How to Find & Hire A-Players

I’ve learned many management lessons the hard way, but one of the most important was the realization that I can make things a lot easier on myself and achieve far better results if I hire the right people in the first place.

We define an “A-Player” as a person who consistently exceeds the performance standards required for their role, and who consistently demonstrates all your company core values – they are a role model for your culture. Both requirements must be met.

It starts with the job posting. The more specific you are, the better. Explain exactly what the job is, exactly what KPIs you’re going to measure, exactly what projects you’ll assign right off, and exactly what kind of person you’re looking for. You want the job description to scare away the tire-kickers. You only want A-Player candidates applying.

Next, and this is a tough piece of advice to follow, don’t look at resumes anymore. They’re too easy to pad and to tailor to your specific job. Besides, someone who has done exactly the same job for someone else may not be the best person to do that job for you. “Experience” doesn’t have to be precisely aligned with the position you’re offering.

What you want is someone who can succeed. You want a great attitude, an ability to learn, excellent problem solving, good natured communications—an A-player. You can learn much more about these qualities by asking them questions about their career history.

The resume will have data-driven gibberish like “drove QoQ customer acquisition 29%.” You want to know how they approach a problem and solve it successfully. You need a story, not a number. So ask for it. A-Players will respond happily.

An Unusual Job Application Form

You can put this into a form on your website, asking the candidates for all of this or some of it, depending on what you find important:

  • Educational grades (where applicable)

  • Employment history (last 3 roles)

  • Start date and end date and why they left each role

  • Starting and ending salary for each role

  • Duties they were accountable for

  • Results and achievements quantified with numbers

  • Failures or mistakes they experienced and what they learned from them

  • What they liked most and least about each role

  • The name and contact details of their supervisor in each role

  • What each supervisor would say they are good at and not good at

  • Permission to contact each supervisor and their assistance in arranging this

You should definitely require full reference checks and, make it clear that you will choose the references you’ll contact. A-Players have nothing to hide and will have no problems with this.

If you are recruiting for a management role you may also want to know some of this:

  • Description of the performance of the team they inherited

  • What changes they made as a manager to improve the team’s performance

  • What style of manager their employees would say they were

  • Permission to contact past employees and their assistance in arranging this

Now you will have a far better basis to decide who is likely to be good “fit” for your company. The time you spend interviewing will be a lot more productive, and a lot more pleasant. During an interview, be aware of the obvious fact that the person you’re talking to is nervous, and that they’re trying to impress you. Try to calm them down and get them to talk naturally. Keep the conversation focused on the way they learn, the way they approach problems, and the way they learn from successes and failures.

Then call their references. When you talk to them, first check for any factual discrepancies. Integrity is critical, and so make sure that your candidate didn’t lie to you. People have horrible memories for dates and for specific metrics, so don’t pick at that. Instead, ask questions that will let you determine if the candidate actually had the level of responsibility they said they did, and if they actually came up with the ideas they claimed they had.

The quality of your strategic execution depends on the quality of people you hire. There are no shortcuts. Using a process like this takes time and effort, but ultimately it saves you a lot of money, a lot of time, and a lot of heartache. More importantly, it creates a team of A-Players who enjoy their work and who understand how to build your business.