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10 Factors That Best Predict On-the-Job Success

[Bob Norton: WisdomAboutWorkMost of these factors are measureable, belong in the hiring decision process, but are rarely documented in a job description to lure the best candidate]

Stretch Factor for Job-seekers = the combination of factors that collectively indicates the types of jobs you can handle without all of the requisite skills and experiences.

(Note to all, this is the job-seeker version of a similar post. More important note to job-seekers: I’m hosting a webcast on Oct 10 on how to use these factors to prepare your resume, LinkedIn profile, and answer interview questions. If your skills and experiences aren’t a direct match with what’s listed on the job posting, you’ll need to use this information to both get noticed and to get hired.)

Here’s why this idea is important: the criteria we use to hire or promote someone we know is different than the criteria we use to hire or promote someone we don’t know. When we have directly observed a person’s performance on the job, factors like a track record of delivering results, leadership, ability to make decisions, problem-solving and potential count for more than skills, experience, knowledge and industry background. This point was reinforced during a presentation I made at a recent Oil & Gas industry recruiting summit. One of the talent leaders in attendance described promoting a very successful project leader into a job about twice the size of the person’s current position in terms of team size, scope of responsibility and overall budget. Yet she, and the people who made the decision, were confident he would handle it successfully. A Stretch Factor analysis can be used in a similar way to assess people we don’t personally know. (Job-seekers, you need to present information in such a way that gets interviewers to fully understand what you’ve accomplished.)

As part of my recruiting practice, for the past 30 years I’ve been tracking the career growth of dozens of people I’ve known, worked with, and placed. While circumstances turned out to be as important as talent, here’s the short list of common traits that I’ve discovered best predict upward mobility.

Some of the Big Components of the Stretch Factor

  1. Drive to gets things done. The best people proactively seek out opportunities to be challenged. They don’t just wait for them. Look for a pattern of taking on bigger challenges, and delivering results on a consistent basis.
  2. Steady upward trajectory. Dig deep into the person’s major accomplishments over the past 5-10 years. This will give you a sense of how fast the person’s job scope, level of responsibility, and impact are increasing. The rate of change is the key.
  3. Successfully handling projects beyond the person’s current experience level. Ask candidates to describe their biggest accomplishments with the least amount of experience. You’ll quickly see why experience is overrated.
  4. Ability to learn and apply new knowledge quickly. This is a prerequisite for getting promoted, but it goes beyond just expanding technical competence. It includes dealing with ambiguity, taking on a broader functional role, and being comfortable making the right decisions without a complete set of information.
  5. Persuasive. As part of the Most Significant Accomplishment questioning pattern, it’s important to find out who the candidate has worked with and influenced in some way. Consider peers, senior managers, executives, and leaders in other functions. The significance and scope of the issues involved is as important as who was persuaded.
  6. Big Picture Thinking: Strategic–Tactical–Technical Balance. Ask people how they made their biggest decisions. The best people naturally see all of the strategic, tactical and technical issues involved. Big picture thinking this way, in combination with the size of the biggest decisions in terms of scope, scale and complexity is part of the Stretch Factor assessment.
  7. Broad Picture Thinking: Having a Multi-functional Business Perspective. The best people are sensitive to the needs of other functions. For example, techies who fully appreciate the user experience, marketers who understand engineering, and sales reps who understand the impact on logistics on a huge order, are often assigned to cross-functional project teams early in their careers. Success on these projects leads to bigger opportunities in the future.
  8. Organization and the Process of Success. The best people use a consistent approach for handling complex projects. The process steps include an assessment of the situation, figuring out the best solution, getting approval for a comprehensive plan of action, pulling together the required resources, and successfully executing the plan.
  9. Managing Others and Managing Other Managers. While building, developing and managing a team of top people is not insignificant, managing and developing other managers requires a big step-up in ability. Look for cross-functional project leadership to gain a sense of this.
  10. Leadership = Vision plus Execution. Here’s a recent post I wrote on how to assess leadership. In some way it captures all of the above factors. The big idea: talk alone is cheap, but talk and action is priceless.

This isn’t the complete list, but it’s a start on developing a means to use past performance and future potential to assess people we don’t know, rather than box-checking their skills and experience. If you’re a job-seeker, use the Stretch Factor concept to demonstrate your performance and potential using specific examples of major accomplishments. While you won’t get every job you deserve, you will get one. Good luck.


Lou Adler (@LouA) is the CEO of The Adler Group, a full-service talent acquisition consulting firm. His latest book, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013), covers the Performance-based Interviewing process described in this article in more depth. For instant hiring advice join Lou’s LinkedIn group and follow his Wisdom About Work series on Facebook.

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