. We’re not referring to highly intelligent, problem-solving brain power but rather, relational intelligence. The most talented candidates have honed an ability to build and leverage relationships inside an organization to drive change. Organizations today are more complex than ever and the people who navigate them most effectively are those that have perfected the skill of working across lines, mobilizing people for work, and showing genuine empathy and understanding with colleagues. Most working professionals are not executives with executive power. The ones that lead, especially without titles, are masters at building relationships and bridges. They infuse energy into the people they work with, both inside and outside the organization.
3. Top talent is driven
Motivation is an “inside job.” There are levers that management and companies can pull to get an employee to work harder, but ultimately, the motivation to work hard over a sustained period is intrinsic. High performance is closely correlated with high motivation, which in turn compels people to push for better results, consistently improve, continuously learn, and grow whatever they touch. In most cases, this is a character trait that has been nurtured over time.
4. Top talent is humble
Last, what separates top talent from others is the genuine humility that allows them to receive feedback, listen to others, understand their gaps and address them, and view themselves as a work in progress—a work that they are determined to improve. Most of us have worked with talented ego-maniacs that produce impressive results but leave people worse off from having interacted with them. The very best candidates possess a quiet confidence, allowing them to focus on what they can learn, versus just on what they can teach.
For someone looking to become top talent, try doing a self-assessment against the four traits listed. If you are unsure how you stack up, ask your colleagues—they are keenly aware of your strengths and weakness. Also, it’s a great opportunity to practice humility as they give you the feedback. From there, determine your game plan to get better. A great way to learn how to be a top performer is by observing top performers. Identify two or three people that you deem top talent, ask them out for lunch or coffee and pick their brains around these four disciplines. Who knows, the networking alone could help you land your next job.