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What is talent? Talent definition in the workplace

Talent in the workplace can refer to both innate abilities and mastered skills. While talent is a natural aptitude that emerges effortlessly, skills are acquired abilities developed through learning and practice. In HR, “talent” often describes high-performing and high-potential employees, varying based on context.

Alexandra Marinaki
Alexandra Marinaki

Alexandra is a psychologist with a MSc in Talent Development and Creativity.

Finding a clear talent definition is challenging. Some will argue that it’s genetics, others will say it’s learned, and most will agree that it’s a little bit of both. We can define talent as a special ability that potentially leads an individual to success.


Here are some talent examples:

  • Writing
  • Researching
  • Brainstorming
  • Inspiring
  • Self-managing
  • Networking
  • Innovating
  • Listening
  • Negotiating
  • Programming

This list can also describe skills, as we often use these terms interchangeably. However, there is a slight difference between talent and skill.

Talent vs Skill

Talent and skill describe related properties, but they’re not exactly the same. Talent comes naturally while skill is something you develop through learning.

  • Talent definition: a natural aptitude, an inner quality that emerges effortlessly
  • Skill definition: an acquired ability, learned with effort

According to research, genes play a significant role in talent. They form the way individuals respond to certain stimuli and how they seek out specific experiences.

The environment is equally important for talent identification and development. For example, a child with an ear for music does not necessarily become a musical genius without access in musical instruments or a good tutor. A talent becomes an enduring ability only with effort and practice.

What about the talent definition in the workplace?

The word ‘talent’ has become very popular in business language. In HR departments, job titles such as Chief Talent Officer and VP of Talent Acquisition have become commonplace. Recruiters and HR professionals use new technology and recruiting methods to discover potential talent for their companies and create the so-called ‘talent pools’.

Here are the most common definitions of talent functions related to HR:

  • Talent acquisition refers to attracting and recruiting skilled employees
  • Talent management is the process of developing and retaining employees with skill training and succession planning
  • Talent pool is a group of candidates who are potentially a good fit for a company’s current or future hiring needs

In general, talent in the workplace is approached in multiple ways: it can describe innate or mastered skills, but is also used to define high-performing and high-potential employees. Hence, the exact meaning of talent in a business setting varies according to the context and point of reference.

How can I spot talent?

In competitive markets and in high-demand jobs, companies want to win the ‘war for talent’. Scouts and recruiters are in a constant talent-hunting, aiming to identify and recruit high-potential candidates who’ll help achieve the business goals. Here are some tips on how to build a successful talent acquisition strategy:

  • Be specific about talents and skills you’re looking for. Identify all the skills that will help an employee to shine in a particular role. Make sure that your requirements are realistic, by distinguishing between must-haves and nice-to-haves.
  • Look beyond typical requirements. Now that you know what you’re looking for in candidates, think about how you’ll find employees with those skills. Previous work experience and education are not always reliable criteria. Look at hobbies and interests in candidates’ resumes or turn to your network for referrals.
  • Interviews matter. It’s common to overlook talent when you don’t know what to ask and how to evaluate candidates’ answers. Prepare and ask all candidates talent- and skill-relevant questions. When you’re actively looking for talent, it’s more likely to recognize it in candidates’ answers.
  • Identify candidates’ mental strengths. Resilience, grit, and positive mindset are important elements of talent development. You can use the STARR model (Situation, Task, Action, Result, and Reflection) to understand how candidates act, react, and respond in a given situation. Ask them to describe a problem they faced at work and find out how well they manage and overcome it.

Lastly, after you hire these brilliant candidates, make sure to nurture and support their talent and skill growth. Create a working environment which enables employees to develop over time and accomplish their endeavors. Equip them with learning, training, and coaching opportunities and watch them succeed and bring positive results to the company.

Want more definitions? See our complete library of HR Terms.

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