How to Spot an A-Player in an Interview Process

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In the last edition we covered the significance of A-Players in the current OTC Market and discussed the benefits of hiring A-Players you already know.

There are times where you may know a high performer who is available for your role, but this style of hiring is neither scalable nor repeatable. Finding A-Players for your business can be challenging because rarely are the best people in the industry looking for work. I’d like to help you to build a repeatable process for hiring A-Players using more scalable recruitment methods, so that you can hire top performers consistently.

Spotting an A-Player is not a particularly intuitive process. Sometimes the best interviewees make the worst hires and visa versa. However, provided a thorough and intelligent evaluation process takes place, it is possible that hiring unknown people can be a reliable source of A-Players.

A-Players look and sound a lot like everyone else, though if you look carefully and ask the right questions you will find that there are subtle differences.

  • A-Players are the top 10% of all people you have worked with in your career and they are probably the best in their function in a given business
  • They love a challenge and will relish problematic situations
  • They are driven by strong internal motivators to perform and succeed and measure themselves against their own ideals and values rather than outside targets or measurements
  • They are usually very well regarded by their previous stakeholders
  • It is unusual to find an A-Player actively looking for a job, so you will have to find them

It is also worth pointing out that even with the very best performers, output is related to environment. Be mindful that an A-Player in one environment is not guaranteed to be an A-Player in another.

I’d like to help you better spot A-Players during interviews, and give you some tools to help make consistently higher quality evaluations. There are some extremely talented people working in OTC Markets and provided you use a reliable, logical process of evaluation, it is completely achievable to consistently hire only A-Players and stop hiring poor performers. Like many things in life it’s not the complexity of the task, but rather the effort applied that determines your results.

When interviewing, we look to evaluate all prospective applicants against their general characteristics, their subject, job role or technical knowledge and their ability to work with the specific challenges of the environment.

Top performers appreciate challenges, and poor performers do not. A-Players respond well to questions about difficulties they have faced and they usually have a very clear sense of why they work in the way they do, and enjoy discussing real world issues.

Since A-Players love challenges, I’d recommend sharing all you can about any difficulties associated with the job in question: Near unachievable targets? Unfriendly customer stakeholders? Project or programme failing? Uncertain remit? Lacking in budget? Strong competition from incumbents?

Great. Let all applicants know about the likely challenges of the role and you’ll get a good sense of who’s an A-Player from the level of enthusiasm in their response.

Provided they can control it, challenges are the stuff that gets an A-Player out of bed in the morning.

During the interview process we establish where, when and in what function the applicant has faced similar challenges to the role in question. It is important to focus the interview on specific examples, to gain understanding of reasoning and action taken, and also to understand the context of the situation. The greater our understanding of “why”, not just “how” the applicant is motivated, the better we can predict their success.

During my career I have interviewed thousands of people and I’ve never met a person who admitted to being a ‘below average’ employee. It’s easy to understand why people rarely rate themselves poorly, given we are all programmed to portray ourselves in the best light on interview day and have a natural positive self bias. However to the interviewer this poses significant challenge.

Interviewing is, ultimately an inherently inefficient way of gathering the required information to make a great hire. Given the bias of the chief witness’s testimony, I don’t recommend making judgement of a candidate’s likely success based purely on their performance on interview day.

I believe independent verification of the witness’s testimony is required to validate the information gathered. It is imperative to get reliable insight, and this involves speaking to previous stakeholders of the interviewee to understand the applicant’s previous job roles, the specific challenges they faced and the way in which they dealt with them. This method goes far beyond the traditional reference and starts to build a scorecard of a person’s likely success in your environment.

It is much easier to predict the future performance of a potential hire when we verify our own evaluation of the potential hire with third party evidence. This enables us to assess the candidate’s likely response to the specific challenges of the role, and their temperament and approach.

If a candidate’s previous stakeholders will happily discuss specifically challenging situations, and give independent praise that the hire is in the top 10% then congratulations, you are very likely to have found an A-Player. I would recommend releasing a job offer as soon as possible.


This article was first published in edition 5 of Rocket, our magazine. Download available Rocket editions here, and save your up to date address in your profile to to indicate your interest in receiving a printed copy of the magazine. Copies are also available to purchase and subscribe to via the shop.

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