Skip to main content

The book: How To Hire A Players By Eric Herrenkohl

John Wiley, 218 pages, $30.95

It might well be that nothing has a greater impact on your business than hiring top people - "A players," in the vernacular of the business world. But most of us worry when we start recruiting for an opening that we could unwittingly end up with a "C player" because it can be hard to differentiate through the normal recruitment process. Hiring seems like a crap shoot - sometimes we win big, and sometimes we lose.

Story continues below advertisement

Eric Herrenkohl, who advises companies on recruiting, says it doesn't have to be that way. But you may have to change your recruiting practices to improve your odds. That will involve sharpening your understanding of where you are likely to find future top performers, and perpetually being in recruiting mode -even when you don't have an opening, indeed even, he argues, when you're in an economic trough and cutting back on staff.

By now, it's standard practice to spend time setting out a job description for the new recruit. But Mr. Herrenkohl says we have to go deeper, probing to find out exactly what makes someone successful in a job. He cites as an example a client who owns a kitchen and bath design firm. He created a position of showroom sales manager, and promptly fired the first three people he hired for the role. The owner was looking for a "hunter," someone who would prospect for new business. But that skill, it turned out, was less important than the ability to close sales and manage kitchen remodelling jobs.

Understanding what you are looking for in recruits can be subtle. One accounting firm he mentions used to seek students from the top Ivy League schools where many of its partners had graduated. But most didn't stick around, as their classmates were on Wall Street, making more money than this firm could pay, and jealousy led them to leave. The firm started to recruit excellent - and long-lasting - employees from the next tier of universities.

He also recounts how Doorway Rug in Buffalo, N.Y., refined its understanding of what made for a successful salesperson. The company cleans mats for commercial enterprises, and its salespeople need to go door-to-door selling the service. It realized its best salespeople were single mothers who had been waitresses. They were excellent at dealing with people and up-selling, excellent multitaskers, and eager to escape the terrible hours for their family of restaurant work. So the company started to advertise in the restaurant section of the classifieds under the waiter/waitress heading, finding excellent recruits and then training them to its needs.

Once you know your exact profile for "A candidates," stretch your net out wide and interview lots of people. Unfortunately, he finds most companies are content to come up with just a few possibilities. Indeed, he is often called to give his advice when there are only two prospects. His usual response: "Between Candidate One and Candidate Two, I really like Candidate Three." Less sardonically, he notes: "If you want to hire better employees, you must interview more people."

And that must happen all the time. He says you have to develop a reputation as an organization that is always interested in meeting good people and willing to talk to them. Let that be known to everyone - your own staff, customers, and industry colleagues - so you can meet "A players" and begin to develop relationships with them that will lead to their hiring at the appropriate moment.

Major league baseball franchises have farm teams of talented players they are developing for the future. He urges you to build your own farm team of talented people who work for someone else right now but would be thrilled to work for you in the future. "The key here is to have a continually updated list of A players who could fit right into your company and make a big contribution. If you and your leadership team are regularly cultivating your farm team, you will always have strong people to turn to when you want to hire someone," he writes.

Story continues below advertisement

Remember that industry events and continuing educations sessions are filled with A players. Have everyone in your organization on the lookout for sharp people at those events. And stay to the very end at networking events - when the quesadillas on the food tables are scorched, as he colourfully describes it - because that's when lasting contacts for your network are formed.

The books opens with his fresh ideas on recruiting, before devolving into approaches that are more commonly known. But the attitude - focusing on A players - is vital for organizations, and most companies would find some helpful tips and intriguing anecdotes from Mr. Herrenkohl's experiences.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Report an error
About the Author
Management columnist

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. More

Comments are closed

We have closed comments on this story for legal reasons. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.