Time to Stop Using the Word “Talent”

This week I want to talk about talent.

When I first started in the world of recruiting, nobody was really using the word “talent”. There were no Talent Acquisition people; we were all Recruiters, or Recruitment Managers, or even (yuk!) Recruitment Consultants. Job-seekers were known as Candidates. Staff were known as employees.

Then, at the same time as people started to shy away from using any word associated with recruiting in their job titles, the word “talent” seemed to take over. Talent Acquisition emerged, almost as a new branch of recruiting – a jazzier, more professional, more complex, version of recruiting. Even we fell into the trap. “Talent scouting” was one way we described what we do. All very modern.

But latterly we’ve started to question the very concept that the word “talent” infers. “Talent” is something innate. You either have a talent for something or you don’t. Someone with a particular talent was born with the potential to be brilliant in that area, and can achieve things that others can only dream of.

This definition holds true even when talent is used to describe a workforce. A Talent Acquisition Specialist is charged with arming a company with as much “talent”, as much potential for brilliance, as possible. Because talent is what separates success from failure.

Except all of that is wrong. There is of course no such thing as “talent”. Nobody is born a brilliant programmer, or marketeer, or doctor, or footballer. Nobody is born a leader.

As we’ve been reading in a couple of places (most recently in Matthew Syed’s excellent The Myth of Talent) it is practice that makes an individual brilliant, not the non-existent notion of “talent”. Syed demonstrates that the best sportspeople, contrary to widely-held beliefs, are brilliant not because they were born that way, but because they’ve practiced longer and harder than everybody else. Whilst physiology plays a part as well, the primary driver of success is hard work, practice – and as a result – experience.

If you find this hard to believe, go and take a read. It’s a very readable book that may change the way you look at some aspects of the world we live in.

It is expertise – honed by years of practice – and not “talent” that shapes an individual’s (or a group’s) success in a given area. It is expertise – not “talent” that great recruiters seek to provide for their companies. Great companies are great because they carry expertise, not “talent”.

So, ladies and gentlemen of the interwebs, today we made the decision to stop using the word talent. We do not deal in something that doesn’t exist.

It’s not “talent” that we spend our hours hunting for, it’s expertise.

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  1. The Natural Language Expertise Crossroads | mployability - November 22, 2012

    [...] and employed by industry.  This arrangement works well on the industry side: supply of expertise (I am always careful not to use the word talent) – whilst always a problem – has been manageable.  But with increased activity comes [...]

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