Make better “Who” decisions
My summary and notes on Geoff Smart’s book “Who.” Resources about hiring (sourcing, interviews, planning, diversity, etc.)
The book “Who: The A Method for Hiring” by Geoff Smart and Randy Street is a reference in recruitment.
In this article, I’ll present:
- #1: Why I read this book
- #2: The core idea
- #3: The key concepts
- #4: How the book upgraded me
- #5: More resources about hiring
#1: Why I Read this Book
To make better “who” decisions.
#2: The Core Idea
There is a clear and tested path that leads to hiring A-Players.
An A-Player is a candidate with at least a 90% chance of achieving a set of outcomes that only the top 10% of possible candidates could achieve.
The A-Method defines a simple 4-step process for identifying and hiring A-Players:
- Use a scorecard to describe outcomes and competencies.
- Ensure systematic sourcing to have high-quality candidates waiting before you need to fill slots.
- Select talent through structured interviews to gather relevant facts and make informed hiring decisions.
- Persuade the identified A-Players to join.
#3: The Key Concepts
Finding the right people is the #1 problem in organizations. Yet managers use voodoo hiring methods (gut instinct, redundant interview questions, tricks & logic problems, personality tests, etc.). The truth is that it’s hard to see people for who they are.
Use a scorecard to describe outcomes to accomplish and competencies that fit with the company’s culture and the role. A scorecard is composed of three parts:
- Mission: an executive summary of the job’s core purpose written in plain language. It answers the question: “Why the role exists?”
- Outcomes: a description of what a person needs to accomplish in a role ranked by order of importance. An outcome is objective and observable.
- Competencies: a definition of how you expect a new hire to operate to fulfill the job. It ensures behavioral and cultural fits.
Ensure systematic sourcing to have high-quality candidates waiting before you need to fill slots:
- Ask for referrals from personal and professional networks and A-Players (best technique): “Who are the most talented people you know I should hire?”
- Ask for referrals from employees: make in-house referrals a crucial part of staffing policies and promotions, build internal sourcing into employee scorecards, and reward the effort.
- Hire external recruiters or recruiting researchers: use de A-Method to identify them, treat them as business partners, and emphasize quality over quantity.
- Create a list of the most talented people and commit to speaking with a least one of them per week.
Select talent through 4 structured interviews to gather relevant facts and make informed hiring decisions:
#1: The Screening Interview
Goal: clear out B and C-Players.
Logistics: by phone, no more than 30 min.
- What are your career goals?
- What are you really good at professionally?
- What are you not good at or not interested in doing professionally?
- Who were your last five bosses, and how will they each rate your performance on a 1–10 scale when we talk to them?
#2: The Who Interview
Goal: select A-Players.
Logistics: 3h on average, depending on a person’s career length.
Guide: for each candidate’s job, from the earliest to the latest:
- What were you hired to do?
- What accomplishments are you most proud of?
- What were some low points during that job?
- Who were the people you worked with?
- What was your boss’s name, and how do you spell that? What was it like working with him/her? What will he/she tell me were your biggest strengths and areas for improvement?
- 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?
- Why did you leave that job?
#3: The Focused Interview
Goal: gather additional and specific information about the candidate related to the scorecard outcomes.
Logistics: 45 min to 1h.
- The purpose of this interview is to talk about [specific outcomes or competencies of the scorecard]:
- What are your biggest accomplishments in this area during your career?
- What are your insights into your biggest mistakes and lessons learned in this area?
#4: The Reference Interview
Goal: gather additional information from the candidate’s references.
- Pick the right references; don’t just use the candidate’s reference list.
- Ask the candidate to contact the references to set up the calls.
- Conduct the correct number of reference interviews: 3 past bosses, 2 peers or customers, and 2 subordinates.
- In what context did you work with the person?
- What were the person’s biggest strengths?
- What were the person’s biggest areas for improvement back then?
- How would you 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?
- The person mentioned that he/she struggled with […] in that job. Can you tell me more about that?
Use collected data to rate all of the candidates on the scorecard. Then decide to hire the A-Player.
Some key characteristics of A-Players:
- A-Players are specialists, not generalists.
- A-Players know their career goals and are not afraid to tell people about them.
- A-Players tend to talk about outcomes linked to expectations when describing past experiences. B or C-Players generally speak about events, people they met, or aspects of the job they liked without ever getting into results.
- A-players have been effective in their past experiences. People don’t change that much, and past performance indicates future performance.
- A-Players are generally pulled to greater opportunities. Don’t hire anybody who has been pushed out of +20% of their jobs. These people have x3 higher chance of being B or C-Players.
Some techniques to conduct interviews effectively:
- Push candidates to give examples and details. Ask follow-up questions, for example: “What? How? Tell me more.”
- Don’t accept vague answers. Keep reframing questions until you get satisfying answers. Get curious to understand truly.
- Politely interrupt candidates once they go off course every 3–4 min using reflective listening.
Persuade the identified A-Player to join. Show the A-Player:
- How his goals, talents, and values fit into the company’s vision, strategy, and culture.
- How free he will be in doing his job.
- How rewarded he will be at the height of his work.
- How fun he will have.
- How easy the change of life can be for his family.
#4: How the Book Upgraded Me
I found what I was looking for in this book: a standardized process, apparently complex but straightforward to implement, bullet points, mnemonics, red flags, illustrations, quantified statements, etc. It’s a book written by consultants.
I don’t think it’s that simple. I don’t quite agree with some of the questions asked. Overall, the book primarily opened my eyes to the importance of:
- Defining a recruitment process, standardizing it to be fair to candidates, and optimizing it regularly
- Defining the outcomes of a job and not the activities
It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do. — Steve Jobs
- Asking questions that don’t bias the answers and collect more details through follow-up questions (as for a user testing interview in a UX research process)
- Recognizing A-Players, being on the lookout for them, and encouraging them to join an adventure that motivates them
The practice is essential to get the best from this process.
#5: More Resources about Hiring
The book is just the tip of the iceberg. I bookmarked these resources on hiring. I didn’t read everything, but I hope to get down to it as soon as I need it.
- The Best Hires Are Right Under Your Nose by First Round Review
- Win the War for Great Global Talent by First Round Review
- The Candidate Generator Tools List
- How to Hire the Best People You’ve Ever Worked with by Marc Andreessen
- Guide: Use structured interviewing by re:Work
- Why your Startup Needs Interview Structure by Ewa Zajac
- Hire Slow, Fire Fast by Greg McKeown
- An Inside Look at Facebook’s Method for Hiring Designers by First Round Review
- My Lessons from Interviewing 400+ Engineers Over Three Startups by First Round Review
- 40 Favorite Interview Questions from Some of the Sharpest Folks We Know by First Round Review
- The Anatomy of the Perfect Technical Interview from a Former Amazon VP by First Round Review
- The Best Interview Questions We’ve Ever Published by First Round Review
- Adam Grant On Interviewing to Hire Trailblazers, Nonconformists and Originals by First Round Review
- Hire a Top Performer Every Time with These Interview Questions by First Round Review
- 12 Unconventional Interview Questions Entrepreneurs Should Ask by Dharmesh Shah
- Jackie’s PM Interview Tips by Jackie Bavaro
- How do you do concrete interviews for non-technical people? by Andrew Chen
- The Phone Screen by Joel Spolsky
- The Guerrilla Guide to Interviewing (version 3.0) by Joel Spolsky
- Is This an Interview or a Test? by Casey Winters
- Interview or Interrogation? by Jim Mackenzie
- The art, science, and labor of recruiting: Interviewing by Vinod Khosla
- 12 Tactics to Perfect your Interviewing Process by Dana Stalder
- Seven Steps to Reduce Bias in Hiring by Jay J. Van Bavel and Tessa V. West
- How to Make Tech Interviews a Little Less Awful by Rachel Thomas
- How to Assess Emotional Intelligence During the Interview Process by Karla Cook
- What do the best interviewers have in common? by Aline Lerner
- Wanted by Michael Lopp
- Awesome Recruitment by Sjamilla van der Tooren
- Tech Interview Handbook
Providing the Best Candidate Experience
- Candidate Experience: A How-To Guide For Recruiting Professionals by ideal
- How to create a great candidate experience by Workable
- Candidate Experience by re:Work
- This is How Coursera Competes Against Google and Facebook for the Best Talent by First Round Review
- Develop Your Hiring System Like a Product to Eliminate Bias and Boost Retention by First Round Review
- How Warby Parker Makes Every Point In Its Employee Lifecycle Extraordinary by First Round Review
- How Gusto Built Scalable Hiring Practices Rooted in Tradition by First Round Review
- Mechanize Your Hiring Process to Make Better Decisions by First Round Review
- The Sad Truth About Developing Executives by Ben Horowitz
- What To Look For In Your First Startup VP of Sales by Jordan Wan
- The 48 Types of VP Sales. Make Deadly Sure You Hire the Right One by Jason Lemkin
- Hire the Right Type of VP Marketing by Jason Lemkin
- The Close: New Rules for Hiring Executive Candidates by Dana Stalder
- Executive Hires: The Case for Extreme Referencing by Josh Hannah
- Hiring, managing, promoting, and firing executives by Marc Andreessen
- Hiring Startup Executives by Casey Winters
- How to hire executives by Brian Armstrong
- Hiring Executives by Jeff Markowitz
- Greyscale: How to Make an Executive Hire by Jeff Markowitz
- A Blueprint for Executive Hiring by Jeff Markowitz
- Making an Executive Offer by Jeff Markowitz
- Why is it Hard to Bring Big Company Execs into Little Companies? by Ben Horowitz
- Hiring Executives: If You’ve Never Done the Job, How Do You Hire Somebody Good? by Ben Horowitz
- 6 Traits To Look For When Hiring Executives by Elad Gil
- How to Make Executive Hires at Your Startup by Steve Blank
- The Three Secrets to Executive Recruiting I Learned at Apple, Yahoo and More by First Round Review
Making a Hiring Plan
- Improve your hiring with an annual new hire strategy by Monster
- How to create a recruitment plan that will actually improve your hiring by Bev Campling
- Developing an Employee Recruitment Plan by Betterteam
- 11 Steps to Develop a Scalable Recruitment Plan by harver
- How to build a strategic hiring plan by Workable
- Mechanize Your Hiring Process to Make Better Decisions by First Round Review
- Our 6 Must Reads for Hiring Tactics that Break the Mold by First Round Review
- Warning: This Is Not Your Grandfather’s Talent Planning by First Round Review
- Looking to Scale Your Sales? Seven Bullets to Dodge by First Round Review
- SDR 2.0: The Moneyball Approach to Sales by Sahil Mansuri
- How You Should Really Interview a Head of Sales by Kristen Chang
- What Interviewing 31 Sales People Taught Me About “Sales” by Quicksprout
- The Zero B.S. Method To Recruiting A Killer Sales Force by Lars Dalgaard
- The 7 Keys To Spotting Superior Sales Talent by Christopher Steiner
- Startup Sales: Why Hiring Seasoned Sales Reps May Not Work by Mark Suster
- What Makes a Great VP of Sales and How to Hire One by Jason Lemkin
- When should you make your first sales op hire? by Jason Lemkin
- What is the best way to recruit a sales representative? by Jason Lemkin
- Zendesk’s Brian Reuter on building a high-performing sales team from scratch by Calendly
- “Closing the Deal” with your Top Sales Candidates by Jim Wilson
- Startup Sales Managers: Stop Hiring Experienced Salespeople by Steli Efti
- 10 Steps To Hiring The Right Reps And Building An Unstoppable Sales Force by Pouyan Salehi
- Through the Looking Glass: Hiring Sales People by Ben Horowitz
- You’re Losing Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars Because of Poor Sales Onboarding by First Round Review
- The Anatomy of the Perfect Sales Hiring Process by First Round Review
- Startup Hiring: Your First Sales Hire by Seth DeHart
- The Subtle Art of Hiring a Diverse Workforce by Caroline Chavier
- The difference between Equality and Equity in design by Fabricio Teixeira
- Diversity in design: what can I do as a designer, today? by Fabricio Teixeira
- Introduction to Cultivating Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace by Sarah Nahm
- Engineering Management and Diversity by Marco Rogers
- The Total Talent Reboot: How This Startup Overhauled Its Workforce by First Round Review
- You can’t fix diversity in tech without fixing the technical interview by Aline Lerner
- If you care about diversity, don’t just hire from the same five schools by Meena Boppana
- Gender Diversity by Fred Wilson
- Non-engineering roles are given too little attention in today’s tech diversity and inclusion initiatives by Sarah E. Brown
- How most companies get Diversity Recruiting completely, embarrassingly wrong by Ciara Trinidad
- How Startups In Hypergrowth Mode Can Tackle Diversity Before It’s A Problem by Lever
- Diversity debt: how much does your startup have? by 500 Startups Team
- Diversity & Inclusion at Early Stage Startups by Y Combinator
- How Etsy Grew their Number of Female Engineers by Almost 500% in One Year by First Round Review
- 25 Tips for Diverse Hiring by Model View Culture
- How Lever Got To 50–50 Women and Men by Kim-Mai Cutler
- Move from “checkbox diversity” to valuing a “diversity of perspective” by Fear of Poets
- Go For Culture Add, Not Culture Fit by Feld Thoughts
- Your Job Descriptions Are Hurting Your Hiring Pipeline by Hannah Fleishman
- Diversity at Startups by homebrew
- How We’re Fighting Unconscious Bias by Lindsay Grenawalt
- Lessons in inclusive hiring: what I’ve learnt by Stacy-Marie Ishmael
- eBay’s First Chief Diversity Officer on Humanizing Diversity and Inclusion by First Round Review
- Atlassian Boosted Its Female Technical Hires By 80%: Here’s How by First Round Review