“Real Job” Talent Acquisition Should Look More Like Pro Sports

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Matt Gwin
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The NBA draft has had the sports talk world aflutter with speculation for weeks–Who has the most potential? Who is the right fit for each team? Is Markelle Fultz the best player in the draft? Will the Lakers take Lonzo Ball #2? The NFL did their picking in late April, the MLB draft just finished last week, and the NHL picks Friday. The draft in recent years has seemingly become more important than ever in each sport, as contract rules, salary caps, and other factors have made it more difficult to just “buy a team” of quality established players. So teams have honed in on the draft and on developing their young players. While it’s still impossible to fully predict players’ future success, teams do the best they can by accumulating tons of data and hours of scouting on each player.
In “real life” jobs, however, talent acquisition works much differently, and with much less precision. Most companies have no idea who the talent available is—they’re only really aware of the ones who apply to their jobs. And rarely do they get a real measurable sense of that person’s talent, ability, or potential—all they get is a statement, a resume, maybe a transcript, and a couple interviews by which to judge them.
There are four particular aspects in which “real world” talent acquisition could learn from pro sports: Early Scouting, “The Combine,” Emphasis on Fit, and Minor Leagues.  

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1. Early Scouting

Before a player is “hired,” teams have generally been watching them for years. They scout them in high school and college, and watch hours and hours of game film. Top basketball athletes are scouted as early as junior high school, and some receive division 1 college offers before they’ve set foot in high school. With services like Rivals and Maxpreps aggregating prospects’ stats and film, teams can get thorough info even for players they haven’t been scouting themselves. League tampering rules typically prevent teams from directly contacting amateur players, or else they’d surely be courting them for years.
On the other hand, real world companies usually only scout the candidates who walk into their funnels. And this is after waiting for the entire education system to run its course. There’s no tracking potential candidates’ development, there’s no trying to help them improve. You just wait for colleges to spit them out and then hope some good ones find your funnel. And the only info you have is what they provide you with or what you’re able to test in your interview process.You just wait for colleges to spit them out and then hope some good ones find your funnel. Click To Tweet
Vocatio is attempting to improve this, by giving companies access to potential high-fit candidates early in their college careers or even in high school through our online platform. You can see them, scout them, interact with them, and invite them for summer programs, internships, etc. Soon you’ll be able to create custom simulated work tasks and project topics, so students can prove their abilities up front and evaluators can compare apples-to-apples.
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2. “Scouting Combines” – scouting on-field abilities en masse

The NFL and NBA each have Scouting Combines a month or so before the draft, a chance for prospects to tangibly and measurably showcase their skills for potential suitors all at once. They’re measured on sprinting speed, vertical jump, lateral quickness, bench press reps, squats. Ballers are tested on their speed with the ball, their ability to make the corner three, to hit the pull-up jumper. With football’s more specialized positions, they break it down further.  How well can each receivers run each type of route, and catch different types of passes? Can the quarterback prospect throw the deep fade? The cross pattern? Can they throw running to their left? To their right?
If teams haven’t seen enough at the combine, they can go to a college’s draft showcase day, to see all of that college’s prospects and get a second data point. And if they’re really interested, they might invite the prospect to do a private workout for the team.
“Real world” companies should be able to do the same thing. Rather than relying on self-report, interview skills, and academic record, they should test entry level talent on real work tasks and simulations. It’s too time-consuming and costly to do this with every potential prospect individually–even sports teams with millions of dollars only hold individual workouts with a handful of prospects. That would also exclude the more “under-the-radar” candidates. It’s essential that many candidates are able to show their stuff all at once, and then employers can extend the extra time commitment to the ones who impress them the most.
In Vocatio’s Career Hacks programs, we spend 4 sessions helping students discover their passions and talents, prepare and translate their talents to the workplace, and become ‘day-one ready.’ Then we approach the final two sessions as a sort of “NFL Combine for Normal People.” They work on business case problems and simulations of common entry level project types, showcasing and presenting to employers there to scout them. Attending companies get to see them do actual work—researching, analyzing, collaborating, consolidating, and presenting—and then can recruit them from there.  Then we approach the final two sessions as a sort of “NFL Combine for Normal People.” Click To Tweet

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3. Emphasis on Fit

In coverage around the NBA draft, there’s a fair amount of talk about talent but even more about player fit. Could Markelle Fultz play effectively with the Celtics and Isaiah Thomas? Could Lonzo Ball coexist with DeAngelo Russell in L.A.? (Both of those concerns have already resulted in pre-draft trades.) What’s a player’s “makeup”? No matter how talented a player is, does he have the attitude to play the role the team needs him in, or will he be a prima donna who complains if he doesn’t get the ball all the time?
Some teams have loose, unstructured cultures; while others run a tightly-controlled system. Teams have different offensive and defensive styles and strategies. Talented players can become virtually worthless if put in a poor-fit system.
“Real-world” organizations must think the same way. Not only must you recognize if a candidate is talented and capable of doing the work, but if they have the right makeup to thrive in that role. Do they fit your company culture? Do they really want to work in your industry, or do they just want a job?
Long term success requires having the right people, and having them in the right spots. Having frequent turnover and/or disengaged employees is bad for the company and miserable for the employee. Frequent turnover & disengaged staff is bad for the company & miserable for the employee. Click To Tweet
This is why we focus so much on fit at Vocatio. With our online Fit Tests, we help career-seekers find roles they are the highest fit for–meaning roles in which they’ll not only be a high performer but that they’ll also find fulfilling. We likewise help companies find candidates who are high-fit for their roles and company type and who are actually passionate about that industry.
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4. “The Minor Leagues” — Internship Programs

Professional baseball is unique in that prospects almost never go straight to the Major Leagues. The adjustment from high school or college ball to the Big Leagues is so great that even the most promising young players require some time in the minors before they’re brought up. Here they learn to hit the curveball, to throw a changeup, or to become a more consistent fielder. They’re doing “real work”–they play actual baseball in front of ticket-holding fans who pay to see them. But at the same time, they are being both developed and evaluated.
A company’s internship program can and should be thought of like a minor league team. A company’s internship program can and should be thought of like a minor league team. Click To Tweet
Poorly thought-out internship programs seem like a chore. Someone in the office pulls the short straw and has to ‘babysit’ an intern for the summer. It’s awful for the intern and unproductive for the company. But well-run programs are infinitely valuable to the intern and productive for the company.
They should be thought of like a development program and a scouting tool. Interns should have some real work to do—maybe a backburner project or something that should be done but no permanent staff has real time for. But they should also have support and training. If that support and training is formalized and thought out ahead of time, it won’t add day-to-day work to existing staff, and well-prepared interns will reduce staff’s work burden and increase overall productivity. Best of all, the company is able to pick and choose the best interns afterward to offer full-time employment to, and has a decent chance of retaining many of them. This cuts down on entry-level recruiting needs and onboarding cost and time. And it’s great for the interns themselves, who gain some future security in an otherwise tumultuous time.  
Seven of the ten Major League Baseball 2016 playoffs teams had top-10 rated minor league systems after 2014, led by the Cubs, whose #1 ranked minor league system yielded a team that ended a 108-year championship drought. The best way to build a champion is to have the best talent pipeline.
Vocatio is committed to helping organizations develop winning internship programs that can be used to source full-time employees, and that provide students with valuable and transformational experiences. We’re developing off-the-shelf internship programs that organizations can implement without devoted staff or existing programs, which come with hand-picked candidates to interview. Head to www.vocatio.com/discovertalent to find out more.
Real world hiring could get a lot better by taking a cue from pro sports Click To Tweet
Pro sports, because of the limited number of teams and phenomenally talented athletes, might seem like it has nothing in common with “regular jobs.” But real world hiring could get a lot better by taking a cue from professional sports. At Vocatio, we’re doing our part to make that happen.  

 

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Matt Gwin
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