Separate the A-Players From the Wannabes

First impressions don’t matter. Look for the lasting impression.

Move past the firmness of the handshake and the shine on the 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 “hire for fit” is all you hear about—and you like Candidate A’s sense of humour and how they relate to the team. Absolutely— “fit” is crucial. But your next team member needs to not just fit seamlessly into your company culture, they need to deliver the results you need. 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!

Smokin’ 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 2006. To this day, we maintain: no one has the potential to pull the wool over your eyes like a marketer or salesperson and we pride ourselves in “smokin’ out the pretenders.” The precise, quantifiable terms you need from us are 20-60-20. We use this rule to evaluate candidates. In most workplaces, there is a top 20%, and middle 60%, and that barely hanging on bottom 20%. You want to hire from the top 20%:  those 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.

The wrong tense

We ask, “what do you do?” at networking events, but that’s not going to get you the goods at an interview. Rather, you need to know, “what have you done?”  We have two favourite questions that really 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 would cause you to 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 and metrics and KPIs, it’s amazing how many marketing, communications and sales professionals can’t articulate their own contributions.

You already know the literal cost of hiring—but the cost of a bad hire can be on the books for ages. Your own credibility as a leader is also at risk, as 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 are assigned difficult tasks ahead of their time (and their peers).
  2. They lead cross-functional teams with success.
  3. They regularly present to company leadership.
  4. They have been progressively promoted (and in some cases, rapidly).
  5. They are 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.)