Building a Talent Network: Thoughts

Building a Talent Network: Thoughts

I’ve been thinking about the problem of finding good people, which for me is two-fold:

  • Finding people with the skills and experience
  • Finding people with the right “work chemistry”

I also have a soft spot for people who seek to empower themselves and find opportunities to learn. When I have the luxury of providing that experience, I’m very happy to do so. However, when I am responsible for delivering a product in exchange for money, I can get very grim with people about doing things the right way. This grimness is something I would like to avoid, but whenever you work with someone for the first time, you’re taking a chance on demonstrable skill, experience, and chemistry.

The working world’s benchmark tool for work compatibility between an applicant and a job position is the resume, and it’s a container for other “standard markers” such as:

  • the name(s) of skill(s) mastered
  • years of experience in a skill
  • the domain of application of that skill
  • the corporate / educational credentials amassed
  • specific achievements and associations with name recognition

An ideal talent network, from my perspective, would support both the educational/empowerment aspect (kind of like a school) and set concrete expectations for performance. Job search engines have adopted the standard markers above, which enables more efficient data mining to produce more statistically-likely candidates—not better candidates, mind you, but ones that might be what you’re looking for.

The problem with standard markers is that they don’t really say much about the person in the first place, and so the second stage of the job process—the interview—comes into play. You’ve made the first round of cuts, maybe you had another in, and now you have to say a few things about yourself. Then you may get a chance to talk with other team members, maybe take a few tests, work on a starter project, and if all goes well you’re a “fit” and you’re invited to join the company.

What I’d like to do is bring the interview process into the talent network building. The forums with its required background essay submission was the first step toward this, and though they’ve died down in activity recently (my fault for not being more active in posting and promoting). What I’ve learned from the rest of my life is that people respond much better to things they can see and experience directly; the closer you can get to that (and there are so many ways), the quicker people can make an informed decision.

Rather than standardize on markers like “flash actionscript”, “java”, and “web development”, I’m thinking of using portfolio pieces as the main organizing principle. And because I’m interested in passion and an ability to think and communicate, this is what I think would be in my portfolio:

  • One example of a significant snippet of code — showing how I approach programming, and what I consider excellent. Actual source code, with estimated time to do it.

  • One example of graphic design — showing my design process, and how I approach a design problem by example. This would be an actual Illustrator file, with the estimated time taken to create it.

  • One example of photoshop screen design — demonstrating what I think is important in pixelwork, color, and organization for myself. This would be an actual Photoshop document.

  • One example of animation — demonstrating how I like to think about motion, sound synch, staging, and timing. This would have to be a Flash source document, and possibly some of the source media.

  • One example of writing — something I’ve written that I particularly liked for whatever reason. This can probably be the writing itself.

  • Each piece would have an brief illustrated essay or video download that explains what’s important to me.

I want to work with people who value thoughtful process and can make their own decisions whether my process jibes with theirs. By creating a set of concrete artifacts that can be inspected in some detail by someone competent in the field, I’d hope to bypass the hit-or-miss resume-scanning stage. I think that this approach could scale to a network. There are some other advantages:

  • By requiring network members to provide examples of their approach, it becomes possible to browse the artifacts themselves and find compatible approaches.

  • Skill level is pretty obvious when you can look at the source files and ask questions about them. There is some opportunity to game things here by supplying “ideal” versions of your work, but I think the honor system and self-policing might work.

  • For people who are at an earlier stage of development, the source files with the illustrated essay/video provides an educational opportunity, and it makes our expectations clear on the individual level. Find the person who impresses you the most, and become a student of their process. The network becomes a resource in itself.


p>In essence, this is a kind of merit-based system, except the standard of merit is based on individual preferences. By providing concrete examples of work, we provide reference points through which those preferences can be expressed as a selection.

So that’s the core idea: show-and-tell talent networking by freelancers, for freelancers. I will likely make a page somewhere on my site with my own samples there to see how ot works out, though I’m not sure I’ll get to it before SXSW. I also don’t think all freelancers will find this approach very compelling or useful, but on the other hand they probably aren’t the people I’d want to work with anyway :-) I guess I’ll see what happens!


  1. Mark 17 years ago

    I only skimmed this, partly because I was just 1 hour thinking about bringing up this subject with you soon.

    This is sort of like your own merit-based rolodex, right? I had a great exchange with a former colleague this morning, in which I had offered to connect her with an opportunity, and she replied back with an offer to connect some of her connections.

    So these sorts of things are still going to have that human element… “I should offer this to this friend first; I owe them one.” “So and so would be great for this! I wonder if they’re available?”

    Maybe what you’re talking about is some sort of scoring or points system for a CRM application?

    Trying to make this official, though, is going to be LinkedIn. And there’s the unquantifiable aspect. I want to know I can trust someone before recommending them or turning to them. And I’d like work referred to me because the referrer knows and trusts me, rather than their seeing my portfolio.

    And then there’s the fact that most of us freelancers never seem to have time to focus on our portfolios :)


  2. Corrie 17 years ago

    Your thoughts on what you would have in your portfolio remind me of the site, minus the actual downloadable files.

    Just a random thought-connection I thought I would share. :-)

  3. Dave Seah 17 years ago

    Mark: This is a bit different from what you’re talking about. I can probably boil it down to this: SHOW ME ENOUGH STUFF SO I CAN FORM AN OPINION. NO MORE THAN GOOD FRAGMENTS. TALK TO ME. What I’m thinking is that just by formalizing this, we could create a common format that’s flexible and not too daunting. It’s more like a freelancer potluck dinner, where you can see what everyone’s brought and taste for yourself. The underlying idea is that by having something you can actually see, you can imagine how the interaction might work, and possibly see new interactions.

    Another way of putting this: I think that the experience of holding a tool you haven’t used before is much more engaging than just hearing a description of it. You learn a lot more, in a short time, much more intuitively.

    Corrie: Wow, thanks for the link! That’s an awesome site!!! It makes me think I should spend less time talking and more time learning to make stories.

  4. Mark 17 years ago

    A portfolio microformat?

  5. Dave Seah 17 years ago

    Mark: Hmmmmm!!!

  6. Seikou Truong 17 years ago

    I have the same idea and want to make the such stuff with web-based type. Nice to read the blog !!!

  7. Kitty Wooley 15 years ago

    David, I stumbled onto your blog, and this post, tonight from one of Dave Gurteen’s knowledge letters.  Your reasoning and obvious creativity evoke a sense of fun that is very pleasing!

    I’ve been thinking about how to enlarge an ad hoc talent network for federal leadership here and very much appreciate your combined approach of resume + interview + portfolio pieces. —By the way, love the concise descriptions.  My experience has been that a great resume says absolutely nothing about the person’s capacity for innovation or ability to deliver in the future.

    It seems to me that what’s needed most is openminded, constructive energy.  That quality, or lack thereof, comes out in conversation but is too general for everyone in our group to implement, especially those without strong intuitive radar.  So, your idea is helpful.  Thank you.  Best wishes!