How to Sniff Out Top Performers from a Crowd of Interview Candidates

  | 5 min read
characteristics of top performers

The difference between companies that are making it big in their industries and those that are just getting by is a combination of factors including; business model, vision and mission, product offering, values, and culture. However, what makes success possible is the top performers in these companies. Employees who are highly energised and motivated to hit their targets are the catalysts that make all the other factors work.

Most companies just hire to fill up vacant positions. Forward-thinking HR managers, who can afford it, scout for exceptionally talented people, then “park” them in their companies. They then give them something to do until an important role is created and these talented people begin making great contributions to the company.

You might not have the budget to hire and “park” A-players that give your company the competitive edge it needs in your industry. You might, however, make a deliberate move to identify top performers at the interview stage. This means that you will be creating your own pool of top performers in all departments of your company. Over time, your company will evolve and take on a culture of top performers hitting target after target.

Lay the foundation for Top Performers First

Look around in your company. Are there top performers you can easily identify in different departments? You can get this information from previous appraisals done by line managers and also talking to managers in different departments. Since you are trying to create an employee pool of top performers, identify what can be done to improve the performance of those who fall short of the A-performers traits.

There is no need for bringing in top performers in an environment that doesn’t challenge them to bring their A game. Ensure that they will be part of a team that motivates and pushes them to tap into their utmost potential.

So what are the top character traits that all top performers share?

  1. Intellectual Powerhouse

Brainpower is a critical attribute of a top performer. A person’s intellect is one of the most crucial components about them. How their mind works when presented with a concept, idea or problem. Intelligence contributes to someone’s thought process, how they carry themselves, self-awareness and how best to use their skills. How do you identify intelligence in an interview? Ask the candidate about their life, their family history, how they performed in primary and high school (tertiary education has a commercial aspect added to it), why they chose the course they did, and if they held a leadership position. Pay attention to how they answer and their thought process. High intelligence can give rise to thoughtful analysis, good judgement, better decisions and asking the right questions. Be careful not to confuse empty bravado with confidence. Check the quality of content from candidates.

  1. Character and values

Intelligence without character and compassion is wasted. Virtues like decency, honesty, generosity, kindness and consideration are important in people working in your company. Getting this information from a candidate can be difficult, but you can get glimpses of who that person really is how they talk about other people. This is why the “Tell me about yourself question” is really important. You can discern so much from a candidate’s response. Look for candidates who have been inspired by others, the non-verbal cues when they are talking about people and experiences and how they answer situational questions. This is not scientific and doesn’t necessarily mean that all awkward candidates are not good for you. In fact, the awkward ones could be just overly nervous about the interview. So do not base your judgement on just one observation.  

  1. See the Bigger Picture

Top performers ‘see the forest for the trees’. They are able to zoom in focus on their tasks and get things done, then zoom out and ensure that what they have done has the desired impact on the larger spheres like company goals,  stakeholders and future objectives of the company. During an interview, the candidate will maintain their focus on the role at hand and try as much as possible to answer your questions in relation to the role. They will also ask questions regarding how the role helps the company achieve its goals, what their contribution is and the other departments they are likely to interact with.

  1. Passion

Passion is an attribute that makes someone stand out. It radiates in the way they speak, carry themselves and do their work. You can see passion when a person puts in extra work, gives extra output and extraordinary results. In an interview situation, you can feel passion when the candidate talks about why they’re the best for the role or when they explain why they applied for the position.

When recruiting, be sure that the person you recruit has the qualities above. This process requires patience and hard work. do whatever it takes to bring exceptional talent on board.


Doreen Mueke
Doreen is the Senior Content Marketer at Ringier One Africa Media.