If you were to recruit a person based on one characteristic, what would it be?

by | Jan 21, 2019

I cut my teeth as a recruiter in the AFL, assessing the capabilities of young footballers, trying to forecast their futures, mostly when those players were plying their trade at a standard well below what would be required of them in the premier football competition in this country.

You were required to pit your skills of assessment against similarly qualified recruiters, who’d spent the same number of hours watching the same players in the same games, editing the same video, talking to the same coaches, teachers, parents etc., yet our assessments would vary such that we would compile a very different list of players come draft day.

Even at the elite level of sport, recruitment remains a very inexact process, although you would never know immediately post-draft as club recruiters speak confidently about the players they have selected and their likely pathway into top-level football and the expected role they will be playing.

The facts are, however, if the draft of five years ago was to be held tomorrow, it would share little resemblance to its original form.

In a results-oriented industry, the fortunes of AFL clubs and their key personnel, live and die on this often ambiguous process.

Despite the efforts to reduce the margin for error, including many thousands of hours and as much science as a well resourced elite sporting competition can muster, we get it wrong, and often. The same happens across all major sports in the world.

There are however sporting organisations who get it right more often, even marginally, and they are rewarded. The New England Patriots in the NFL are such an example. They have just won their way into their ninth Superbowl in the last 18 years in a competition which has as a draft and salary cap explicitly designed to stop this from occurring.

Their recruitment is legendary. Two decades littered with stories of unfashionable players who have played critical roles in the success of their team.

So back to the original question:

“If you were to recruit a person based on one characteristic, what would it be?”

We will all have a different take, however, my answer is:


Aptitude can be defined in a number of ways, but most fundamentally it is the desire and capacity to learn.

There is a certain determination and honesty implicit in this, a form of integrity and humility, as it requires the individual to focus on their personal development as it relates to their role within the organisation.

It also allows the person to evolve as the organisation faces into its own ambiguity and the likelihood that it will need to change in the uncertain world that most businesses are required to confront.

In my experience, while the best players do have a physical talent that allows them to play at the level of competition, this is merely their ticket to the game. What makes them special is their capacity to take responsibility for their careers, and the critical personal attribute they all possess is their commitment to learning and improving, and a work rate to back it up.

With this in mind, I was taken by the image of the Hawthorn players at a recent pre-season training session. Hawthorn is a wonderful football club for many reasons, but this image is a perfect metaphor for everything that it is great about it.

With games still a few months away, the full focus of the players in the image is understanding their individual roles in the context of the team and whatever system of play they are seeking to perfect.

How does this apply to you and your business?

Simply, give yourself the best opportunity to get your talent right.

Yes, you will make mistakes, but you will make less if you focus on the individual’s aptitude.

From a recruitment perspective, it is likely that the individual will have ‘track-record’ concerning personal responsibility, development and learning in other aspects of their lives. To this extent, I encourage you to go deep during the recruitment process, and if you find someone with high levels of aptitude, you are on a winner.

It is an effort well worth making.

If you would like to learn more about the leadership learnings form elite team sport, please use the following link for a series of videos focused on ‘What leaders can learn from football”.

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Cameron Schwab
CEO & Founder


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