Why you should hire for skills, not talent

 TED Guest Author1 month ago

By changing your focus, you can find people with a track record for tackling and overcoming challenges, says HR consultant Suzanne Lucas.

This post is part of TED’s “How to Be a Better Human” series, each of which contains a piece of helpful advice from someone in the TED community; browse through all the posts here.

“Talent” is a prized commodity in the business world. Instead of employee assessments, now there are talent assessments. Companies used to have directors of recruiting; now they have directors of talent acquisition. What do senior leaders worry about most? Talent shortages.

Well, it’s time for organizations to stop fixating on talent and to focus on skills instead, says Suzanne Lucas. As Lucas, an HR consultant and writer of the Evil HR Lady blog, explains, “When we use the word ‘talent’ to refer to employees, what we’re implying is you need to have the knowledge, skills and abilities to do the job perfectly from day one.”

Lucas arrived at this conclusion thanks to a close friend with a unique profession — she’s a professional organist. One day after a fantastic performance, Lucas gave her “what I thought was a compliment,” she recalls. “‘Liz,’ I said, ‘You are so talented.’ ‘Thanks,’ she said. ‘But I’m actually not more talented than most people; I’ve worked very, very hard to get to where I am today.’”

Her reply opened Lucas’s eyes to the role of learning, effort and practice in our professional development. Yes, there are prodigies among us: “Mozart wrote his first minuet at five,” she says. Still, many great achievements — just like her friend’s performance — are the result of hard work. “It took Lin-Manuel Miranda a full year to write a single song for his musical Hamilton,” Lucas says.

So the next time you’re filling a job, shift how you evaluate applicants. Lucas explains, “We need to not only look at ‘Does this person already know how to do something?’ but ‘Can she learn it’?”

How can you tell if someone can learn something? “Well, have they learned hard things in the past?” asks Lucas. “Do they know similar things? Do they have a history of recovering from failure? Somebody that has failed and then succeeded has demonstrated they have the grit and guts necessary” to tackle and overcome new challenges. As we face a future of great uncertainty in terms of the kinds of jobs available, the people who can learn new skills — especially those with resilience and a growth mindset — will be among the most valuable.

Screening candidates for skill rather than talent might take you more time. You’ll need to look more closely at people’s resumes and cover letters and possibly even read between the lines. But the extra effort will be worth it, says Lucas. “When we remove talent from the equation, it’s easy to see that just about anybody can learn just about anything with hard work and dedication,” she says. “When businesses are willing to invest in training and development, they’ll find that the talent shortage disappears because it never existed in the first place.”

Watch her TEDxBasel talk now: 

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Vegan-friendly options in UK chains

Options for eating out when on the move or with friends and family.

veggie burger - dining out as a vegan

Being vegan doesn’t mean having to miss out on the simple pleasure of enjoying a meal out with family or friends. As the number of vegans in the world continues to grow exponentially, so too does the number of vegan-friendly restaurants. But you don’t have to be restricted to restaurants that cater exclusively for vegans – today you will probably find it is more strange to find a restaurant that doesn’t have a vegan option on its menu than one that does!

Most mainstream chains will offer a labelled vegan option on their menu, with some even going as far as printing a completely separate vegan menu. Some chain options are even registered with the Vegan Society trademark, so you can chomp away happy in the knowledge that we are confident that the dish is suitable for vegans (take a look our list below!). However, we know that this isn’t always the case, so it’s handy to know what to look for when it comes to dining out. 


Veggie spring rolls - vegan chinese food

Most Chinese restaurants will serve a range of tantalising tofu dishes, sometimes listed as bean curd on the menu. The great thing about tofu is its versatility – you can have it deep-fried, salt and pepper style or in a range of tasty sauces. If you’re not feeling tofu for your main, you can choose from a range of delectable vegetable dishes, from veggies in sweet and sour sauce to vegetable curry. Serve with sides like boiled rice or noodles, just be sure the noodles are made from wheat rather than egg, as this will vary from restaurant to restaurant.

Looking for a full-on banquet? Kick things off with delicious appetisers like vegetable spring rolls or veggie dumplings. Be aware that egg is very common in Chinese cooking, so double check with the chef or server that your dish doesn’t contain egg. It’s also worth asking about oyster sauce, which is often added to vegetable dishes (even those listed as ‘vegetarian’) without a second thought, so you will need to specify that you would like them to steer clear of this.  Tips like looking out for fish sauces and hidden egg can also be applied to other Southeast Asian cuisines like Thai and Vietnamese.

Chip shops

Who doesn’t love a good portion of chip shop chips doused in salt and vinegar? Sometimes nothing else will do! If you’re lucky, you will live close to a place that serves vegan-friendly veggie burgers, vegan pies, spring rolls, mushy peas and curry sauce to accompany your chips. These are often bought in, so your server should have access to the packaging to tell you whether or not they are vegan-friendly. 

If you’re very lucky, you will live near one of the many vegan ‘fish’ and chip restaurants that are springing up, serving up gems like fish alternatives made from tofu. If you’re not so lucky, your local chippy will fry the chips in beef dripping (popular with more traditional style chip shops) or the same oil as meat products, which means even chips will be off the menu! Be sure to find out more about their cooking methods before ordering. 


Indian restaurants can be an absolute haven when it comes to finding enticing vegan options! Many Indian restaurants will specialise in vegetarian dishes, which may be ‘accidentally’ vegan or can be easily veganised. Popular options include chana masala (chickpea curry), saag aloo (spinach and potato curry) and tandoori vegetables. 

Ghee (a type of clarified butter) is very common in traditional Indian cooking, so be sure to check that the restaurant you are visiting uses vegetable oil instead, vegetable oil is the more affordable option so it is becoming increasingly common in restaurants. Other things to look out for include yoghurt, found in creamy sauces and dips and naan breads, which often include dairy.  Fear not though, you can fill up on lots of tasty additions like poppadoms, vegetable pakoras or vegetable samosas. Again, it’s always better to check that these are vegan-friendly rather than assuming, as restaurants will vary.                                                                                  


Tomato pasta - vegan italian food

It can be slightly more difficult to order from an Italian restaurant when dining out. There will often be an array of creamy dishes or plates packed with cheese on the menu. However, businesses are becoming much better at catering for vegans, so you won’t have to forgo this flavour packed cuisine if you know where to look and what to look for. 

Most dried pasta is suitable vegans by default, due to being made from durum wheat alone. You will need to be careful when it comes to fresh pasta though, as this is often made with eggs – ask your server or the chef to be sure. If you are in the mood for a steaming bowl of comforting pasta, look for tomato-based sauces like Arrabbiata, ask for it to be made with olive oil rather than butter and check that the sauce doesn’t include anchovies. Bulk up your dish with extra veggies like mushrooms and courgettes for a satisfying dinner. 

We couldn’t talk about Italian food without mentioning the crowd-pleaser that is pizza! You may think pizza is synonymous with dairy-based cheese, but vegan cheese pizza is quickly becoming widely available, particularly in chain restaurants. Isn’t it great to live in a time where vegan pizza is so easy to find! 


Don’t be fooled by its reputation for being cheese and sour cream heavy, Mexican cuisine can be a great option for vegans. 

tortilla chips topped with beans and guacamole - vegan mexican food

Most common Mexican dishes (think burritos, quesadillas and tacos) can easily be veganised. Just swap the meat and dairy products for flavoursome beans, vegetables and rice for a scrumptious and substantial meal.  Make it as spicy as you can handle by adding some jalapenos! 

If you’re looking for a starter, nachos can be a great option. Simply skip the cheese and sour cream and load them up with salsa and guacamole, just check that your guacamole is made the traditional way and that no dairy has been added.  

Vegan Society Trademarked items in high street chains

In a pickle for a vegan lunchtime option? Pop into your nearest Café Nero and pick up their Sweet Potato and Beetroot Houmous Wrap or Orzo Pasta & Mediterranean Veg Hot Pot. If you fancy a sweet treat, give their Apple and Blackcurrant Crumble a whirl. Costa also offers a Fruity Crumble that is registered with the Vegan Trademark, as well as seasonal options like their Crimbo Crumble. 

Visit Handmade Burger Company and choose from four vegan burger options like the Cajun Vegetable and Bean Burger or the Chickpea and Quinoa Burger as well as tempting sides like Peri Peri or Rosemary Salt Chips. If you’re not too full, you can even wash it all down with their deliciously thick and creamy vegan milkshakes! 

JD Wetherspoons is well-known for being one of the most affordable pub chains around, but did you also know that they are quite pioneering when it comes to vegan-friendly options? Choose from Pasta Pomodoro, Sweet Potato, Chickpea & Spinach Curry or Vegan Chilli with Smokey Mexican Rice. They even have a vegan-friendly Apple Crumble on offer for after! 

Wagamama has a wide-ranging selection of vegan meal choices, which make it a great option for an evening meal out. Begin your meal with tempting starters like their Wok Fried Greens or Yasai Gyoza or head straight to their mouthwatering mains like the Yasai Pad-Thai or the Yasai Samla Curry.

You can also check out HappyCow for local vegan and vegan-friendly cafes and restaurants in your area.

Vegan Matcha Brownies



Vegan Matcha Brownies

Nothing will be able to matcha this brownie recipe! Make a statement with these gooey sweet potato brownies that pop with a dose of green icing.


400 g sweet potato

80 g gluten-free flour like buckwheat or almond

1 tsp baking powder

1 ½ scoops chocolate Vega® Essentials

4 Tbsp cocoa powder

1 tsp ground cinnamon

10 dates

2 Tbsp coconut oil, melted

2 Tbsp maple syrup

100 mL rice drink

Pinch of salt

Optional icing:

175 g icing sugar

40 g plant-based alternative to butter

½ Tbsp matcha powder

1 ½ Tbsp plant-based drink


  1. Cut the sweet potato into small pieces and boil them for 10 to 15 minutes until they are soft. Let cool completely.
  2. Preheat your oven to 180°C/160°C fan/ gas mark 4. Mix the flour, baking powder, Vega Essentials, cocoa powder and cinnamon together with a pinch of salt.
  3. Once the sweet potatoes have cooled down, blend with the dates, coconut oil, 2 Tbsp maple syrup and rice drink into a puree. Add some more maple syrup to taste if necessary. Mix the puree with the dry ingredients.
  4. Line a square baking tin with baking paper. Spread the mixture evenly into the tin and flatten with a spatula. Bake in the oven for 30 to 35 minutes until a skewer comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack.
  5. Meanwhile, make the topping. Use a wooden spoon, beat together the icing sugar and plant-based alternative to butter. Once smooth, mix in the matcha powder. Add a little plant-based drink if the mixture is too thick.
  6. Once the brownies have completely cooled, decorate with matcha icing and cut into squares.