Real Talent v. Virtual Talent

While watching the recent NCAA basketball championship game; a new concept on how to identify top talent came to mind. If you are not familiar or have little interest in basketball, the recruiting aspect of this post will shed some light on the fascination of the sport.

Duke University was the eventual champion, defeating Butler University in a closely contested battle that lasted until the final seconds of the game. But the purpose of this post is not to explain or analyze the tournament or any specific games, but simply to shed light on the numbers.

Here are the numbers: (960) (192) (15) (5) (1)

Now, let’s do the math!

There were 64 high caliber collegiate teams invited to participate in the tournament. These teams were all champions of their respected conferences.

There are 15 players on a collegiate basketball team. All the players are scholarship athletes; meaning that they were highly recruited to their respective colleges! So, we are not talking about the “average Joe”. We are talking about competitive young men having a blend of athletic ability and scholastic aptitude.

In total, 960 basketball players participated in the tournament.

On average, there are typically three star (well-rounded) players on each team. Of the 960 total players, 192 players have excelled in the sport.

With that said, if you were to select an all-star team from the pool of well-rounded players, only 15 players would be selected.

If you had to select the best player at every position from the team of all-stars, your total would be 5.

Finally, if you had to select the best player, the number would be 1.

Using the laws of the talent triangle theory, if you randomly selected 192 players (virtual talent), evaluated and scored each player after a series of agility test and competitive games, the numbers would result the same. Only the players would change.

If the legitimate all-star team of the top players competed against the all-stars of the randomly selected group, the difference in results would be apparent.

Let’s take a look at the numbers again, this time from a recruiting perspective: (960) Talent pool, (192) Top Talent (15) NBA Caliber (5) NBA Stars (1) NBA Legend

This talent triangle theory holds true in professional sports as well as in corporate America!

Take a look at the typical organizational chart of most organizations. The largest amount of the employees will fall in the lower rung of the triangle. These are the lower wage earners, support staff, line supervisors that are responsible for the processing and physical distribution of goods and services. The mid level will consist of highly skilled professionals and upper level managers with responsibilities for sales, marketing, vendor relations and process improvements in the operation. The top rung is reserved for the C-level executives; the faces of the organization. A much smaller group; they are charged with responsibility for the growth, profitability and the brand of the organization in the marketplace, Industry or on Wall Street.

What is also interesting is that workers in the upper half of the triangle are directly aligned with revenue generation while those in the lower half are more tied to the expenses of managing the operation.

The talent triangle theory also holds true for each open position that a recruiter has to fill!

Here’s an example: Let’s say that you recently posted a job on Monster for a senior level executive or sales professional. The total resume flow (virtual talent) from that job posting represents the entire talent pool depicted in the triangle. The lower rung consists of the applicants that are not a fit for the job; this number tends to be very large. The on-target resumes represent the middle portion of the triangle. And the applicants that are interviewed and extended job offers will represent the top portion of the triangle.

Because they are large in numbers and the needs are transactional in nature, the job board recruitment strategy is very effective in finding talent in the lower rung of the triangle. But it is less effective at the higher levels where the numbers are smaller and recruiting is more relationship driven and an on-going process. So, a job posting will attract mostly applicants from the lower rung of the triangle and from the bottom portion of the talent pool for all levels of the triangle.


Let me explain by going back to the basketball scenario: Elite players do not actively seek out a position with another team because they are highly visible on the court; they are valued, appreciated and are satisfied with their roles on their team. Like top talent in corporate America, It would take a lot for them to move! The ones that are more receptive to offers from a new team are typically the reserve players with limited playing time or at the bottom end of the depth chart.

So, top talent must be recruited! And by recruited, I don’t mean they stumbled upon a cleverly written job description tucked away on an Industry website. They must be convinced of the potential career move, by a trusted advisor who they feel understands their situation.

Wait! Before you submit the next batch of qualified, screened and prepped candidates to your hiring manager for that hard-to-fill position, think about the talent triangle theory. Then ask yourself if your finalist candidates came from the top end of the higher rung of the talent triangle.