How to hire Great People

blog, management30

At one moment in my career, I really got involved in recruitment. Not just doing a few interviews but the whole recruitment process. We were growing in three locations, two in Europe and one in the U.S.

As I recall, certain people in the organization, such as HR and higher management, got stressed about progress and often tried to push me to just hire more people. “Ralph, why don’t you just settle for less? Is it really that necessary to find the top of the bill?” Yes, it was really important to find the people that have the right fit with what we needed. I explained to them that it is like fishing. You need that special fish for your dish. You could go for that other fish that came by, but then the dish would just not be as it should be.

There are many fish in the employment sea- really, lots of fish. Still, we are going to try to catch that one special fish. Now, sometimes you get lucky and catch the fish in mere minutes. Sometimes, you must wait weeks before catching that ideal fish.

It’s the same with recruitment; you need that one candidate who will fit the role and your company culture. Finding the right candidate may take days or months, but it is well worth it.


Based on my experience, I created a new Management 3.0 Module: Hire Great People. It combines all lessons learned, theory, and some games relating to how to hire the right fit for your team. I would like to give you a small excerpt of that module in this blog post.

Do you want to learn all about this Management 3.0 Module? Why not attend a workshop with the facilitator who created this module? Click for more information about the Management 3.0 Workshop.

As management guru Jack Welch talks about in Winning, hiring great people is hard, and yet nothing matters more to winning than getting the right people in the field. But the current labor market is challenging. Heck, finding candidates, let alone the right one is even very challenging. In fact, 75 percent of global employers responded to a Manpower survey that they particularly struggled with this talent shortage. Why? There, of course, are several reasons, but the most important reason is just a lack of quality candidates available.

In the same report, they also examine how organizations are trying to solve this staffing problem. It turns out that many organizations choose to just retrain their existing team members. This, however, does not solve the problem of finding fully new team members. The question is also if (just) training is the way to go. According to Laszlo Bock, in his book Work Rules, some experts go so far as to say that 90 percent of training doesn’t cause a sustained performance improvement or behavior change. This leads to the question, should we focus on hiring people who are 100 percent fit with what we are looking for, or should we hire people who are just 70 percent fit and train them on the job? Probably both. As always, it is about finding the right balance and looking for the right addition to your company culture.

What is most important is to find people with a growth mindset. There are people with a fixed mindset and those with a growth mindset. People with a fixed mindset believe their skills, abilities, talents, etc. are fixed. You can grow all of these qualities a bit, but it is more about finding the right seat on the bus where your fixed mindset qualities can be put to use best. On the other hand, people with a growth mindset are open to expanding their skill sets, talents, and abilities and can reinvent them. These are people who can adopt new technologies and methodologies again and again. With the right learning, challenges, and competence development, they can really become smarter. Whenever possible, you want to hire people with a growth mindset.

Now, there are candidates who are a “perfect” fit, and you can look for the broad-shouldered T-shaped people who are a 200 percent fit, and there are the sheep with five legs (as we say in the Netherlands). You may be able to find such sheep, but the question is if you really want to hire those star team members. There is a huge risk in hiring star employees. Remember Enron? This great New Yorker piece clearly explains what can happen when you hire only star employees:

“Groups don’t write great novels, and a committee didn’t come up with the theory of relativity. But companies work by different rules. They don’t just create; they execute and compete and coordinate the efforts of many different people, and the organizations that are most successful at that task are the ones where the system is the star.”


Do I need to explain just how fast things change nowadays? Be aware that you want to hire people who are ready to adapt to solve new types of problems that you don’t know even exist today.

So now that we’ve defined what type of people we are looking for let’s take a look at the four steps in recruitment:

  1. Define the job.
  2. Search.
  3. Interview.
  4. Hire.

All steps are important, and some take more time than others. Note that onboarding is also important, but let’s discuss that in a future blog.


Stop writing boring job texts. Seriously. Stop writing boring job texts. We are seeking a candidate with five years of experience in XYZ, a strong communicator, and a team player. C’mon, trust me, these are boring job texts that do not attract any candidates anymore. So don’t let your HR representative push you into some boring corporate template. Make sure your job text is fun and stands out. Most importantly, make sure it describes the reasons why a candidate needs certain skills. Why does a candidate need five years of experience in XYZ? You can attract a bigger audience by describing why someone needs a certain skill.

In short, a great job description must meet three criteria:

  1. Have an inspiring job title that stands out. The Guy-Nagging-About-Scrum will attract more interest than the Scrum Master. (Just make sure you add Scrum Master somewhere in there, too, so it’ll appear in job board search results.)
  2. Write a job text detailing what the team member will learn, do, and become. In the future the candidate will leave your organization, that is a fact. So focus on the job text and how you will help the candidate become a better professional while they are with your organization.
  3. As said before, describe why a candidate needs certain skills. Are you looking for someone with leadership skills? OK, why? How is the candidate going to make use of those leadership skills?


One of the challenges organizations have is finding candidates. The best way to solve this is to make everyone in your company a recruiter! Leverage the networks of your existing team members and ask them to ask around for good candidates. But be careful with this, people like to be friends with people who are like minded. So this could result in losing diversity in your team, which is a big risk (and probably also worth a future blog post.) You could reward people with a referral bonus, as long as the bonus is not too big. Take a look at these six rules for rewards. Referred candidates still need to do all the steps in the interview process. No exceptions.

What to do with the candidate profiles you get? Simply put, you can reject candidates based on their profiles, but please do not hire based on profile only. If somebody makes many grammar mistakes, unreadable descriptions, etc., it is clear. If someone can’t even take the time to create a decent profile, the candidate is not committed and definitely not a fit.


Next up? The interview. Make sure you approach the interview as a professional. You represent the job, the product, and the company. It is not just you who has to decide if you are going to make the candidate an offer. The candidate also has to decide if she would like to work at your organization. If your interview is boring, poorly organized, and hierarchical, you will make a bad impression on the candidate.

You will have an impression of me as soon as you see me in real life. It could be good or bad; it doesn’t matter. For more than 20,000 years, we have been able to judge a situation in mere seconds. It was necessary for us humans to survive in nature. We are still doing this; we can’t help it; we judge immediately. As the interviewer, it is your task to challenge your own first impression. Is your first impression really true? Probably not.

A friend of mine was applying for a job a while ago. The process was a bit (too) long. At one moment in the process, he already had a total of five hours of interviews under his belt. He estimated that he had talked himself for a maximum of 45 minutes till that moment. Guess who talked for the other 255 minutes? In this case, my friend just had to nod occasionally and say yes, true, indeed… The result was that the people from the organization were very positive about him. And they should be; he is a great guy. He, however, thought that time management and process-wise improvements were possible in this company.

During the interview, make sure you talk as little as possible. The other pitfall is that you only focus on facts. Asking a thousand things about a Web framework, features in the latest programming language version, a certain IDE, or a social media tool may make you feel a candidate is knowledgeable, but it doesn’t mean anything. Facts can be found on the Internet anywhere. An interview is not the same as a quiz. It is better to ask what communities the candidates know and use and how they would solve problems. Better yet, ask them to give examples of problems they solved.

My favorite question always is: “What are you really proud of what you accomplished in the last year? Could you tell me all about it?” In one question about what the candidate finds difficult, they probably won’t tell you about an easy job. You can start asking clarification questions, like “What did you do…”, “How did you…”, “What made it difficult…” or just “Tell me more…” A big advantage of this question is you know if the candidate is able to explain a complex situation.

Next, try to ask behavioral questions. Behavioral questions are a tool to find out about real-life cases. A further model you can use is STAR: situation, task, action, result. For example, if you want to know if a marketer can work with social media, a question could be: “Can you give me an example of a social media campaign you had to set up? What was expected of you in this situation? What were the actions you actually did? What were the results?” You can find more examples of behavioral questions here.

Another thing you can do during the job interview is to ask a candidate to explain their motivation. You could use Moving Motivators cards or ask the candidate to create her Personal Map.

The final step of the interview process is to do a workshop. There are still organizations that hire people without a workshop. Seriously, it is true! If you would hire an acrobat for your circus, would you not like to see them perform first? You need to give every candidate a workshop as a sort of practical trial of the job. You should be able to come up with a workshop for every role.  I would go so far that if you cannot decide on a workshop, you do not really know the job you are recruiting for. You can just ask candidates to make a plan, do a presentation, think of a strategy, write a piece of code, or break a project down. Nothing compares to real life, like seeing a candidate present their work like this.

Some organizations even invite candidates to work together for three days, an investment from both sides. This kind of workshop works both ways, as it’s an opportunity for the candidate to learn about and experience your business and team. It should add value to the organization and the candidate. Don’t put the candidate in a small room far, far, far away. I once had a candidate who went to the shop floor and started asking team members how she had to solve the case. During the review, one of the team members involved in the hiring process said the candidate cheated. Did I ask why? Because she asked for support. “Er… don’t we expect team members to ask for help.” There is no cheating possible in a workshop, everything in a workshop will learn you more about the candidate and the candidate will learn more about you.

I often hear: “Ralph, we have the XYZ online personality test. We are fully covered”. Er… right. What shall I say… Yes, there is value in a test, but, as with CVs, you don’t hire based on shades of grey psychological tests. Nor should you reject based on a test. You use it as something to discuss with the candidate. Most tests require training to be able to interpret the data. Most organizations only send their HR employees to this training, but they also share the results with people involved in the hiring process. If you would like to use the results as effectively as possible, ensure everyone attends a (serious) training on reading and interpreting psychological test results.


The last step in the process is just the hiring. It is a simple step with only two possible outcomes: hire or no hire. There is nothing between them; they are binary, a 0 or a 1. To make sure you understood me correctly here, there are only two outcomes possible: hire or don’t hire. Things like “Let’s give it a try”, “Great candidate for team Beta”, “We really need someone so..”, “If we are able to..”, and “Given the right coaching…” are all synonyms for don’t hire! No matter how urgent a role is, don’t compromise on hiring quality. It’ll backfire.

On the other hand, if someone seems like a good fit for your company but not for this role, tell them to keep her eyes out for the next opening.

And I understand that this in real life is a bit more grey, but we haven’t talked about the toll on a team that’s absorbing new members. If you compromise, you are making another group of people pay for your choice. (OK, probably yet another blog on this one…)

The last thing I want to share with you is that you should make sure that every candidate, and most definitely the candidates you reject, should become an ambassador of your organization. Treat them with respect, be nice to them, be transparent to them. You want them to tell friends: “They rejected me, I understand why, but I felt it was a great company. You should apply for a job there.”

This blog post was originally published on the Management 3.0 blog by Ralph van Roosmalen

Do you want to learn more about Hiring Great People? Attend a Management 3.0 Foundation Workshop and learn how you can hire great people for your organization!


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