Want to find a diamond in the rough? Stop looking for candidates with experience in one specific function or industry. Instead, screen for an Achiever Pattern.


Who's the better candidate: someone who can do all of the work with half the skills and experience, or someone with a resume built of gold? Let me answer that by sharing the true story of a candidate named Mary.

Mary's first job out of college was in HR, but she quickly transferred into recruiting since there was more action. Within six months she became employee of the month (out of about 3,000), by finding great candidates for hard-to-fill buyer positions that had frustrated more experienced recruiters. Multiple hiring managers nominated and endorsed her for this award. She had no prior experience in recruiting.

By the end of her first year, Mary had moved into a product marketing position and led the successful launch of a new product. Her big breakthrough came by working with marketing and manufacturing to modify a design specification that was causing production delays. She had absolutely no experience in product marketing, yet she was successful. Her ability to collaborate and lead multi-functional groups was the key here.

After nine months in product marketing, Mary asked to move into sales and took an associate sales role. Six months later, she took over a territory on her own. In her first year in sales she beat quota by 10%. Her quota was bumped up another 30% in Year Two, and she still beat this by 15%. She made President's Club both years.

She was one of the first people to move so rapidly into sales (most associates put in 1-2 years before earning their own territory). What's more, most of her colleagues had some significant prior sales experience before joining the team. Mary had none, yet the senior sales rep she was supporting recommended her for the bigger role based on her ability to learn rapidly, her persistence, and her ability to work closely with demanding clients.

In her second year in sales Mary won a sales innovation award by figuring out a unique way to introduce a major product line to an influential end-user who was buying from the Number One competitor.

What's my point? Experience is overrated. A continuous track record of exceptional performance in a variety of increasing complex situations isn't.

When interviewing someone for any job, get into the weeds and benchmark their performance against peers. Look for the "Achiever Pattern" in each of their positions. This indicates they're always in the top 25% of whatever they're doing. Mary is clearly an Achiever.

The best people are those who accomplish the most with the least amount of training and experience.

If you want to raise the talent level of your team, ask candidates to describe the biggest things they've accomplished with the least background experience. Then don't be surprised how many talented people emerge from the shadows. Surprisingly, they were always there; you just weren't looking for them through the correct filter.