How to Hire “A” Players During Company Growth

How to Hire “A” Players During Times of Growth

How to Hire “A” Players During Company GrowthHiring the best and the brightest is not an option – it’s an absolute necessity. It’s vital to identify top performers – “A” Players – who fit your culture and can contribute to the success of the your business.

Companies going through a growth phase face an additional wrinkle in the high priority task of hiring “A” Players – time is of the essence to capitalize on the emerging opportunities that are driving the need for staff growth.

 

In today’s business environment, there are candidates aggressively searching for new opportunities, as well as “passive” individuals who are currently employed and not actively looking for new employment.

Here are tips on how to find your “A” Player

 

Start with the Basics: Structuring the Interview

Prior to conducting any interviews, you should plan and structure the entire process, providing yourself and the interviewee the best possible experience.

Create a list of questions (both general and specific) – for each candidate. Give consideration to the order in which these questions are asked. The interview should flow and progress naturally and logically.

Badly planned and implemented interviews are frustrating and unproductive. You won’t get the information you want and the experience is unlikely to leave the interviewee with a favorable impression of your company.

Review Candidate’s Background

Research the candidate before the interview. Good candidates will know your background prior to the interview so you should know theirs, too. Review their resume, work samples and social media presence.

Pre-Screen Candidates Over the Phone

The phone pre-screening phase of the interview process provides an opportunity to begin to get to ‘know’ someone, generally determine their experience and skill level, and to identify those actually qualified for the position and eliminate those who are not.

Use the 10- or 15-minute phone pre-screening with the candidate to ask basic questions about their previous work experience, schooling, desired salary, and availability. In addition to gathering preliminary info, you can tell a lot over the phone and perhaps save yourself time by weeding out candidates that just don’t respond well over the phone.

Write Out the Questions You Want to Ask

After successfully concluding the preliminary phone pre-screening phase, the next step is an in-person ‘call back’ interview, which typically digs deeper into the applicant’s personality and their reasons for wanting the particular job. Avoid vague or ambiguous questions like “Can you tell me more about yourself?” or “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”.

Ask purposeful questions. The questions you ask should help determine if the candidate can accomplish the role’s objectives. Ask a combination of pointed questions to gather specific information and open-ended questions that provide insight into the candidate’s individual characteristics, perspective and personality.

These questions will help you get a grasp of “who” the candidate is beyond the work experience and skills they have. Tailor your open ended questions to reflect the job opening. As examples, include problem-solving questions for technical roles and questions related to leadership for manager-level positions.

Here are some examples of open-ended questions that will provide insight into the candidate.  

What improvements can we make with our products or services to be more competitive?

The response to this question tells you whether or not the candidate knows much about your company, and whether or not they have conducted their own due diligence research. While you can’t expect an in-depth answer, the response indicates the candidate’s initiative and interest in contributing to the organization’s success.

Why are you interested in this job? Which of your specific skills or strengths do you think would be of greatest value to the business?

Questions like these reveal the candidate’s “why” and “how” thought processes. If a candidate doesn’t have clear, logical and convincing responses, they may simply be “testing the waters” without any particular rationale for joining your organization.

What things in your present job give you the most satisfaction?

By providing an opportunity for the candidate to express satisfaction or dissatisfaction, you get a better idea of what makes them tick. It also provides another measure of whether the candidate will be a good fit for your company.

How long do you think it will take you to start contributing to our organization?

The candidate’s response to this question demonstrates the degree to which they understand your organization and the job for which they have applied. It can reveal how the person views their own skill set and what value previous experiences can contribute to the new position. It also will give you some insight into their initiative and commitment to become a valuable contributor.

Do you have any questions?

This is the last question you should ask the candidate. If the candidate has no questions, it could be a sign that they are not really interested in your position or company.

Define Your Ideal Employee

Determine the top three or four competencies that are needed in the person you hire. When you know what you’re looking for – rather than relying on “gut feeling” – you’ll have an easier time determining who is the best fit for the job

Personality, fit, skills, and experience are all factors that should play a role in the recruitment decision-making process. Keep in mind that skills can be learned, but people don’t change their personalities.

Be really clear about what you need from the person you are hiring for this role in terms of both behavioral traits and skills. Look for the candidate that expresses enthusiasm for your organization and demonstrates a willingness and desire to join the team.

Most applicants will presumably have the required experience and skills requisite for the position. However, to identify an “A” Player, look for other qualities like:

  • Do they look you in the eye and answer thoughtfully?
  • Do they attempt to engage you with their answers or do they just give you the basic information?
  • Are they listening and actually answering the questions you have asked?

These and other behaviors are good indicators of how well the candidate will fit in your organization’s culture.

Experience and Skills

Resumes sometimes include “embellishments” so it is essential early on in the process to confirm with a high degree of certainty that the applicant does, in fact, have the required experience and skill set for the job. Be direct and specific.

How many years of professional experience do you have?

Are you proficient in X, Y and any other skills required for the position?

If a candidate doesn’t have the necessary years of experience and skill set, you can remove them from contention and move on to the next applicant.

Motivation

Even if a person has the right skills and experience, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be the right one for the job. You should also learn why they’re interested in the position and how they’ll approach the challenges they’ll face. Here are some questions that will help you do that.

Why do you want to work for our company?

Learn what compelled the candidate to apply.

What do you know about our company?

Find out if the candidate took the time and effort to research your company.

What do you think it will take to be successful in this role?

Discover how the candidate will prioritize and take on his or her tasks day in and day out.

If hired, what would you want to accomplish in your first month, six months and year on the job?

Learn if the candidate really understands what goals they’ll need to accomplish to be successful if they get the job.

These questions will help you get a grasp of “who” the candidate is beyond the skills and work experience they have. Tailor the open ended questions to the position. As examples, include problem-solving questions for technical roles and questions related to leadership for manager-level positions.

Personality Types

In the workplace, we observe four personality types that tend to behave predictably different from the other. Recognizing the types and understanding their respective characteristics and tendencies can help determine how they’ll fit in your organization.

The Analytical

The analytical type is deep, thoughtful, serious and purposeful, with self-set high standards. They are orderly and organized and do not need much oversight.

The Driver

The driver is dynamic and active. Not easily discouraged, drivers are natural-born leaders who exude confidence and move quickly to action.

The Amiable

Amiables are patient and well-balanced individuals. They’re quiet, sympathetic, kind, easy-going and usually very well liked in their organizations.

The Expressive

The expressive type is fun-loving, generous and outgoing. Expressives are usually charismatic, which contributes to their powers of persuasion.

It is important to determine which personality type best fits the position you need to fill. Experience and skill set are fundamental qualifications, but don’t underestimate the importance of personality type.

 

Techniques for Weeding Out the “B” and “C” Players

In a perfect world, employers would have their pick of only “A” Players when staffing needs arise. Obviously, that’s not the case.

“A” Players are star performers. They are employees who focus on their career and strive to accomplish more and move upward in the organization. They are risk-takers (“HiPos”) and they have the potential, ability and aspiration to move into leadership positions in the company.

“B” Players are competent, steady performers who balance their work and personal lives. They are loyal to the organization, don’t require a lot of attention, and can be depended on to “get the job done”.

“C” Players are individuals who, for any of a variety of reasons, either can’t or won’t perform in a satisfactory manner. Rather than contribute in a positive way, “C” Players are liabilities that can negatively affect productivity and morale.

Here are some techniques for determining whether a candidate is an “A”, “B” or “C” Player.

Assign Them a Problem or Project to Solve

Give them a problem to solve. Describe a problem they would be likely to face in their role and ask them to respond with how they would solve it. Explore the candidate’s thinking behind their solution: doing so allows you to assess and verify both their skills (the steps they would take to fix the problem) as well as their behaviors (how they would implement an action plan).

Listen for How They Describe What They’re Interested In

Listen to them describe something that’s important to them. Ask about what they’re passionate about and listen closely to the response. You’ll gain insight into what makes the candidate unique, which is another measure of whether the candidate will be a good fit for your company.

Listen for How They Describe Your Company

Ask them to describe your company. The response can demonstrate how much they understand about the organization and the job they’re seeking. It can reveal how the person views their own skill set and how they see themselves fitting in the new position. It will also give you some insight into their initiative and commitment to become a valuable contributor.

Observe How They Act Outside the Interview Setting

An easy way to do this is to take your candidate out for lunch with other employees and observe the group interaction. Think about which team members you invite. The dynamics will be different if all the attendees at the lunch are senior to the candidate as opposed to co-workers and colleagues that the candidate would be working with on a day-to-day basis.

Get Them to Open Up About Attitude and Motivation

There are certain intangibles that set “A” Players apart. Two that you should look for in a candidate involve attitude and motivation, and having the candidate talk about them can provide important insight.

“A” Players are driven by the desire to compete and succeed. They put themselves on the line and take responsibility for their performance. Their mindset includes the belief that winning is inevitable, not a remote possibility. This speaks to a level of mental toughness and passion about what they can contribute.

“A” Players have the self-discipline and confidence in their ability to confront challenges, encounter setbacks, recover from them, and persevere. Because they are self-starters, “A” Players are able to motivate themselves and know how to focus, prioritize and re-prioritize as needed.

 

How to Stay Open-Minded When Hiring

Be open-minded. When looking for senior management executives, avoid narrowing your focus on industry-specific experience. Broaden your search to include different industries and geographic locations to have a bigger candidate pool to choose from.

A lot of companies today continue to find value when they recruit people from outside their industry. Depending on what the executive’s role is, most of the time cultural leadership and functional skills may be more crucial than relevant sector or industry experience.

Do not limit your search to external applicants. Find out if you have any current employees interested in the position who have the skills, experiences and personality that meet the requirements.  Encourage them to apply.

Unconscious Bias

While you might think you and your colleagues are open-minded and would never disqualify a candidate for anything but a lack of skills or experience, that isn’t always the case. Even the most accepting, inclusive person can be influenced by thoughts and feelings they’re not aware they have.

Unconscious bias is a widely-accepted idea that a person’s life experiences influence their thinking without them realizing it. Things that a person hears, sees, feels, tastes and senses through life, whether remembered or not, have an influence on cognition and decision-making. These should be eliminated whenever possibles so you aren’t passing on candidate’s that may be great for your organization for the wrong reasons.

Engage People Outside the Department for Help

You should facilitate interaction between the candidate and other staff members. Inform the staff members that they’ll be expected to provide feedback.

Here are a couple of ways to go about it:

  • Ask a team member who wasn’t part of the interview to give the candidate a tour of the office.
  • Ask another member of the team to meet the candidate in the reception area and escort them to the interview room.
  • Invite the candidate to “shadow” someone to see what they do, and find out what questions they asked.

 

Benefits of Creating a Talent Acquisition Strategy

For companies experiencing growth and commensurate staffing challenges, having an effective Talent Acquisition Strategy that focuses on issues of infrastructure and personnel in place before the growth takes place can be extremely beneficial.

An effective Talent Acquisition Strategy proactively identifies and delivers the tools, environment, structure and resources your workforce will need to achieve your company’s goals. It allows you to create and maintain a highly productive team that can continue to drive your business forward despite any unanticipated challenges or changes.

 

How to Keep “A” Players

Companies should, and most do, invest considerable time, effort and money to identify, attract and hire the right people. Once employees are inside the organization, the next challenge is ensuring that they are engaged for the long-term.

Here are some ideas that should help accomplish that.

Treat Employees as if They’re Family

Most of your employees probably spend more time working than they do with their families. That’s not uncommon.

Just like in any family, issues arise.

Employees want to know there is a purpose behind their efforts. Understanding how they contribute to the greater good gives them a sense of belonging and value. Here are tips on how you can enable a smooth transition for your “A” Players.

Make it Personal

Empower “A” Players to create their own personal path to success within given parameters. Leveraging personal strengths and experience increases performance and engagement.

Provide a Customized Experience

One size does not fit all learning styles, generations, roles and organizational units. Instead, provide a customized experience to bring new “A” Players up to speed that is specific to their role and learning needs.

Cultivate a Productive and Challenging Culture

Do not underestimate the importance of engagement – think about your “A” Players (as well as all your staff) as the engine that drives your company’s success. When everyone is engaged, that engine fires on all cylinders and is measurably more productive. Here are some ideas on how to accomplish that.

Make it Collaborative

Collaborating with somebody who cares about success in the new organization is an effective, scalable way to increase new hire engagement and satisfaction, but only one in three companies provides an onboarding buddy or mentor. To be successful, provide all new “A” Player hires with appropriate formal, supportive mentoring to ensure they meet their goals more quickly, tie them to the organization effectively, and give them needed feedback to improve.

Enable Connections

Connections with others in the company help new “A” Players understand workflows and dependencies. Encourage broad-based connections through networks, peer groups and social interactions.

Get Your Leadership Team on the Same Page

Chances are there’s more than one leader at the helm of your business. All leaders are mentors, so make sure everyone is focused on the same message and objectives.

Hold “A” Players Accountable

Let your “A” Players own their work. Avoid micromanaging. They’ll have a much more vested interest if their projects give them a sense of accomplishment and pride. With ownership comes responsibility. Each individual should be responsible for their shortcomings or mistakes.

Take Time to Recognize Success and Learn from Setbacks

You’ll be surprised how far a “thank you” or “good job” can go. To build a truly effective team, you should acknowledge accomplishments and avoid repeating non-productive efforts.


Employees are assets that are the lifeblood of any organization. Like any asset, attention and care needs to be paid to reap the full benefits.

Finding and hiring “A” Players is just the beginning. Don’t overlook what you’ll need to do to keep them as long-term contributors and valuable members of your organization.

 

This blog post is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.  No attorney-client relationship is created between the author and reader of this blog post, and its content should not be relied upon as legal advice.  Readers are urged to consult legal counsel when seeking legal advice.

 

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Michelle Nystrom
Michelle Nystrom
Recruiter, people enthusiast, career match maker. I specialize in helping people see and reach their full potential, find meaningful work, connecting candidates and companies, and some HR on the side just for fun. Life should be lived at full speed, preferably in the great outdoors, and nothing should be left on the table. Literally. I love food.

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