High performance sports teams know that to win consistently, you have to be willing to do what it takes to recruit the best players. Giancarlo Stanton recently made headlines when the Miami Marlins baseball team awarded him a $352 million contract — the largest gross deal ever in North American sports. Although this particular deal turned heads due to its sheer magnitude, the philosophy behind it wasn’t new: Go the distance to assemble the best team.
Apple founder Steve Jobs often expressed similar views on the importance of recruiting. Jobs’ philosophy was that a small team of A+ players can run circles around a giant team of B and C players.
So how can organizations without the same resources as Apple make sure they are recruiting the cream of the crop? Though there’s no magic formula, here are a few simple ideas that can get you started along the right path:
1. Be clear about the role you’re recruiting for. This seems like an obvious first step, but it’s surprising how often organizations will advertise a position without having done their homework here. You need to be clear on how this new hire will fit into the company, how her success will be measured, with whom she’ll collaborate with, etc.
2. Be clear about the behavioral characteristics you’d like to see in a candidate. Do you want a risk-taker? Someone conservative and methodical? Someone who will move very fast but who might ruffle some feathers in the process? Someone who’ll learn very quickly? The fit between the characteristics you need and those the new hire has will almost always be a much stronger driver of performance than experience. So be clear about what you want ahead of time, and then look for evidence in the candidate’s past.
3. Run a structured, disciplined interview process. How many times have you walked into an interview and met people who hadn’t looked at your resume, or all had a different understanding (if any at all) about the role? The hiring manager must select the interview team carefully based on the types of input they need to make a decision. Interviewers should have a shared understanding of the role, and each should review resumes carefully before interviewing begins. Otherwise, a poor candidate experience will be a turn-off to the best people.
4. Learn to read a resume. This may sound silly, but as my good friend and former colleague Randy Bogue of Venator Partners (who helped me hone all of these skills) told me, you have to read it like a book. From start to finish (bottom to top!). Look for patterns: things like long stints vs. job hopping; or, promotions or increasing responsibility vs. repeating the same role at multiple companies. Annotate a resume and use it as a map as you explore the candidate’s past, looking for evidence you’ll need to make a decision. Walking into an interview with an annotated resume also shows the candidate how much you care about the process — and them!
5. Make sure your team knows how to interview. Very few companies actually teach their hiring managers how to interview effectively. There are several effective styles, but all good ones are designed to objectively gather evidence for a hiring decision. To me, interviewing is about understanding how candidates have behaved and made choices throughout their lives. You need to get at what they did, not what they say they’ll do. And that means interviews themselves should be closer to interrogations than they are to casual conversations. Much of the time, interviewers will have a conversation, develop a bias about the candidate quickly (“do I like him/her?”), then look for evidence that’s in line with their bias. Interviews are about gathering data as objectively as possible.
6. Take time to observe candidates’ behavior over the course of several interactions. Typically at least two rounds of interviews with at least a few days in between will allow you to observe candidates’ behavior over a period of time. Everything you observe is data that can help inform your decision. Pay much more attention to what people do than what they say. Think about what their behavior during the process says about how they’ll behave at your company. In fact, how candidates handle the offer negotiation process can tell you a lot about how they behave when the stakes are high.
7. Don’t settle. Hiring managers often start the recruiting process much too late, and by the time they’re in the market looking for talent, they feel a tremendous amount of pressure to fill a seat. That can lead (often subconsciously) to low standards, especially when a great candidate doesn’t show up early in the process. Resist the temptation to fill a seat. Take the time to meet with a large enough set of candidates so that you can calibrate and make sure you’re hiring someone you think will become one of your best people.
Effective recruiting takes practice, hard work, and discipline. Keep at it, analyze mistakes you and your team make along the way, and you’ll get an incredibly high return on your investment.
Swami Kumaresan is CEO of Databox. He was previously on the founding team of cloud backup company Carbonite, where he helped build the company to 500 employees and $100+ million in revenue, leading to a successful IPO in 2011. At Carbonite, he ran marketing for the first seven years, later handing it off to assume the role of EVP of Product, Engineering and Customer Support and a staff of over 400 in a turnaround effort. He has also served as an Entrepreneur in Residence at General Catalyst Partners.