Make better “Who” decisions

My summary and notes on Geoff Smart’s book “Who.” Resources about hiring (sourcing, interviews, planning, diversity, etc.)

Adam Faik
10 min readAug 20, 2022


Photo by Lukasz Szmigiel on Unsplash

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:

  1. Use a scorecard to describe outcomes and competencies.
  2. Ensure systematic sourcing to have high-quality candidates waiting before you need to fill slots.
  3. Select talent through structured interviews to gather relevant facts and make informed hiring decisions.
  4. 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.


Conducting Interviews

Providing the Best Candidate Experience

Hiring Executives

Making a Hiring Plan

Hiring Sales

Ensuring Diversity