Our video series, Field Studies, covers the skills every world-class recruiter needs in areas such as productivity, relationship-building, identifying talent and looking to the future. In each episode, industry experts and our assembled panel of hiring professionals share their knowledge — and you’ll learn some interesting facts along the way.

You’ve probably never heard of the Renaissance painter Andrea di Michele di Francesco de’ Cioni (known as Verrocchio), but he was once very famous. 

In 1466, Verrocchio apprenticed a young 14-year-old. Though his pupil had no formal training, he was very good — so talented, in fact, that Verrocchio retired, ashamed of his comparative skills. The apprentice? Only the most famous painter and thinker of his time. So while Verrocchio has faded into obscurity, he discovered one of the greatest talents the world has ever known: Leonardo da Vinci. 

In this episode of Field Studies, we talk to Kelly Slack, former member of NASA’s selection panel, and recruiters on the front line about moving past biases to discover the “X factor” in prospective candidates — and perhaps unearth tomorrow’s da Vinci.

What qualities show potential greatness?

When it comes down to the right stuff, Slack says “resiliency and a grittiness” are important characteristics for astronauts. This hardiness matters in a myriad of big and small ways. 

Slack explains that before they were redesigned, the gloves astronauts wore while out on space walks caused “almost constant pain. So the person who could stay out there for hours on end and continue working and continue to be effective is very impressive.”

Over the past year and a half we’ve come to see how resiliency, grittiness and hardiness are important employee characteristics across all industries. As companies worked to pivot during the pandemic, soft skills — those personality traits and behaviors that drive innovation and pave the way for workplace success — became just as crucial as hard skills. 

How do you scout for that? The process is much like any other job, says Slack. “You understand the task they have to do, and then you can start to understand the underlying competencies that they need in order to be effective.”

Getting beyond the resumé to the person

Yes, resumés have been a hiring go-to for a long time. Leonardo da Vinci created the first recorded resumé; when he was 30 years old, da Vinci wrote to the Duke of Milan and listed his skills and experience in hopes of gaining a patron (he also dropped Verrocchio’s name as a reference). 

But while resumés are traditional in hiring, busy recruiters with limited time wind up spending a short amount of time reviewing them — on average, a mere 7.4 seconds per resumé, according to one study. 

“Underlying competencies” covers more than previous jobs, and resumés often fall short of conveying the full range of a candidate’s abilities. 

Slack says NASA and other employers can implement effective hiring by getting beyond the resumé to “[put candidates] into situations where you try to recreate some of the things they experience on the job.” 

Taking the bias out of interviews to uncover talent

Most people would say they know how to interview — you just talk to candidates, right? Slack says this technique means you won’t necessarily ask the right questions. She recommends in-depth, structured interview questions about the specific role that reveal potential. 

“If you want to know about how they work on a team,” Slack says, “ask them about a time when they worked on a team and it didn’t go well. What happened? What did they do? How did it turn out in the end? What might they do differently next time?” 

Advance planning and standardizing questions level the candidate experience. Logically, “if you standardize the interview across applicants, then you can compare across applicants,” Slack explains. That kind of comparison helps reduce subjectivity in the talent equation.

Advance work makes identifying talent possible 

Though planning interview strategies takes time up front, it’ll save time in assessments. Advance work takes many forms — here are some tips from our Field Studies recruiter panel that span the hiring process, helping you to identify talent:

Tomorrow’s talent is waiting for you

While it’s hard to know just where the next great candidate may be, simple steps to remove bias and open doors can lift your recruiting to the next level. And that elevation starts with quality time with your candidate. 

As Slack says, “Remember that people are three-dimensional; they aren’t two-dimensional. Get to know the whole person” to identify talent.