CIO Leadership

The Two Fundamental Reasons Talent Is So Hard For You To Find

Effective executives are great finders. Two practices sharpen our ability to seek and to discover the talent we really need.

Scott Smeester


December 1, 2022

I mastered hide and seek. Okay, I was the dad and I played upon the innocence (ignorance) of my kids, but if I didn’t want to be found they weren’t going to find me.

But, truthfully, I did want to be found, and I was grateful when they kept seeking me instead of leaving me to rot. 

There is joy in being found. I would cheer and celebrate and tell my kids what good finders they were. Which really is the point of the game: Not who hides the best, but who finds the best. 

Like what you do. People want to be found, and as a leader, it is critical that you are a great finder. 

Somedays you must feel as if the talent you need is pretty good at hiding. 

In my work with companies on attracting and retaining talent, I have discovered two fundamental reasons that talent is hard for you to find. 

Share And Tell

When I was a kid, our class would have a time called share and tell. We brought something that we had at home, and then we told the class about it.

The first reason talent is hard for you to find is that you don’t ask for it.

I built small communities of technology leaders, and a network of which those communities are a part, so that leaders could rely on each other for insight and leads. Part of those leads are people. 

Your peers have something at their company that they would love to bring to class and talk about: They are called people. But they don’t talk about them because no one is asking about them.

You know what I mean. You yourself have people who are outgrowing a position or are competent but don’t quite fit or could have made your team if the timing was different but it wasn’t and they might still be available or interested.

Ask your peers if they have what you need.

Which means, you need to have peers you can ask.

If you aren’t part of an incredible, active, “we advocate for you” network, get into one (and of course, you can start here).

I just met this week with a technology leader who I highly admire, who is in a perfect fit with his organization, and whose road to leadership was uncommon. And the only way he heard about the opportunity he is in is that the organization reached out to their network and the introduction was made.

The children’s game, Sardines, is different. In Hide And Seek, you have many hiders and one finder. In Sardines, you have one hider, and many finders. When someone finds the hider, they join them, until eventually the last finder discovers everyone huddled together.

Stop playing Hide And Seek. Change the game, and enlist multiple finders to find the one that is hiding.

Keep Away

The second reason talent is hard for you to find is that you do not see what is in front of you. 

I always thought Keep Away was a cruel game. And we assume it is what people are playing, trying to keep talent away from us, trying to avoid being the one in the middle.

It isn’t necessarily true.

You may have the technology talent you need in the company you are in within a department you may or may not lead. 

Internal referral is a powerful source for talent. In your company are people who are drawn to technology even if it isn’t in their job description. Your peers and other managers know who they are or can find who they are. 

You see more talent when you expand the horizon: find the leaders, train the skills; see past the titles and pay attention to the drive; assess the talent and redeploy the worker. 

Helen Young Hayes of Activate Work, Colorado, looks for four qualities in the people they develop and apprentice for companies: humility, collaboration, communication and work ethic.

Find those, and you have found the trainable.

Not only is internal referral a powerful source, but external partnerships with Bootcamps and Apprenticeship are an often overlooked pool of candidates that you need.

I have written about apprenticeship here.

Traditional sources of technology talent, where we first look, cannot keep up with the workforce demand we face. We must look to the overlooked, both the internal and external. And there are some great programs waiting for us to tap into.

I’ve never been asked in an interview, “How good are you at finding?” It turns out, it’s the question of the day.

Need to improve your finding? Let’s go looking together.


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