Separate the A-Players From the Wannabes

First Impressions Don’t Matter. Look For the Lasting One.

Move past the firm handshake and the shiny shoes. Sure, these finishing touches add sparkle and give hints to career confidence and professional polish. But they don’t reach down to what you really need to know when hiring your next team member: Contributions and results in precise quantifiable terms.

But all you hear is “hire for fit” and you like Candidate A’s sense of humor and how they relate to the team. Absolutely. A candidate’s fit is crucial. But your next team member needs to not just fit seamlessly into your company culture, but they also have to deliver on results. In short, they need both (and more). And you need to make sure you’re hiring a great employee who contributes – not an award-worthy actor!

Smoke Out the Pretenders

What do we know? Lots! Smart, Savvy + Associates have interviewed well over 5,000 people since we opened our recruitment shop in 2008. To this day, we maintain that no one has the potential to pull the wool over your eyes like a marketer or salesperson. We pride ourselves in “smokin’ out the pretenders.”

We use the 20-60-20 rule to evaluate candidates. In most workplaces, there is a top 20%, a middle 60%, and a bottom 20%. You want to hire from the top 20% –  the people who simply stand out, that others want to work with and for.

To find that 20%—which is no unicorn, there are lots of great people out there!—you need to get past the quality of the handshake and get deep into the heart of matters. Don’t skip the initial small talk, but, in short order, get to the good stuff. For the bulk of our interviewing, we focus squarely on contributions and results. A top 20% candidate will show evidence of growth and back up claims of greatness with professional proof. When you spot a pattern of concrete, quantifiable accomplishments, you’ll know you’re in that A+ zone.

Shift Your Questions

It’s common to ask, “What do you do?” at networking events, but that’s not going to get you the goods in an interview. You need to figure out what a candidate has done. Here are two of our favorite questions to help separate the A-team from the wannabes:

1. What have you done that has had the most dramatic impact on your employer’s bottom line?

Specifically, what have you done that has increased revenue, streamlined efficiencies, or decreased expenses for your employer(s)?

2. What have you done (throughout your career) that helps you stand out from other candidates who will be applying for similar roles?


At this point, most interviewees talk about character traits rather than actions and results. As nice as it is to know who will always empty the staffroom dishwasher without being asked, the focus needs to remain on what they have done. For all the weight given to analytics metrics and KPIs, it’s amazing how many marketing, communications, and sales professionals can’t articulate their own contributions.

While you already know the literal cost of hiring, the cost of a bad hire can be on the books for ages. It also puts your credibility as a leader at risk. Good hiring indicates a solid understanding of each role and what it takes to succeed.

8 Signs You’ve Got a Top 20 Candidate:

  1. They’re assigned difficult tasks ahead of their time and their peers.
  2. They successfully lead cross-functional teams.
  3. They regularly present to company leadership.
  4. They have been progressively promoted (and in some cases, rapidly).
  5. They’re clearly identified as the “go-to” and “make-it-happen” person on their team.
  6. They know where they are headed and can articulate why they’ve changed jobs.
  7. They’ve been re-hired by a former manager. (People want them on their team.)
  8. They’ve re-hired former team members. (People want to be on their team.)



Need Help Hiring?

Smart, Savvy + Associates is a recruitment agency that specializes in connecting companies with marketing, communications and creative professionals at all levels, from coordinators to C-suite. Based in Vancouver, B.C., our team of marketers-turned-recruiters have an in-depth understanding of the industry and work diligently to find best-in-class talent for each search. Get started today.