Sometimes the best way to find hidden talent is to throw people into unfamiliar waters and see how well they swim. Aside from sussing out new skills, taking employees out of their comfort zones and putting them in new work situations helps keep employees sharp, says TheLadders' Sarantakos.
"Nothing kills productivity quicker than boredom, so we try not to keep anyone in one box for too long," he says. "At TheLadders, if someone's been working on our back-end algorithms, we give them a chance to work on our consumer-facing features. The goal is to not put employees into the same rut day after day. We expose them to new technology or product features they haven't seen before in the hope that something clicks with them."
As a result, Sarantakos says, TheLadders' QA group comes mostly out of its customer service organization. "We've found them a great source for talent because they know the products and the customers," he says. "Three of our QA engineers started out in customer service, and one recently became a software engineer. We plan to back-fill his position from the customer service org."
The key is to treat employees more like free agents, able to roam where their interests take them, says Dave Katauskas, CTO for Geneca, a custom software development firm.
"We like to create opportunities for junior talent to make a difference and demonstrate an impact in areas that are important to them personally," he says. "The technology available today gives employees more opportunities to perform activities they are passionate about. This keeps them more engaged with the company and most will find the time to go above and beyond what they normally do on a daily basis."
Identifying talent takes talent. If you want to hire a top engineer, you need your best engineers involved in the decision. If you want to tap into skills already contained within your team, you need your rock stars mentoring the aspiring young hopefuls.
Keep interview teams to a critical list of your star performers, advises Allan Leinwand, VP and CTO of platform development for enterprise IT cloud company ServiceNow.
"If you want to grill someone about their database skills, you need someone in the room who knows databases and can ask the right questions," he says. While this may seem like it's keeping your best techs from doing what they do best, Leinwand says it's a much better use of their time in the long run.
"The ability to bring in the right people is a better way for them to spend their time," he says. "There's nothing more important than hiring and retaining great talent."
Bringing top talent into the hiring process can also make your company more attractive to promising recruits, says Kareo's Leu.
"Kareo actively leverages our senior leaders in our recruiting efforts," he says. "It means a lot to a potential recruit to talk to someone high up in the company in the first round of interviews, and it's even more flattering to the recruit if the executive or senior management is the one to perform the initial reach-out."
You can also use your best to unearth hidden talent in existing staff, most typically via a mentoring program.
"We pair young engineers with mentors who have over 10 years of industry experience," says Jesse Rothstein, CEO of ExtraHop Networks, a provider of IT operational intelligence solutions. "In this process, young engineers have a great deal of responsibility and freedom while their assigned mentors watch their progress and guide them."