Finding A Player Candidates: Part 3

Summary: We sent a Topgrading Tips article on recruiting best practices in January (“Six Tips for Recruiting A Players”) and got so many good suggestions that I sent another one in June (“I Just Can’t Find Enough Good Candidates.”) You can read these articles at, click on Resources and then Topgrading Tips). It’s such a hot topic that in this third article I present two more options: hire for potential (not just current ability), and ask all managers to develop a Virtual Bench (non-stop recruiting).

Background: Despite declining unemployment rates, companies everywhere are complaining that their recruitment methods are just not producing enough A Player candidates. Powerful influences that deplete A Player pools include:

  • Under-employment – millions of potential workers have given up looking for work
  • Disability fraud – record high numbers of “disabled” workers are showing many are not disabled but unable to find work; when they get income from Social Security disability funds they no longer look for work
  • Demographics – baby boomers are retiring
  • Millennials – traditional companies haven’t figured out how to recruit, select, train, and retain the “me generation.”

Studies Show Concern:  In a 2014 PricewaterhouseCoopers study of CEOs in 68 countries, 63% said they were concerned about future availability of skills, not just for management jobs but for jobs at all levels. In a Harvard MBA program survey of students, the average rating of their company leadership pipelines was only 3.2 on a 5-point scale.  No talent management function was rated higher than 3.3 (meaning HR managers are widely perceived to NOT do much to improve talent).

Topgrading, Inc. clients have used modern, “proven” recruitment methods such as social media, job boards, winning Best Company awards, and paying employees for successful referrals. But there are a couple of additional approaches you might not have thought of …

Additional Topgrading Solutions to “Not Enough Candidates”

1. Create “Virtual Benches” of Candidates.
In other words, recruit all day, every day, and have plenty of A Player candidates ready to join you when the need arises.  Don’t wait for someone to quit to begin looking.

Many Topgrading companies, such as Benco Dental, have institutionalized the virtual bench concept, so that Human Resources generally stays ahead of the game.  When an opening occurs, they go to their files with candidates who have gone through most of the Topgrading hiring steps, except the tandem Topgrading Interview and reference checks.

The ideal virtual bench candidate is passive – they are A Players who are not looking for a job.  They most often are in the Networks of your current employees.  To motivate busy employees to stay in touch (using social media or old fashioned phone calls) with A Players they have worked with:

  • Offer financial incentives, such as $1000 if the person they recommended is still an employee after 6 months.
  • Ask newly hired managers to take an hour and provide profiles on A Player co-workers.  The Topgrading Interview Guide has sections in which candidates are asked to name A Player subordinates in their most recent two jobs, making it easy to pick that low hanging fruit. If you hire a person with A players in her virtual bench, her A players become yours, too.

2. Hire for Potential, not just Current Competence.  You might hire someone cheaper and better than the “proven” candidate with experience.

The world is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA).  So increasingly managers and individual contributors are required to anticipate change, prepare for it, adapt, flex, and make changes successful.  This puts a premium on competencies such as resourcefulness, intellectual curiosity, risk taking, tolerance for ambiguity, team player (learn from others and teach others), strategic sense, and of course for managers: Topgrading!

Traditional round-robin competency interviewing approaches totally miss the boat in this VUCA world.  A recent Harvard Business Review article suggests asking competency questions such as:

  • How do you invite input from your team?
  • What do you do to broaden your thinking, experience, or personal development?
  • How do you foster learning in your organization?

Such questions give the candidate the power to select only the most positive examples.  On top of it, his sample questions “lead the witness,” assuring that Forrest Gump could fake the interview.

Topgraders understand the job milieu and reflect it in a Job Scorecard that spells out accountabilities for new technology, new market strategies, and specific attacks on competitors.  Then, throughout the Topgrading Interview the tandem interviewers would ask, for every job, what the candidate “found” in each new job (challenges, opportunities) and exactly what were successes, failures, key decisions, and key relationships on each job.  In other words, the PATTERN of super-adaptability can best be revealed by tracing the candidate’s career history.

What does “Potential” look like? Topgrading clients have been very aware of the demographic and other talent-depleting dynamics, and have been quite successful hiring A Players “on the come”, for more than the past decade.  Instead of hiring a general manager (too expensive for the proven GMs), a lot of private equity companies hire COOs or CFOs who show GM potential.  Instead of hiring a sales manager in a complex industry, they might hire a successful sales rep who has shown real potential by … recruiting sales reps, training sales reps, having responsibility for a few sales reps (when the sales manager is on vacation), etc.

Conclusion:  If finding A Player candidates is a challenge, improve your odds by building virtual benches and by hiring for potential.

Published on August 19, 2014

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