Date: 08/12/2016 | By: Kevin Brent

How to Attract & Hire A-Players

One of the most common and biggest challenges we see with growing businesses is finding the right people and getting them on-board.

this blog by Kevin aims to provide a clear, concise and practical guide to improving your team.

 Click here to listen to Kevin’s webinar on this topic.


Often business owners leave it until they need someone urgently – which of course puts extra pressure on them and is likely to lead to taking anyone with a pulse!

As we’ve seen before, having the right people on-board is one of the 4 key pillars of successfully scaling up – along with the right Strategy, Executing the strategy in the right way and managing the cash within the business.

Therefore we need to approach finding the right people in a systematic way and give it the attention it requires.  The cost of a bad hire is estimated to be anywhere between 2 and 15 times their annual salary according to who you believe – but just think about it for a moment for your business…

slide3Here are some of the key variables you might like to think about:

  1. How long will a bad hire be in position before:
    1. You decide they are wrong?
    2. You can actually get rid of them?
  2. What are the consequences of them being the wrong person?
    1. Relative lost sales vs an effective hire?
    2. Actual lost existing customers?
    3. Loss of productivity?
    4. Effect on the rest of the team?
    5. Distraction for you from the rest of the business/ sucking up time? Etc.
  3. How long does it take to find a new person?
  4. How much of your time/ others is taken up by sourcing and interviewing prospects – and what does that cost?
  5. Time taken to train new employees
  6. Time taken for them to become effective

So we need to get it right.  We need to approach recruitment with the same focus we might approach finding new customers.  I’m going to take you through 10 steps that will help you to attract and hire the right people (What you might call the A Players).    These 10 steps are a combination of what we think best from Topgrading – a methodology for hiring A Players, Scaling Up, Sandler Training and our own experience.  You may add to these depending on the level of the role.  The only thing we would think remotely sensible to shorten might be the combination of steps 6 and 7 for more junior roles but we wouldn’t recommend it.  Think about the wasted time and money of a bad hire if you are tempted to short circuit the steps….

I’m not going to tell you that this will mean you get it right every time – there will always be a margin of error just like you won’t always win that new customer – but this has been shown to help hire the right person most of the time – maybe even 90% of the time.

Any recruitment process will have three potential outcomes:

  1. You hire the right person
  2. You hire the wrong person (False Positive)
  3. You reject the right person (False Negative)

We’ve seen the cost of hiring the wrong person so contrary to what you may have thought before, you want a process that is biased more towards the False Negative – so just like good selling, you want to qualify hard upfront before you jump and say yes.

Here are the ten steps:



1.      Develop a Scorecard

Writing a scorecard has to be the first step and it will help you throughout the process.  Ideally you do this well in advance of the actual need to fill the role – once you have defined what roles you will need to fill next as you grow.  See our blog/ webinar on Accountability.

A Job Scorecard details the purpose of the job (The Mission), the desired outcomes for that individual/ role and the behaviours/ competencies (including cultural) required.

It is much more powerful than a typical job description – particularly because of the emphasis on outcomes.  In one sense it is simpler (shorter) but it should require more thought.

Another key section of the Job Scorecard is the Behaviours/ Competencies that link with your Core Values/ Culture – which you will have defined following another of our blogs/ webinars!

slide6A scorecard contains 3 parts:

  1. A) Mission/ Purpose of the Job (e.g. to increase revenues of our …. from existing and new customers – you’ll be expected to follow-up on leads from marketing activities as well as develop and carry out a prospecting call plan).
  2. B) Outcomes — Examples include:
  • Increase Sales with existing customers
    • To/ by x amount within 3 months
    • To/ by y amount within 12 months
  • New customer sales
    • Close x amount of new sales/ new customers within 3 months
    • Close y amount of new sales/ new customers within 12 months
  • Activity
    • Make x many cold calls per day
    • Schedule x many appointments
  • Admin
    • Provide weekly/ monthly reports
    • Keep CRM system up to date – daily
  1. C) Competencies — Examples might include:
  • Displaying a positive ‘can do’ attitude
  • Being coachable
  • Being on time/ showing a strong work ethic
  • Being prepared etc.

The Job Scorecard is an excellent first step in helping you define what you are looking for, but it is also a key guide/ reference to help you define the kind of questions you might want to ask the candidate during interviews as well as helping to guide their onboarding and reviews when they have started.  We recommend our clients develop Job Scorecards for existing as well as new staff – preferably in conjunction with the staff member for example during their appraisal.


2.      Build a People Bank

Now you have in mind the kind of roles you want to fill and the kind of people you are looking for, you need to keep an eye out even if you are not ready to recruit.  This is such an easy thing to do but very few businesses do it well.  Of course it needs time to develop, but imagine have a decent starting list of people you already know something about when you are ready to recruit.

slide8You may like to keep a tabbed spreadsheet for each type of role and include people who have impressed you (whether they be contractors, customers – whoever might be relevant for the role).  If you have a CRM then why not add a separate category for your People Bank?

Once you know what you are looking for, if you spot someone you think might be a strong fit then make time to explore further – for example over a coffee, or at least a telephone call – it will be time well spent.  You can approach it along the lines of “We’re always on the look-out for great people – you may not be looking right now and we’re not recruiting at this moment but things might change.  Would it be worth a coffee to find out more about each other?”

You could consider having a permanent section on your website about the kind of roles/ people you are looking for build this into your people bank approach.

Ideally you then rank them – consider recording the following as a minimum for each prospect:

  • Name
  • Ranking —1 (top tier), 2 (mid-tier) or 3 (low-tier).
  • Current Job Title
  • Last Contacted
  • Notes

You might like to add fields such as source/ how you met them

3.      Create/ place a Distinctive Job Ad

The People Bank will be your best bet – but if you are growing rapidly then you will run through the list quickly and need to do more – so you will need clever ways to attract a sufficient pool of suitable candidates who fit your culture.  Ideally you will want a pool of around 20 for each role to find the right person for you!

slide10Be distinctive here.  Most small businesses struggle against larger players to attract the best talent – so just doing a ‘standard’ job add may not get the results you are looking for.

Think about it as another marketing activity – just as if you were trying to attract new customers.   If you’ve done a good job on the Job Scorecard then this will help you!  Some questions worth thinking about:

  • What is different about the way you do things?
    • g. core values
  • What is the ideal kind of person you are looking for and where could you best reach them? (May not be traditional job boards)
  • What characteristics describe your ideal workforce that your competitors would or could not use to describe theirs?
  • What benefits can you offer over your competitors (and by this I don’t mean financial). It might be as simple as coming to work in jeans, wanting to work for David not Goliath(!) or it might be training for a particular qualification

Being upfront about your core values and your culture will really help you identify candidates who share those values and are not just looking at the size of the pay cheque!

Once you’ve done your Job Ad, the question becomes where to put it?!

You should have been guided by the question about where the particular kind of people you are looking for might be reached – but here are some thoughts:

  • Indeed/ Job Boards – Many of our clients have reported success through Indeed at low or no cost
  • On your website
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Anywhere people like the one you want to hire are hanging out!

This is one spin-off benefit you may not have considered of having a consistent Social Media Strategy.  We’ve had examples where potential candidates have been following the business on social media well in advance of jobs becoming available – so think of this as another reason for your social media activities and potentially build this into your People Bank approach.

4.      ‘Weed Out’  – by email

As candidates begin to contact you, it’s important that you weed out ones that are not worth your time.

slide12You might give them a basic instruction to start with in the Job Ad – such as visit our website and apply from there using the contact form.  Reject any that can’t follow the instruction!

Then ask them some ‘killer’ questions by email that link with Job Scorecard and would enable you to filter/ weed out those that either don’t bother to reply or answer in a way that show they are not a good fit.  You should obviously tailor these according to the role.

Example questions:

  1. What’s the closest role you’ve had to (this role) and explain how this will be relevant/ help you succeed in this role?
  2. What’s an example of where you’ve grown an existing client base?
  3. What do you think we mean by being ‘coachable’ and give an example of where you have shown that you are!

Remember – the purpose here is to “weed out” candidates not to rank them necessarily – you are trying to make sure you don’t waste time on ‘no hopers’.

If you managed to get 20 applications, this step should get you down to around 10 – or maybe lower!

5.      Telephone Screen – Max 30 minutes

The telephone screening is an absolute killer.  It’s the first time you will speak to the candidate (unless they are from you People Bank) and the first time they will have spoken to you.

slide14For those candidates who make it past the “weed out” questions, then do a short phone screen.  The purpose of this is to decide whether they are able to think and communicate in a way that supports their answers from step 4 and that they display the kind of competencies, values and desire that you are looking for – not really to see if they have all the technical expertise you are looking for.  You will interview suitable fit candidates on the actual projects you have in mind at the next step.

The firmer you are about your core purpose and the core behaviours/ values and competencies that the person needs to display, then the easier you should be able to develop a few questions to test them.  For example one of our clients runs a callminding service and they defined their core purpose as ‘Making the right first impression for your customers’.  This led to a really key element of the telephone screen which if the candidate did not make a great first impression with the interviewer then it was politely terminated.

We suggest you introduce the call and explain that “the purpose in the next 30 minutes is to agree whether we both think it is appropriate to proceed to the next step of a face to face interview and that I have some questions I’d like to ask you and you probably have some questions you’d like to ask me to help decide that – are you OK with that?”

You need to put your own questions together to help you weed out a further 50% or so of the candidates to leave you with 5 ideally.  You should definitely explore further their written responses to your ‘Weed Out’ questions and then include questions such as:

  1. What are your career goals?
  2. What would your current boss say you are really good at?
  3. What would they say you are not so great at or not interested in doing professionally?
  4. Who were your last 5 bosses and how will each of them rate your performance (1 to 10 (with 10 being high)) when we talk to them?
  5. Why are you thinking of leaving?
  6. What are your most important considerations in taking on a new role? (this might lead you into compensation questions – such as how much pay do you need to live on?

Question 4 is critical – an A-Player is going to answer with a mix of 7′s, 8′s, 9′s and 10′s. If they have a 6 or lower, it is likely to be the exception and they will have a very clear explanation for it.

Give the candidate a chance to ask their questions – if they don’t have any then unless they have asked questions as you went along you would have to question whether they are really interested in what you have to offer.

You should now have a much better idea of whether to proceed to the next step – you may want to close the discussion with a “we’ll get back to you in the next x days to let you know if we’d like to invite you in for an interview”

6.      Scorecard Interview – Face to Face 60 minutes


slide17By now you should be down to 3-5 candidates

This next step is an interview focused on the actual projects you have in mind for the candidate.

The ideal approach here is that you take an outcome you want from the Job Scorecard.

For example, one outcome might be Increase Sales with existing customers to/ by x amount within 12 months or by 50% within 12 months

Some good questions to ask might be :

  • Can you give me some examples where you have succeeded in growing sales 50% or more?
  • What are some mistakes and lessons you’ve learned in growing sales by 50%?
  • How would you go about delivering/ where would you start?

Depending on the outcomes you are looking for you may have a number of questions you could ask to get a strong view of how you and the candidate are starting to envision the actual work you would be doing together and the conversation should be quite natural.

Ideally you will now be able to get down to 2 or 3 candidates you can invite back for a deeper assessment interview

7.      Road Test – 2-4 hours depending on the seniority of the position

The aim of this step is to ‘Test-Drive’ the potential employees.

slide19The best way would be to have the candidates work for you for a few weeks before offering the job.  In most cases this is not practical (although think about it and whether there might be a way – for example if you subcontract work why not subcontract some to a potential candidate?) so you need to find a way to road test them in an interview.

If you have a specific skill set requirement that they are expected to be able to do – this is the step where you might want to give them a practical test – for example build a web page, or role play a customer opportunity or complaint, role play a cold call etc.

Whether you do or don’t do a ‘practical’ you should now really explore in-depth their education and work history and ask questions about whom they reported to at each job – including making sure you have the correct spelling of the boss’s name to show that you are serious about taking references.

Here are some useful questions for each role in their career history:

  • What were you hired to do?
  • What accomplishments were you most proud of…and what were your low points?
  • Who were the people you worked with and how would you rate them and they rate you
  • Why did you leave that job?

Decide on a set of questions you want and then keep them the same for each candidate

8.      Reference Check

If the candidate still looks like a good fit, it is then key to get in touch with at least a few of the candidate’s references.  You won’t usually be able to approach the current employer at this stage but you should be able to talk to previous employers.

slide21A mistake many people make is to leave the reference check until after making the offer, or even missing it out altogether – don’t make the mistake.  I’ve known people to completely fabricate a previous role.

Make sure you cover things such as:

  • What was their role?
  • What were they good at and what were they not so good at?;
  • How would you rate their performance on a scale of 1 to 10?

Then, describe the role you envision for the applicant and ask them what they think of the fit.

Clearly you are looking for consistency with what the candidate has told you.


9.      Decision: Will, Skill, Values, Results

slide22Now you should have enough information to hire the best A Player you can find for each position based on four criteria – in rank order!

  1. Will – do they show a desire to excel at the role – including learning/ improving?
  2. Values – do they align with your core values?
  3. Results – Have they convinced you they can deliver on your outcomes?
  4. Skills – Do they have the basic skills required? This is the least important as skill-sets need to be updated frequently and if they show ‘Will & Values’ they will acquire necessary skills anyway.

So you should be in a position to make the offer…

10. Offer Interview

Don’t skimp on this last important step. Try to think through all responses your candidate will have and the scenarios that might come up. Consider role-playing “The Offer” conversation with a friend or colleague ahead of time.

If you have an A-Player on your hands, you want to close the deal as soon as possible.

Ideally you would invite them in again for this final step – or perhaps meet them elsewhere.  It can be done by telephone but we’d recommend not if possible.

slide23Bear the following in mind:

  • Move fast — A-Players are rare so don’t waste time once you have decided.
  • Compensation — You should both feel comfortable by now talking money and you should know what they need/ are expecting and what else besides money is important to them
  • Agree that one of the first actions will be for the two of you to agree an onboarding plan – that will include milestones and key behaviours on route to the desired outcomes in the Job Scorecard.
  • Get their permission to fire them!
    • Ask them what they would expect to happen if they fall behind the milestones – first time, second time?….
    • The A Players will have no problem with this – it will be the weaker candidates who will be uncomfortable here – and you should have got rid of them by now!
  • Counter-Offers by the A-Player’s Boss — Ask your candidate what they expect to happen when they tell their boss.  You should expect the boss to make a counter offer – if the person you are offering the job to is truly an A Player then it is only natural the previous employer will want to keep them!
    • What will you say if they offer you more money/ increase your benefits?
  • Show them you care — Go out of your way to close the deal / making them feel welcome

If you do all of this you will build internal momentum and strength that will pay dividends for yours to come.  Hire the right people and you and your business will be great – hire the wrong people and things will be miserable!!

 Click here to listen to Kevin’s webinar on this topic.