Why we modeled our hiring process on the NFL and NASA

What’s the best way to assess elite talent — those people you expect to play a critical role in your organization’s success? Most management experts would say in-depth interviews, reference-checking and work sample reviews.

But at Citadel and Citadel Securities, we’ve decided to go a step further. Inspired by the rigorous and competitive group tryouts you see employed by the Navy in its SEAL program, by NASA in its astronaut selection and by the NFL in evaluating rookie recruits, our company has decided to host regular “datathons” — contests in which undergraduate and graduate students who we would consider for artificial intelligence, technology and data science roles at our firm have the chance to compete for a cash prize, while we use observable and measurable criteria to evaluate their performance.

While well-structured interviews can be useful in assessing personality and cultural fit, we believe they are much less effective at considering qualities such as analytical skill, teaming abilities and performance under pressure.

Our aim is to give intellectual athletes an opportunity to not just talk about but also demonstrate the qualities we seek: a passion for solving challenging problems, exceptional analytical rigor and the ability to glean insights from complex data sets across markets industries and economies.

The competitions allow us to not only assess prospective employees, providing our talent acquisition team with valuable data to help home in on top people to hire, but also attract candidates who might not have considered a career in our industry.

In our view, these types of tryouts, in all shapes and sizes, can work for many organizations provided they spend time up front developing programs that focus on areas where they have the greatest hiring needs and where the right talent can have the greatest impact.

(L. J. Brock is the chief people officer at Citadel. Justin Pinchback is the head of talent strategy and solutions at Citadel.)

Get real time updates directly on you device, subscribe now.