"The whole is greater than the sum of its parts." As Aristotle recognized very early on, a collective set of capabilities or competencies is greater than any single one asset. Simply put: If you stack talents that a person possesses - acquired through life, learning, and experience - you may unveil a remarkable job candidate.
Historically, children were educated in a way that allowed them to explore different fields. Interest in many things was encouraged as a positive trait. Referred to as "well-rounded", these students were nurtured and given opportunities to learn at least basic skills in many areas. So, a student who maintained passing grades and was involved in student government, played sports, and volunteered in the community was revered. While well-rounded “athleticism” is still appreciated, the trend of moving toward specialty expertise in many fields has left many generalists overlooked in the job market.
Assessing a person's knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs), particularly when they are subtle, is more than marking off boxes on a checklist during the interview. It is the ability to see past judgement and consider what talents are regularly being utilized by the candidate for activities that may not immediately seem "fit" into your industry.
How do I recognize the talent stacking? And what does it mean about the potential employee?
Interest: The candidate that offers a wide array of KSAs will naturally have a variety of interests and experiences. You will likely find them interesting to interview. Decide if that interest is nudging you to notice hidden talents. Delight in the unexpected; it may be exactly what you are looking for!
Vision: One negative to a single, strong focus is it can have a blinder-effect, making it hard to see the whole picture in a situation. Often talent stacking is the result of multiple experiences, a diverse yet solid educational base, and the capacity to retain knowledge in a large number of areas. The cumulative effect may be the ability to see many facets of a situation. This depth of understanding can translate to an increased ability to see alternative solutions to problems.
Versatility: Talent stacking can mean that your candidate may have a better chance of performing a wide range of jobs. They will display success in different, even seemingly unrelated, areas. The talents, however, may become related when asked to perform different tasks. If job responsibilities shift or change, this candidate can draw on a deep pool of resources to adjust to the changes and fulfill new responsibilities.
Perspective: A person who has had multiple exposures whether through social interactions, educational choices, or a diverse employment history, brings fresh perspectives that can shake things up in a good way! Talent stacking means you won't necessarily find a wheelhouse. If you do, the wheelhouse may be a fine set of problem-solving skills that you find useful.
Toss out your preconceived notion of the ideal candidate; but not entirely.
Of course it is smart to be aware of the KSAs that you require in an employee. Remember: You're not necessarily looking for the cookie cutter person who set a path years ago and participated only in things related to that goal or that would fill out the resume. Be specific about the skill set that you require and consider how alternate experiences or work history fill that bill.
Talent stacking is like shining light through a prism. White light shines in through an unremarkable-looking piece of clear glass. But, when the glass splits the light, a beautiful rainbow is emitted. Open your mind to the possibilities and you may find that your average candidate really is the pot of gold at the end of that rainbow.