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Steve Jobs's Tips for Hiring Your A-Team

In his book, Leading Apple with Steve Jobs, author and former Apple senior vice president Jay Elliot details Jobs's approach to motivating people, pursuing excellence and forming innovative teams. In this edited excerpt, Elliot, who was personally hired by Jobs, describes his former boss's strategies for hiring A-list players.

For their book In the Company of Giants, authors Rama Dev Jager and Rafael Ortiz asked Steve Jobs about putting together a team. He told them, "When you're in a startup, the first 10 people will determine whether the company succeeds or not."

Want to recruit and hire highly talented innovators? Here are some Jobsian ideas for hiring: 

Related: How to Create Your Own Dream Team in Business

Define the requirements but don't be rigid.
At first glance, this point will sound painfully obvious. But too often, the person doing the hiring hasn't given enough thought to defining the need precisely enough. You might be interviewing the perfect person and not realize it. Or the person in charge of filling the position might be looking for the wrong type of candidate. Worse, you run a high risk of hiring the wrong person.

Steve always had a very clear grasp of the need. Yet at the same time, he was not at all rigid about what qualifications he was looking for. Sometimes his choices surprised me, when he saw something in a candidate hardly anyone else would have seen -- something that told him, "This is the right person for the job."

That's what happened with Susan Kare. At her high school in Pennsylvania, Susan had known Andy Hertzfeld, who would become one of the early Mac team members. Steve was captivated by the "graphical user interface" he had seen at Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center, which used icons on the screen to make routine operations obvious and easy; you use such an icon every time you drag something to the trashcan symbol.

Who was going to dream up those icons, and the other parts of a pleasing and easy-to-use onscreen design? Andy suggested Susan, whom he knew had become an accomplished artist. Almost any other executive in those circumstances would not have agreed to let Susan come in for an interview: She was a creative artist who knew nothing about technology. She had "not qualified" written all over her.

But Steve saw in her a spark, the ability to catch on quickly and the kind of creativity that suggested she would be able to offer the kind of inventive contributions Steve was committed to having. He decided that Susan's talent, passion and flair were more important than the fact that her background in technology was a big blank. He accepted her as a key part of the Mac team. 

Don't limit your search to the usual methods.
Steve's accepting invitations to lecture to classes at Stanford University became part of his routine. The students considered it a rare privilege to be able to discuss real-life business problems with an entrepreneur whose start-up company was already in the forefront of the new industry of personal computers. But it was a two-way street. Steve felt inspired and energized by the students. And everywhere he went, he had his antennae up to find likely candidates for the Macintosh group.

Related: Hackathon Hiring: How to Scout for Coders with Confidence

Mike Murray was a 20-something MBA student at one of those sessions. Steve spoke plainly about Apple and how we were trying to change the world with personal computers. That was all Mike needed to hear; he wanted to be part of it. Steve was impressed, and Mike was given the job of heading up the marketing group for the Mac.

Bob Bellville was 21 in the spring of 1981 and about to graduate from Stanford. For some eight years, he had been working at least part time at Xerox. Steve saw that Bob had a deep insight into how to build technology into a total product. Bob also had valuable insight into how a company should operate, which Steve liked. He saw a very smart engineer who had independent thought and technical leadership abilities.

Someone at Stanford gave Steve the name of Mike Boich, a former Stanford undergraduate who had gone on to earn an MBA at Harvard. Steve got in touch with Mike and hired him. It was Mike Boich who tackled one of the toughest challenges facing the Macintosh when it was launched, coining the word "evangelists" for people on the team he helped assemble: Their job was to persuade software developers to create software programs for the Mac, and it proved to be a very successful effort -- so crucial that the Macintosh might not have survived without the evangelists. 

Talented people know other talented people.
Steve often said, "Make sure you're hiring only A-players." Hire a few B-players, he said, and they hire B's and C's, and pretty soon the whole operation is going to pot. Obviously not everyone can afford to hire only A-players. So how do you find people who are exceptionally talented and a good fit? One of the greatest sources is your own employees. Really sharp people generally prefer the company of other really sharp people. When you need to hire someone, you ask the people on the team to recommend somebody they admire.

Related: Serial Entrepreneur Gurbaksh Chahal on Building an A-List Team

Jay Elliot is the author of Leading Apple With Steve Jobs: Management Lessons from a Controversial Genius (Wiley, 2012) and a former senior vice president at Apple.

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