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The Rare Find: Spotting Exceptional Talent Before Everyone Else [Hardcover]

George Anders
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

Oct. 18 2011

One of the nation's biggest music labels briefly signed Taylor Swift to a contract but let her go because she didn't seem worth more than $15,000 a year. At least four book publishers passed on the first Harry Potter novel rather than pay J. K. Rowling a $5,000 advance. And the same pattern happens in nearly every business.

Anyone who recruits talent faces the same basic challenge, whether we work for a big company, a new start-up, a Hollywood studio, a hospital, or the Green Berets. We all wonder how to tell the really outstanding prospects from the ones who look great on paper but then fail on the job. Or, equally important, how to spot the ones who don't look so good on paper but might still deliver extraordinary performance.

Over the past few decades, technology has made recruiting in all fields vastly more sophisticated. Gut instincts have yielded to benchmarks. If we want elaborate dossiers on candidates, we can gather facts (and video) by the gigabyte. And yet the results are just as spotty as they were in the age of the rotary phone.

George Anders sought out the world's savviest talent judges to see what they do differently from the rest of us. He reveals how the U.S. Army finds soldiers with the character to be in Special Forces without asking them to fire a single bullet. He takes us to an elite basketball tournament in South Carolina, where the best scouts watch the game in a radically different way from the casual fan. He talks to researchers who are reinventing the process of hiring Fortune 500 CEOs.

Drawing on the best advice of these and other talent masters, Anders reveals powerful ideas you can apply to your own hiring. For instance:

  • Don't ignore "the jagged résumé"-people whose background appears to teeter on the edge between success and failure. Such people can do spectacular work in the right settings, where their strengths dramatically outweigh their flaws.
  • Look extra hard for "talent that whispers"- the obscure, out-of-the- way candidates who most scouting systems overlook.
  • Be careful with "talent that shouts"-the spectacular but brash candidates who might have trouble with loyalty, motivation, and team spirit.

Each field that Anders explores has its own lingo, customs, and history. But the specific stories fit together into a bigger mosaic. In any field, there's an art to clearing away the clutter and focusing on what matters most. It's not necessarily hard, but it requires the courage to take a different approach in pursuit of the rare find.

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From Publishers Weekly

"With each letter more hideous and mean than the last, this alphabet will supply kids with an abundance of insults. Gerstein panders to the baser impulses with gleeful good cheer. The bright oil portraits of the vile characters may well fire young imaginations," wrote PW. Ages 3-7.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“George Anders is himself a rare find. A superb writer, he brings piercing intellect and persistent curiosity to examine the single most important leadership skill: finding and picking the right people. By turning his own talent upon this vital and elusive question, Anders has done a great service.”
—Jim Collins, author of How the Mighty Fall and Good to Great
“How do you find brilliant performers? The first step is to read this remarkable, groundbreaking, profoundly useful book—which is not so much a book as a detailed map of the newly revealed landscape of modern talent hunting. Quite simply, the best book on the subject I’ve ever read.”
—Daniel Coyle, author of The Talent Code
“George Anders combines deep reporting, vivid storytelling, and keen analysis to help unravel the mysteries of talent. Whether you’re running a large organization or managing a small team, The Rare Find is that rare book—a must-read.”
—Daniel H. Pink, author of Drive and A Whole New Mind
“George Anders finds the deep truth about choosing people right. You’ll never make these supremely important decisions the same way again.”
—Geoff Colvin, author of Talent Is Overrated
“Resilience, curiosity, and self-reliance are strengths that don’t show up in HR hiring manuals. In The Rare Find, George Anders shows that they lead to fresh ways to hunt for talent. More power to him for daring to advocate that which is not obvious.”
—Andrew S. Grove, former chairman and CEO of Intel Corporation and author of Only the Paranoid Survive
“Well researched, useful, and entertaining . . . The book not only shows how to find and hire top talent, it also provides valuable advice for anyone looking to enhance his or her own performance.”
—Steven N. Kaplan, Neubauer Family Professor of Entrepreneurship and Finance, University of Chicago Booth School of Business

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As George Anders explains in the Introduction, he spent two and a half years conducting research to determine the answer to this question: "How and where to find great talent?" He focused on expert talent spotters in three broad sets: the public performance worlds (e.g. sports, arts, and entertainment), high stakes aspects of business (especially finance and the information economy), and "heroic professionals" of public service (e.g. teaching, government, and medicine). "It's easy to see [begin italics] how [end italics] they operated, but it took a while to understand [begin italics] why [end italics]. What he learned is shared in this book. For example, with people as with organizations, "the gap between good and great turns out to be huge," perhaps as much as a 500% difference. The financial implications are vast and substantial.

Of special interest to me is what Anders learned about what he characterizes as "the jagged résumé" (i.e. people whose background to date appears to teeter on the edge between success and failure), "talent that whispers" (i.e. the proverbial "diamonds in the rough"), and "talent that shouts" (i.e. spectacular but brash candidates "that can make or destroy a program"). As I reflect back over NBA and NFL drafts during the past 12-15 years, I can easily recall dozens of examples of players who exemplify one of these three.

Anders spent a great deal of time examining how talent is evaluated in several less publicized organizations. They include Sergeant Dan Fagan and Army Special Services, Wendy Kopp and Teach for America, David C. Evans and the University of Utah, Bob Gibbons (an independent high school basketball scout), Adam D'Angelo and Facebook, Daniel Walker and Apple, Scott Borchetta and Big Machine Records, and Dr.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.7 out of 5 stars  26 reviews
28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Rare Book About Hiring in Today's Intelligent World Oct. 18 2011
By Kevin G. Salwen - Published on
I've hired a bunch of people in my time, and I've learned this: Hiring a "B" player is easy; hiring an "A" is much tougher. So, I'm always looking to understand how to find that haystack needle -- the person who's going to help lead my little organization into places I hadn't even considered. After all, most of us aren't making widgets any more, but we're paid to think and create.

Frankly, that's why I love this book. Anders, a former Wall Street Journal reporter and editor, takes us into hiring environments we never would see -- the U.S. Army's Special Forces, Facebook's puzzlers, a casting director. There's fun story-telling here (I love how the hiring director of the Special Forces provides exhausted soldiers with too few pieces of chicken at the end of the day to see how they will work together).

More importantly, with a palette that colorful, Anders teaches us critical ways of viewing potential hires. While some of the info he gleans isn't all that new (i.e. appreciating failures), most of The Rare Find is filled with smart, fresh tips. My favorite is the "jagged resume," which takes us to the heart of the modern, thinking economy. Anders shows how smart managers recognize the elements a potential hire has garnered from detours, missteps, even vacations. Each of those nuggets contributes to how the best, most thoughtful hires will bring critical skills to a new job.

My copy of this book is filled with underlines and dog-ears. Don't ask to borrow it -- I'm keeping this one.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good find but could be better Sept. 22 2012
By Lawrence - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
3 stars for a good book. Well worth a read.

First of all, the book is well written and easy to read. So why only 3 stars? Well, to me, the second half of the book (chapter 9 onwards) is much better than the first half. While the anecdotes that fills up much of the front half of the book were interesting, I found it difficult to draw any solid conclusions from them. To me those stories only reinforced that there are rare talents but not how to identify them. My feeling is most readers, like me, would have known that already else they wouldn't be reading the book. Fortunately, the author does draw everything together in the final chapter of the book, distilling all the evidence and research into several clear and concise insights that fulfill the promise of the book. I would suggests new readers read the last chapter first; that way all the anecdotes will serve to reinforce the conclusions and I think you will get more out of the book. (as a reader of non-fiction, I'm not looking for a big payoff at the end of the book, so I'm not sure why the author felt he needed to withhold all the conclusion until the end like a fiction writer. I just want to get all the useful info out of the book as efficiently as possible.)

Also worth mentioning is that the book also provide ideas on how to KEEP the rare talents; talented people needs to be challenged. So in that sense, i hope this review can help the author improve on his next book.
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Many Faces of Rare Talent. Oct. 30 2011
By AdamSmythe - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I wasn't sure I would enjoy reading "The Rare Find." Yes, the subject matter--finding remarkably talented people overlooked by others--interested me, but I was concerned the book might present a one-size-fits-all recipe for success. I also wondered just how interesting author George Anders could make the topic. Well, to get to the point, my concerns proved to be unfounded. I not only discovered this book to be very useful and informative, but quite interesting, too. It's a real page-turner.

I suppose I should have known better. Having read Michael Lewis' "Moneyball" (which I recommend) about the use of innovative approaches in finding exceptional baseball players overlooked by most major league teams, I should have realized that the topic can be made compelling. Like Lewis, Anders has woven the real-life stories of people and organizations into his discussions of what works in finding rare talent.

For example, when the U.S. Army's elite Special Forces look for those soldiers who will become effective Green Berets, they don't simply look for the most exceptional cases of physical strength and endurance. Physical capabilities are essential, of course, but they aren't necessarily enough. It turns out that watching small teams of Special Forces candidates try to move an old, rusted trailer a few miles can be very revealing about the leadership, persistence and flexibility components of the job. As the reader of this book becomes engrossed in the descriptions of the soldiers' efforts, through their stories the reader learns something about finding the key components of success.

This book is literally one seemingly unique (yet pattern-forming) story after another. There's the story of the remarkable success of the University of Utah's legendary graphics team, composed in large part of people who didn't fit well elsewhere. There's the story of how innovative organizations like Facebook found creative ways to compete with much larger companies that could devote countless hours to interviewing potential employees. For example, faced with the need to rapidly scale up their company, Facebook created innovative programming challenges ("puzzles") that it posted on its website. These puzzles were not like the famous brainteasers reportedly used years ago by big software companies (for example, "How many gold balls could you fit in a Boeing 747?"). Rather, Facebook's puzzles took hours of creative, innovative programming, and that's exactly what they were looking for. Unsurprisingly, they found a number of overlooked people in unexpected places, like Portland, Maine, for example. Indeed, a central message of this book is that exceptional talent doesn't always look to be quite so exceptional, until you look much closer.

The stories just keep on coming. Some involve people you may have heard of, like Yankees relief pitcher Mariano Rivera, Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling, or country singer Taylor Swift. These exceptionally talented people were not obvious stars from the beginning. Their stories are fascinating, and through them the reader continues to learn about the process of finding rare talent. Some of the organizations described by Anders, like Teach for America or Johns Hopkins Hospital, are also well known, and their stories about finding exceptional talent are also compelling. There's more--much more--but hopefully you can see how the author has used a lot of research regarding rare individuals in order to weave a compelling narrative. If the subject of finding rare talent interests you, this book is worthy of your consideration.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'Why didn't I think of that?' April 18 2012
By Irfan A. Alvi - Published on
This book provides excellent and eye-opening insights into what really makes people successful in many fields, and thus how to identify, recruit, and retain people with the potential to become top performers. Based on my own experiences over the years (at least a hundred interviews and many employees), I agree with the author's conclusions. At an intuitive level, I suppose I already knew much of what he tells us, but the book makes things explicit, to the extent that I had quite a few 'why didn't I think of that?' moments, and I'll be changing the way I do some things in the future.

Here's a summary of the key points from the book:

(1) The top performers in a field tend to FAR outperform everyone else, so it's worth the extra effort to try to find, recruit, and retain them.

(2) A key step (often overlooked) in searching for top candidates is to clearly understand the real requirements of the job, then match people to the job and the organizational culture. Simplify the search process by focusing on these real requirements, rather than trying to apply universal/general evaluation criteria, or just evaluating what's easy to evaluate.

(3) To find top candidates, consider looking in unusual places overlooked by others. This includes considering people with atypical 'jagged resumes'.

(4) In many fields, where high levels of performance are sought, future performance is correlated more strongly with character than experience and academic test scores, assuming that test scores at least reach a 'good enough' threshold. Character traits to look for include perseverance, resilience, adaptability, self-reliance, creativity, curiosity, motivation, emotional stability, ability to work in teams, and leadership ability.

(5) To evaluate character, test by people by 'auditioning' them in simulated challenging problem-solving situations, and pay as much attention to their work process and attitude as their results.

(6) Focus on people's future potentials, not just their current capabilities. Give priority to 'what can go right' (upside potential) when the downside risks are small (eg, idea people). Give priority to 'what can go wrong' when the downside risks are high (eg, CEO).

(7) During the interview process, be a great listener, picking up nuances and reading between the lines. Keep asking probing questions, digging ever deeper and not settling for standard answers. Ask about past obstacles and failures and how candidates dealt with them. Also, if possible, try to stretch out the getting-acquainted period.

(8) Draw on your personal experience to help evaluate candidates. Trying to be 'neutral' simply wastes a valuable resource.

(9) After hiring, for people who are inherently motivated towards high achievement, push them and give them challenging work they enjoy, rather than coddling them or giving them 'easy' work.

(10) Remember that identifying top candidates and helping them reach their potential has a social value which goes beyond the interests of the individuals and organizations involved.

As a corollary to all of this, one important point which is implied but not explicitly noted in the book is that, when recruiting for more routine jobs where there's little or no growth path, more 'ordinary but competent' people may be a better fit than people who are driven to 'be all they can be'. The latter will likely become bored and move on.

Again, an excellent book, and highly recommended.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Useful Perspectives for Hiring - Oct. 31 2011
By Loyd E. Eskildson - Published on
Author Anders spent 2.5 years traveling across the U.S. researching material for this book. Key examples came from sports, arts, and entertainment, business - especially finance and IT positions, and public service areas such as the military, teaching, government, and medicine. People Anders talked to were looking for 'impact players' that brought 3 - 5X average performance.

Examples: Resilience and ingenuity are key attributes searched for by Special Forces' candidate evaluators in their many physical tests (eg. figuring out a way to move a disabled trailer). Motivation hints can be found observing which players run to the huddle vs. those that dawdle, which pats a teammate vs. those that stay aloof. Testing tenacity via extended marches with little sleep works well for the military.

At G.E., 140 rising stars are drawn into an elite auditing/consulting program each year and then sent on four-month projects around the world. Participants need to not only get the numbers right, but also make allies in a hurry so their recommendations won't be ignored. Weekends and evening work is required. The program begins with two years as a roving auditor; an elite cadre then spend another 1 - 3 years as top audit guns. Those who withstand the geographic relocations associated with that phase are likely to emerge as its highest leaders. In the non-profit world, finding those committed to a cause is important - eg. the Peace Corps.

The book is filled with similar useful concepts and examples.
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