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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. That’s where the Topgrading methodology made a huge difference for me. I learned to follow a disciplined hiring methodology to ensure I only hire A-Players for every role.

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.

In a previous article, I described the importance of using Role Scorecards to reduce hiring mistakes. I recommend creating Role Scorecards for every functional role in the company and use them as the basis from which you construct your job posting for each role. When jobs are posted with this level of specificity it will deter many unsuitable applicants from applying right from the start, which is a good thing. You only want A-Player candidates applying.

The next step is to put another filter in place to refine your applicant list still further. I personally don’t look at resumes anymore. A resume is a generic document that may be sent to hundreds of other employers and is biased to show the applicant in a favorable light. Rather than have people send you their resume, instead you send them a “Career History Form” to fill out that asks the applicant to tell you exactly what you want to know.

Using a Career History Form extracts the exact same information from every applicant so you can compare them side by side. The form will take the applicant about an hour to fill out. This hurdle filters out the tire kickers because only high caliber A-Player candidates who are genuinely serious about applying for your role will complete this step.

Career History Form

I learned about Career History Forms via the Topgrading methodology. To be fair, the methodology was designed for large corporate entities like General Electric and in its pure form is very complex. So what I have done over the years is adapt and simplify the process to make it more suitable for the Small-Medium sized businesses that make up our client base.

In broad terms, the Career History Form I use asks applicants to provide the following information about their previous roles. I typically customize the online form to ask applicants these questions for each of their last 3 roles:

  • 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

The form indicates that you will require full reference checks and that you will choose the referees you wish to contact (which are not necessarily the names of the advocates they put forward on their resume). A-Players have nothing to hide and will have no problems with this.

If you are recruiting for a management role you also want to know the following information about each of their previous managerial roles:

  • 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

Can you imagine how much easier it is as a hiring manager when you receive this comprehensive information from every job applicant? Now you can compare the applications side by side and have a far better basis to decide who is likely to be good “fit” for your role, and with whom you will spend your valuable time interviewing.

As you can see, this comprehensive process is designed to draw out the truth and filter out the tire kickers. And we haven't even gotten to the interview stage yet!

The quality of your business execution depends greatly on the quality of people you hire. You take hiring shortcuts at your peril. Discipline yourself to do it right the first time, and save yourself the time, money, and heartache that comes along with making bad hiring decisions.

Hiring is too important to get wrong!

The Role Scorecard and Career History form are the starting point for making great hiring decisions (I will explore the other steps in future articles).