Next week Tuesday (November 3) is Melbourne Cup Day. Also known as “The race that stops a nation”, it is also a public holiday for those fortunate enough to live in Melbourne.

Who can forget the amazing three years of consecutive wins by Makybe Diva (2003 – 2005), or master trainer Bart Cummings with eleven cup winners?


As I only moved to Australia seven years ago, after a decade living in New Zealand, it has been interesting to notice how I became more caught up in all the publicity prior to the big race. Popular choices at this stage are horses like Viewed (last year’s winner and trained by Cummings), Efficient and Alcopop.

Thinking about the race and trying to pick a winner reminded me of the same challenges we as HR people face scouting for top talent. In looking for top talent, we need to differentiate between show horses and race horses.

Show Horses

It really amazes me how some people look at the colours of a horse to pick a favourite.
Bay coloured horses clearly have the best Cup record with 58 wins, including four in the last five years, and there are 16 in this year's field. Brown horses have won 36 cups, while chestnuts have won 34. Only five greys have won the race, Efficient is the only grey horse in this year’s field.

Just because a candidate dresses well, communicates well, with a good education, does not make them a winner. Picking a candidate based on impressions during an interview is no different to picking a horse based on colour.

Past research have shown that structured interviews (SI) and past-behaviour interviews (PBI) have conflicting results as a valid predictor of job performance. Yet most appointments are based on interviews.

Race Horses

Few punters would pick a horse just based on their performance in the last race. They will analyse the important variables – form, barrier, jockey, trainer, track condition. For the Melbourne Cup a key criterion is whether the horse can see out the 3200m distance.

Just as there is a great science in picking the Melbourne Cup winner, which involves intense study of superior minds, the search for talent requires a similar disciplined approach.

Using well constructed psychometric tests, based on sound job-based criteria, is critical to identify a star performer for that role. I have covered in previous blogs the need for role clarity.

Some talent scouts are better at analysing and screening applicants out, than in identifying top talent. Perhaps this is a function of having to embark on an elimination process to produce a short-list that has created this paradox where the hiring manager picks the winner. See my previous blog on how long is your shortlist.

The true talent scout

Few and far between, the true talent scout can pick a race horse that will win the race. The key criteria are to match the company, the role and the candidate.

As I was last week sharing with the VP of HR in a coaching session, it is a great occasion if you work for a great boss, in a great company in a great role!

This blog is dedicated to all true talent scouts, including Fay Libman. May you all be successful in picking winners!

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Tags: Charles van Heerden, Melbourne Cup, criteria, race horse, resourcing, search, talent, talent scout, winner

Comment by Hassan Rizwan on October 29, 2009 at 5:53am
I have been analyzed your blogs so many times and i am sure by now that you have become the best on RBC in classifications. I still remember your blog on gold and silver recruiters (don't remember it completely though). This approach of analogy is really effective to convey the message as people are more open to discuss things of their interests. Great work. will surely share it with all my team members.

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