A CEO was known to tell candidates that there were two reasons he’d fire them: if they weren’t good at their jobs, or if they were jerks. That was a realistic job preview, one of the most effective ways to give prospective employees an idea of what life would be like with the company. And it was a good way to cull the herd and get some of the wrong people out of the pipeline – many candidates just didn’t come back for more interviews.

But how can you predict who will be good at their jobs and work well with others if you’re not in a position to cut to the chase so directly? We rely on three independent sources of data in our psychological assessments when helping managers make hiring and promotion decisions. First, you can tell a great deal about candidates with a properly structured interview. This format lets you begin to get to know them as people. Second, the person’s general background and work history offer a great deal of useful information. Third, the person’s profiles on personality inventories and performance on general aptitude assessments provide a wealth of data. Our job then is to look for the recurring themes from all three independent data sets. If you see indicators pointing in the same direction from all three sources of information, you can be comfortable that’s telling you something real and probably useful about the candidate, and how he or she will perform on the job.

You can get better at just about anything with time, resources and motivation. But from an organizational perspective, you don’t have enough of those things to develop everyone to their potential. You need to focus on the attributes that are largely built in by the time a person gets into the recruitment pipeline for other than entry level jobs. That is, you need to differentiate between the things that are innate and the things that can be developed.

There are clear indications that certain intrinsic characteristics are quite predictive of growth and success in organizations, and in the broader arena of life. These are the foundation competencies: the abilities and enduring behavioral patterns a person brings to the job. These traits are often referred to as the I-Competencies: Intellectual; Interpersonal; Integrity; and Intensity. Think of them as head, heart, guts and will. They differ from the many surface competencies (e.g. formal presentation skills, spreadsheet skills, technical knowledge base, etc.) that are the result of training and experience in schools, early jobs and other learning experiences. Foundation competencies are innate. Surface competencies are overlays that can be learned.

For any mid-to-high level job, a person must bring a certain minimal amount of the foundation competencies to succeed. Of course people can grow, but change takes time – more than most organizations can invest. So, for practical purposes, we treat these as the hard-wired factory settings.

Performance depends on your natural abilities and characteristics (the foundation competencies), the knowledge, skill and experience you bring to the job (the surface competencies), the organizational factors that facilitate achievement, and the nature of the leaders. To help ensure high performance, you must select people with the necessary foundation competencies, help them develop the necessary surface competencies, and keep them focused on the right objectives. Of course you also need to reinforce good performance by rewarding success and by fostering a culture that isn’t toxic.

To maximize your chances for success, focus on the foundation competencies when selecting new employees.

The Intellectual Competency (Head) has traditionally been measured by standardized tests that predict success in school, but test scores alone aren’t infallible. General intelligence encompasses mental agility, quickness and creativity, depth of knowledge, logical reasoning and common sense. This factor is a combination of a person’s unique mix of skills and abilities and how well she or he uses them. People who make smart decisions and who use their talents effectively are more successful over time than those who make bad decisions and/or squander their intellectual resources. After almost one hundred years of scientific research about this, the results are quite clear and unambiguous. This is the best single predictor of job performance available. There are always exceptions to the rule (there are very bright people who never amount to anything, and there are people of very average ability who work hard and achieve great success) but the overall correlations between this ability and performance over time are clear and consistent in all jobs and occupations.

The Interpersonal Competency (Heart) facilitates communications and relationships. No matter how clever the problem solution, if you can’t communicate it to others and convince them of its merits, it won’t matter. People who have good social skills and who get along with other people are much more successful as a group than those who don’t have as many talents in this area. They will have greater influence on a team because others like them and feel good about them. This trait is the key that unlocks the door of influence. It enables you to communicate the worth of your ideas. It includes general social and persuasive skills, social insight and intuition, likeability and persuasiveness. The intellectual competency enables you to solve a problem. The interpersonal competency enables you to convince other people that the solution is a good one.

The Integrity Competency (Guts) is broader than basic honesty-dishonesty although that’s an important part of this factor. It is the cornerstone of building trust, one of the two primary factors of credibility. It includes conscientiousness, discipline and follow-through. High integrity ensures that you will meet your commitments on time to the standards expected. Part of this competency includes the ability to focus and to use your talents and aptitudes with appropriate discipline. This is the factor that holds things together and facilitates trust and consistency of performance. The greater the perceived integrity, the greater the trust.

The Intensity Competency (Will) is the motivation factor. It includes energy, stamina, drive and full engagement. People with high intensity are active, not passive. They are driven by a need to get things done and to see results. With the proper control and focus, people with higher intensity will achieve at higher levels than others. This is the fuel that provides the force for achieving goals and for staying motivated in the face of obstacles. The more motivated you are, the more likely it is that you will get things done, and consequently the greater your ability to influence others by virtue of tangible accomplishments and credibility.

Everyone wants more high-potential employees, but it can be a crap-shoot at best trying to find them among the competition and noise. However, you can increase your success rate through the use of structured and job-related interview practices, valid personality and aptitude testing and careful reference checking.

Unlock the potential for success in your organization by harnessing the power of high-potential employees. Don’t leave your talent acquisition and development to chance. Let us help you apply the proven and valid assessment techniques that will help you identify and cultivate high-potential employees who will drive your organization forward.