Remember the day in freshman humanities you were asked to define
"art?" In my class, we started the debate confident we just knew. But
soon, to the professor's delight, we realized it wasn't easy to
Twenty-five years later, I decided to give a speech about what makes a
star candidate - again, with supreme confidence that it would be easy.
You've guessed the punch line: it's not so easy.
Sure, I could create the standard list: team player, self-starter,
positive attitude, etc. But these traits have become almost meaningless
after appearing on every job description since the beginning of
So I asked several top recruiters and senior HR executives what they
believed to be the defining trait of a star candidate.
You'll never see these qualifications listed on a job description, but
someday - perhaps when you least expect it - someone may be judging you
with these thoughts in mind:
1. "It's all in the right blend of insecurity and confidence. The star
uses insecurities constructively and manages self-confidence to make
himself engaging rather than off-putting."
2. "I have to feel that I would be willing personally to take direction
from this person."
3. "Generous, even magnanimous, in doling out credit to others."
4. "It's an ability to rally people and make things extremely
5. "Someone who can make interesting conversation as we walk from the
waiting area to my office."
6. "When you're great, you don't have to over-sell, over-promise, or
inflate what you have done."
7. "They convince me very quickly that they are interested in what I do
and want to help me do it."
8. "Stars always have a good sense of humor because it helps build
relationships and gets them over the inevitable rough spots."
9. "You notice when she enters the room and you care when she
One recruiter invoked the Supreme Court's definition of pornography ("I
know it when I see it"). Another quoted Charles Darwin, explaining that
Darwin is widely misunderstood to have believed in the survival of the
fittest when, in fact, he believed in the survival of those who - like
stars - are most adaptive to change. And, casting doubt on the popular
notion that one doesn't have to be Einstein to be a recruiter, many
argued that "it's all relative" (to the client, the company, the
economy, the moment, etc.). Which is where my humanities class finally
came out on art as well. Perhaps my next speech will ask the question,
"How is a star candidate like a work of art?"