Elite talent, A-players, big guns — call them what you will. They’re still the most elusive creatures in all of talent acquisition and human resources. And with very good reason: they improve the productivity of people around them by 15%.

When it comes to hiring someone whose performances put them in the top 10% of their profession, nothing you say or do will make any difference if your workplace isn’t genuinely interested in a mutually flourishing partnership.

That’s because a top performer at a given company might not be able to hit the same heights at your workplace. Tim Sackett’s piece on how A-players are made, not hired, points out that it would take a tremendous effort to replicate the exact same conditions that it took for them to excel in their previous roles.

Quite simply, you’ve got to identify talent who can be A-players at your organization in particular.

Here are 7 of the most defining characteristics shared by elite talent, irrespective of what they do or where they work.

  1. They’re competitive. Your typical A-player is driven by a white-hot competitive streak that propels them to greatness. Whether it’s a SWOT analysis or an annual report, they see the podium at the end of every task. In their minds, if they aren’t front and center at the end of it all, someone else is. This makes A-players highly motivated and result-oriented, but their sheer ability means they compete with their own high standards above all else.

  2. They’re supportive. Even in the midst of a crazy deadline or a crunch week, top performers will find the time to back up their B-player colleagues. Whether it’s a simple word of encouragement or a more proactive helping hand, elite talent proves itself by being motivational rather than in need of motivation. These are the stars that your people look to for guidance, feedback and approval.

  3. They’re predictive. One of the A-player’s greatest strengths is their ability to identify trends and anticipate challenges before they become operational problems. Where most people see an unhappy engineer, an A-player might see a future data security breach. Where most people see advancements in technology, an A-player might see a company full of outdated architecture and certifications. It’s this ability to almost ‘predict’ what’s to come that makes this trait so valuable that it transcends industries and professions.

  4. They’re proactive. A-players are a joy to work with (and manage) because they’re self-starters who need no motivation or hand-holding. Not only will they innovate and ideate on their own, but they’ll also expect to be afforded the freedom to do things their way. This combination of proactiveness and foresight means they not only see problems before they pose a threat, but have the means to develop solutions to those issues without being asked to.

  5. They’re bigger than their role. B-players are easy to identify because they do what they’re hired to do. Engineers who write code, account executives who sell subscriptions and supply chain managers who oversee logistics all fit into this category. What elevates them to the rank of A-player is the ability to contribute beyond the scope of their role. Imagine a marketer who is able to directly influence and close deals, or a developer who creates spinoff products to help upsell existing customers. These are the types of minds that companies fight over.

  6. They don’t act bigger than anyone. With all the skill in the world, it would be easy to assume A-players all come with god complexes and laurel-resting tendencies. In truth it’s the opposite. Genuinely elite talent are defined by their attitude. They may believe that they are a notch or two above their colleagues in ability, but they behave like everyone is equal. This means a universal degree of respect and professionalism, as well as the constant desire to improve.

  7. They believe. There’s something to be said for the power of unwavering optimism and self-belief. It’s infectious, and it’s a sign that someone in your organization might be a notch or two above the norm. Whether it’s motivating their colleagues and teams to hit their goals or instilling a genuine belief in the company’s roadmap, A-players are believers through and through. This stems from the deep-rooted confidence that only comes when you have the track record of an A-player.

In short, A-players make your world go round.

There’s a reason talent acquisition professionals fall over each other to hire the top 10% of performers for a role. Given the right conditions and sufficient autonomy, they’re proven winners who make everyone around them better.

The problem is that genuine A-players are rare. Very rare. Far rarer than you think.

While these 7 traits are hallmarks of an A-player, they’re not everything. Truly elite talent does not show up by the dozens. So the next time you think you’ve hired a handful of elite talent in a short span of time, think again.

You might also want to check out this McKinsey report on attracting and retaining the right talent to learn more about how to find, woo and hire genuine A-players.