Who: The A Method for Hiring

December 30th, 2009 by


I recently read Geoff Smart’s Who: The A Method for Hiring - a comprehensive look at how to interview and ultimately hire top talent into your company. I synthesized the main steps in his book and have listed here to help others who are involved in the hiring process.

Hiring is never a perfect science, but the process can be made more effective by digging deeper into a candidate’s career history and asking the right questions. After years of interviewing candidates for positions at RIGHTSLEEVE, I found this book a very worthwhile read with many clear takeaway points.

Part 1: Establishing a Scorecard

Taking the theoretical definition of a A player and putting it in practical terms for the position you need to fill
1. Mission
Develop a short statement of why the role exists. Example for a VP Sales: To Double our revenue over 3 years by signing large profitable contracts with industrial customers. And to set up one hunting team to land new accounts and one farming team to grow existing accounts.
2. Outcomes
Develop 3-8 specific, objective outcomes that a person must accomplish to achieve an performance. For example “improve customer satisfaction on a ten point scale from 7.1 to 9.0 by December 31.”
3. Competencies
Ensuring Behavioural Fit.  Identify as many role-based competencies as you think appropriate to describe the behaviours someone must demonstrate to achieve the outcomes. Make sure to include competencies that also describe the culture of the company.
Typical examples: Efficiency, Honesty, Organization/Planning, Aggressiveness, Follow-through on commitments, Intelligence, Analytical skills, Attention to detail, Persistence, Proactivity, Ability to hire A Players, Ability to develop people, Flexibility, Calm under pressure, Strategic thinking, creativity/innovation, Enthusiasm, Work Ethic, High standards, Listening skills, Openness to criticism, Communication, Teamwork, Persuasion
4. Ensure Alignment
Compare the scorecard with the business plan and the scorecards of the people who will interface with the role. Ensure there is consistency and alignment.
Part 2: Four Interviews for Spotting A Players
(i) Screening Interview: Culling The List
15 minutes over the phone
1. What are your career goals?
2. What are you really good at professionally?
3. What are you not good at or not interested in doing professionally?
4. Who were your last 5 bosses and how will they rate your performance on a 1-10 scale when we talk to them? 
- always ask for specific examples when the candidate is answering your questions
- if a candidate is responding to the weakness with something like “I am a perfectionist”. Respond with “that sounds like a strength, what are you really not good at?”
- Get Curious: ask what, how, tell me more? 
(ii) Topgrading Interview
The first in-person interview 
1. What were you hired to do?
2. What accomplishments are you most proud of?
3. What were some of the low points during that job?
4. Who were the people you worked with? Specifically:
(i) What was your boss’s name, and how do you spell that? What was it like working with him/her? What he/she tell me were your biggest strengths and areas for improvement?
(ii) How would you rate the team you inherited on an A, B, C scale? What changes did you make? Did you hire anybody? Fire anybody? How would you rate the team when you left it on an A, B, C scale?
5. Why did you leave that job?
- These 5 questions are asked for each job on the candidates resume, starting from the oldest job so that the interview flows chronologically.
- Interrupting the candidate (necessary to move the interview along)
- Push vs Pull (People who perform poorly in their jobs were pushed out vs People who perform well in their jobs are pulled out).
Example: Why did you leave that job?
    - Push: “It was time for me to leave”, “It was mutual”. “I missed my numbers”
    - Pull: “My biggest client hired me”, “My old boss recruited me for a bigger job”
(iii) Focused Interview
Turning the magnification up a notch on the specific outcomes and competencies of the scorecard
1. The purpose of this interview is to talk about             (insert specific outcome or competency from scorecard)
2. What are your biggest accomplishments in this area during your career?
3. What are your insights into your biggest mistakes and lessons learned in this area?
(iv) Reference Interview
1. In what context did you work with the person?
2. What were the person’s biggest strengths?
3. What were the person’s biggest areas for improvement back then?
4. How would rate his/her overall performance in that job on a 1-10 scale? What about his or her performance causes you to give that rating?
5. The person mentioned that he/she struggled with               in that job. Can you tell me more about that?

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