Recruiting Intellectual Athletes from the “Elite Talent League”

By Alicia Kelly, Director of Corporate Development

The talent environment is rapidly transforming, with both candidates’ and firms’ standards growing higher than ever. The problem I aim to solve is how to recruit intellectual “athletes” in what I refer to as the “Elite Talent League (ETL).” 

This league of talent is composed of intellectual “athletes” across various industries, tenure, and expertise levels, who are producing big wins, operating at maximum productivity levels, continually striving to improve, and actively seeking top-tier firms where they can maximize their impact and personal growth. They are in high demand and their standards are extremely high when searching for the right fit. Like an “A” player, they possess a strong team mentality and a desire to be part of something greater than themselves.

Sophisticated firms recruiting in the ETL are attracting and cultivating these intellectual athletes by creating an environment where they can perform at an elite level. By investing in elite talent, firms are expediting future success. This trend parallels professional sports leagues today where players are evaluating team fit based on a shared-purpose mindset, investment in player development, management and coaching, facilities, lifestyle integration, and even potential tax implications, not just compensation.  

So, what traits should top firms look for in elite players, and what can firms do to attract and foster talent to produce big wins?

How to Identify Intellectual Athletes

For firms looking to accelerate their growth and build a world-class organization, continually being in the market and proactively getting to know elite talent should be a top priority, as a firm is only as good as its people. 

We are always on the lookout for candidates who have the potential to create real impact. Top talent demonstrates an innate desire to be elite in their space, whatever that might be. They possess a strong desire to be a major league athlete, and not settle for peaking in the minors. Some leading impact indicators include:

  • High Standards: Are they relentlessly working to get better and elevate to the next level? Do they pursue flawless execution? Do they demand high standards from others?.
  • Lifelong Learner: Are they inquisitive, curious, and passionate about their field? Do they demonstrate a strong drive to continuously develop themselves?
  • Entrepreneurialism: Are they entrepreneurial, forward-thinking, risk taking, focused on continuous innovation and audacious goals?
  • Collaboration & Communication: Do they have a strong track record of team collaboration and success? Do they communicate effectively and have strong agility? 

In the recruitment process, my goal is to evaluate whether candidates possess these qualities, and what the highest and best use of their time is. The focus is to understand what they are like, what archetype they possess (for example, are they a business developer, tight operator, or visionary), and what gaps exist, as to inform potential fit. By knowing the current players on the field and keeping the ultimate goal in mind, I can then assess alignment. 

For example, an illuminating set of questions to ask a Portfolio Manager is: What’s the most important thing you see going on in the world right now, how is it affecting markets and economies, and how would you adjust (or not adjust) a portfolio accordingly? And, what informs your thinking? 

In gauging how a candidate breaks down a problem and comes to a solution, you build a better understanding of their relative impact and what they care about the most. Do they center the client in their decision making? Are they asking good questions and pushing to deeply understand how things work? Are they visualizing big future wins and analyzing how they can add value to the firm based on their strengths, expertise, and aspirations? From these types of questions, you can derive their standards, appetite for learning, entrepreneurial drive, and capacity for teamwork.

What a Championship Culture Looks Like

1. Set standards.  Firms must foster a championship-type culture of team orientation where players demonstrate an unwavering commitment to excellence and continuous improvement. Do players take the ball as far down the field as possible? If not, do they have a proactive mindset and seek guidance to perfect their game? Leadership must set the standards for their culture and make sure all players agree that this is how they will win championships together, as well as remain nimble as problems and new and better ways of operating arise.  

2. Define Success. Creating this culture starts with a firm clearly defining what success looks like ultimately, as well as for the upcoming season, and for each player in their position. Firms should also define what ongoing standards of excellence should look like and implement key programs to continually measure against, “what elite looks like.” Definitions should be specific and measurable and always track towards being the best of the best. 

3. Create a Supportive Culture. Finally, a culture of rapid development necessitates curating a supportive environment where the team compliments and understands each other, and the firm is highly supportive of its resources. As firms grow, they must systematize, while highly customizing, their support approach. Similar to how professional athletes have everything at their disposal to ensure they are focused on the game, firms must provide resources to ensure team members reach their full potential. This may include dedicated professional coaches, skills training, obtaining professional designations or educational advancement, dedicated leverage and team support to foster growth, and access to exclusive networks and spheres of influence. Thoughtful top-down leadership, team collaboration, and fast momentum on key initiatives should be a daily norm.  

Contact Alicia Kelly at to learn more about how you can become part of the Certuity team.

About the Author

Ms. Kelly is responsible for the building and promoting of best-in-class organizational and developmental capabilities in pursuit of the national expansion of Certuity. She leads strategic initiatives focused on talent acquisition, talent retention, corporate culture, business development, and marketing. 

Prior to joining Certuity, Ms. Kelly served as a Chief of Staff at Bridgewater Associates, a premier asset management firm focused on delivering unique insight and partnership for sophisticated global institutional investors.  During her five- and half-year tenure at Bridgewater Associates, Ms. Kelly held various roles across Executive Recruiting, Client Services & Marketing, and the Investment Research department.