THINKPIECE: What makes a star candidate? It's hard to pin down, butit's more than the tired cliches

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?"

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in