How I Scout Superstar Employees
Throughout my career, from company man to entrepreneur and investor, the most important aspect of what I do has stayed the same. I realized early on that I’m only as good as the talent that I hire. So finding the most talented individual for the spot has always been a top priority. Once I find that individual, I assess — as quickly as possible — that he or she is the right fit. The path to greatness, after all, starts with selecting great talent and not settling for mediocrity. Here are 10 steps that have never failed me when scouting and supporting superstars:
1. Look right in front of you. Often, the absolute sweet spot for getting good recruits is from an “A” player whom I have had the pleasure to work with. This is why I always start by asking people I know for recommendations. I have often been pleasantly surprised when they suggest that they would actually like to be considered for an open spot. I also ask every great candidate — even those who aren’t interested — for referrals to others.
2. When considering a candidate, get lots of outside validation. How many times do you get unsolicited great feedback? That warrants bonus points. What about complaints that come from people you respect? Those must be considered heavily.
3. Source talent before you have an opening. Don’t wait until a role needs to be filled before recruiting. Recruit always! Build relationships with the most talented people and stay in touch with them. I knew I wanted to work with Mike Bergelson for years, and then we finally found something that worked when we co-founded Everwise. Mike has proven to be one of the most talented individuals that I’ve had the pleasure of working with, and Everwise is growing faster than we ever imagined.
4. Don’t oversell. The worst thing you can do is oversell someone on joining your team only to have them feel manipulated — and surprised with the role — once they sign on to the job. Be positive, but don’t oversell the role. By being transparent about both opportunities and expectations, you’ll also get a much better sense of whether or not the candidate knows what they’re stepping into.
5. Trust what your gut is saying. You are likely giving this person a lot of responsibility. How are you feeling about that? Would you want to give them your toughest task, or would you be worried? Measure your trust meter. It should be high, and if it’s not, explore why. Doing so will illuminate the issues and concerns you have.
How to onboard, assess and support superstars once they sign on
1. Once you get an acceptance, include them immediately. Even before the official start date, they can be introduced to the team, commence background reading and work on objectives with you. It will ensure a smoother transition and also get the onboarding process off to the right start.
2. Build a culture that ensures that they make things happen — or that they notify you when they won’t. I am very clear with what I expect and by when. After that’s known, I assume that we are on the same page and that the task will done. That’s the best case scenario, but of course that’s not always what happens. If I do hear about issues, the clock is often reset on the expectations, and while that's okay, it should not become a trend. If concerns aren’t raised and then the expectation goes unmet, then I’m not going to be happy. No one likes bad surprises.
3. Determine whether the person is a “step on gas” or “step on the brake” person. Every time I have to tell someone to go faster — to step on the gas — is a big red flag. If it continues, they will likely not work out. There are also times when I’ll need to slow someone down — saying, hit the brake — because we are not ready, not sure, or don’t have needed resources. Even if that means I am sometimes saying no, I would always rather have a step on the brake person; someone who is creative and energetic, rather than someone I have to drag along. (One caveat here is that you have to have enough experience and judgment that your asks of a person are not unreasonable, otherwise you end up sounding like the Dilbert boss in asking people to go faster!)
4. Don’t be too influenced by a pedigree. Never to be too swept by what’s on paper; some people use a pedigree as a hall pass, but just because they worked at the best places or attended the best college doesn’t mean they are the best fit for the role. Only a few people can actually drive the bus, the rest are just on it. Results matter.
5. Use a color code system to track progress. You’ll need to measure how the new hire is advancing. Look at how they are doing now and consider how they will be doing in six months or a year. Will they be able to handle more responsibility, or will they struggle to keep up? I use a red, yellow, green tracking system to identify where they are today and help me track where they will be over time. Also, it’s imperative to consider context: staying in the same job in a fast growth environment — one that is rapidly changing and requiring more demanding responsibilities — likely means that the individual is advancing, and is akin to a promotion. That person stays in the green!
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