Who: The A method for hiring by Goff Smart and Randy Street is a widely acclaimed work on the art of recruiting top performing colleagues and it deserves its reputation. I would definitely recommend you reading it.

I have the habit of storing key elements of business books for my own use. I use this blog to share them with friends and because it is easier to access than a file on my computer when I need to have a glance at the content. You will find a list of other good business books on https://curatusread.com/les-selections-curatus/liste-curatee-de-bons-livres-business/ and access to my notes on https://curatusread.com/category/self-development/

The text below contains my Kindle notes and is 99% copy paste.

Scorecard, Sourcing, and structured selection can help you avoid “Who mistakes”

Who mistakes happen when managers:

  • Are unclear about what is needed in a job
  • Have a weak flow ofcandidates
  • Do not trust their ability to pick out the right candidate from a group of similar-looking candidates
  • Lose candidates they really want to join their team

We define an A Player this way: a candidate who has at least a 90 percent chance of achieving a set of outcomes that only the top 10 percent of possible candidates could achieve.

Remember, an A Player is not an all-around athlete. An A Player is someone who accomplishes the goals on the scorecard, which only the top 10 percent of the people in the relevant labor pool could accomplish. And you get to define the scorecard. You determine what a job holder must accomplish. You set competencies and values consistent with your culture. So an A Player is someone who accomplishes the outcomes you define in a manner consistent with your culture and values.

Scorecard. The scorecard is a document that describes exactly what you want a person to accomplish in a role. It is not a job description, but rather a set of outcomes and competencies that define a job done well. By defining A performance for a role, the scorecard gives you a clear picture of what the person you seek needs to be able to accomplish.

Source. Finding great people is getting harder, but it is not impossible. Systematic sourcing before you have slots to fill ensures you have high-quality candidates waiting when you need them.

Select. Selecting talent in the A Method involves a series of structured interviews that allow you to gather the relevant facts about a person so you can rate your scorecard and make an informed hiring decision. These structured interviews break the voodoo hiring spell.

Sell. Once you identify people you want on your team through selection, you need to persuade them to join. Selling the right way ensures you avoid the biggest pitfalls that cause the very people you want the most to take their talents elsewhere. It also protects you from the biggest heartbreak of all—losing the perfect candidate at the eleventh hour.

Here is a perfect example of what not to do: “The mission for this role is to maximize shareholder value by leveraging core assets of the NPC division while minimizing communication deficiencies and obfuscations.” That’s an exaggeration, but not by much. We bet you could find nonsensical statements like this floating around your company. And we bet further that whoever wrote them didn’t have a clue what the job really was or needed to be. Removing the clutter keeps your missions short, sweet, and, most of all, understandable.

Suggestions of competencies to include

Critical Competencies for A Players

  • Efficiency. Able to produce significant output with minimal wasted effort.
  • Honesty/integrity. Does not cut corners ethically. Earns trust and maintains confidences. Does what is right, not just what is politically expedient. Speaks plainly and truthfully.
  • Organization and planning. Plans, organizes, schedules, and budgets in an efficient, productive manner. Focuses on key priorities.
  • Aggressiveness. Moves quickly and takes a forceful stand without being overly abrasive.
  • Follow-through on commitments. Lives up to verbal and written agreements, regardless of personal cost.
  • Intelligence. Learns quickly. Demonstrates ability to quickly and proficiently understand and absorb new information.
  • Analytical skills. Able to structure and process qualitative or quantitative data and draw insightful conclusions from it. Exhibits a probing mind and achieves penetrating insights.
  • Attention to detail. Does not let important details
    slip through the cracks or derail a project.
  • Persistence. Demonstrates tenacity and willingness to go the distance
    to get something done.
  • Proactivity. Acts without being told what to do. Brings new ideas to the company.

Over the years, we’ve developed a list of competencies that we hand out when we are introducing new clients to the A Method for Hiring. The list begins with the competencies we just shared. In addition, you might want to consider some of the following competencies. These are in unprioritized order:

  • Ability to hire A Players (for managers). Sources, selects, and sells A Players to join a company.
  • Ability to develop people (for managers). Coaches people in their current roles to improve performance, and prepares them for future roles.
  • Flexibility/adaptability. Adjusts quickly to changing priorities and conditions. Copes effectively with complexity and
  • Calm under pressure. Maintains stable performance when under heavy pressure or stress.
  • Strategic thinking/visioning. Able to see and communicate the big picture in an inspiring way. Determines opportunities and threats through comprehensive analysis of current and future trends.
  • Creativity/innovation. Generates new and innovative approaches to problems.
  • Enthusiasm. Exhibits passion and excitement over work. Has a can-do attitude.
  • Work ethic. Possesses a strong willingness to work hard and sometimes long hours to get the job done.
    Has a track record of working hard.
  • High standards. Expects personal performance and team performance to be nothing short of the best.
  • Listening skills. Lets others speak and seeks to understand their viewpoints.
  • Openness to criticism and ideas. Often solicits feedback and reacts calmly to criticism or negative feedback.
  • Communication. Speaks and writes clearly and articulately without being overly verbose or talkative. Maintains this standard in all forms of written communication, including e-mail. •
  • Teamwork. Reaches out to peers and
    cooperates with supervisors to establish an overall collaborative working relationship.
  • Persuasion. Able to convince others to pursue a course of action.

Connection and commitment (a testimony)

  1. Chemistry is always important for both the individual and the company,” “If I don’t have good chemistry with you, and you don’t have good chemistry with me, then skip it. Connecting with them personally is important. That becomes obvious in my initial conversations with a candidate.
  2. “Number two is commitment. Theirs to you and yours to them. That is a difficult thing to assess, but it really matters. I want people who are committed.
  3. “Third, are they coachable? I underestimated this earlier in my career. You can pass on learning and shortcut their development if they are.
  4. “Number four is, do they have their ego under control? Are they prepared to address the problem? If they are thinking about the next job, they will fail. They must be focused on the job they have.
  5. “Number five, do they have the requisite intellect?”


Of all the ways to source candidates, the number one method is to ask for referrals from your personal and
professional networks. Ask: “Who are the most talented people you know that I should hire?”.

Personal and professional networks. Create a list of the ten most talented people you know and commit to speaking with at least one of them per week for the next ten weeks. At the end of each conversation, ask, “Who are the most talented people you know?” Continue to build your list and continue to talk with at least one person per week.

Referrals from your employees. Add sourcing as an outcome on every scorecard for your team. For example, “Source five A Players per year who pass our phone screen.” Encourage your employees to ask people in their networks, “Who are the most talented people you know whom we should hire?” Offer a referral bonus.

Deputizing friend of the Firm. Consider offering a referral bounty to select friends of the firm. It could be as inexpensive as a gift certificate or as expensive as a significant cash bonus.

Hiring recruiters. Use the method described in this book to identity and hire A Player recruiters. Build a scorecard for your recruiting needs, and hold the recruiters you hire accountable for the items on that scorecard. Invest time to ensure the recruiters understand your business and culture.

Hiring researchers. Identify recruiting researchers whom you can hire on contract, using a scorecard to specify your requirements. Ensure they understand your business and culture.

Sourcing systems. Create a system that (1) captures the names and contact information on everybody you source and (2) schedules weekly time on your calendar to follow up. Your solution can be as simple as a spreadsheet or as complex as a candidate tracking system integrated with your calendar.

Start with a short screening interview

Conduct a twenty- to thirty-minute screening interview, using the four key questions.

  • What are your career goals?
  • What are you really good at professionally?
  • What are you not good at or not interested in doing professionally?
  • Who were your last five bosses, and how will they each rate your performance on a 1–10 scale when we talk to them?

Probe for more information by using the “What? How? Tell me more” framework. Filter out obvious B and C Players from your hiring pipeline.

Continue with The Who Interview

The Who Interview takes three hours on average to conduct. It might take five hours for CEOs of multibillion-dollar companies, or ninety minutes for entry-level positions. For every hour you spend in the Who Interview, you’ll save hundreds of hours by not dealing with C Players. Your career and job happiness depend on finding A Players.

Don’t start at the most recent job and work backward. Candidates can’t think clearly that way. Instead, walk
through the career history chronologically—as the events really happened.

  • What were you hired to do?
  • What accomplishments are you most proud of?
  • What were some low points during that job?
  • Who were the people you worked with?
    (forcing candidates to spell the name out no matter how common it might be sends a powerful message: you are going to call, so they should tell the truth.)
  • Why did you leave that job? (A Players are highly valued by their bosses. B and C Players often are not. It is an important piece of the puzzle to figure out if somebody decided to leave a job after being successful (an A Player clue) or whether he or she was pushed out of a job by a boss who did not value their contribution (a B or C Player clue). Don’t accept vague answers like “My boss and I didn’t connect.” That’s a non-answer.

We also recommend that you conduct the Who Interview with a colleague—perhaps someone from HR, another manager or member of your team, or simply someone who wants to learn the method by observing you. This tandem approach makes it easier to run the interview. One person can ask the questions while the other takes notes, or you can both do a little of each. Either way, two heads are always better.

An example of introduction to the Who Interview

“Thank you for taking the time to visit us today. As we have already discussed, we are going to do a chronological interview to walk through each job you have held. For each job I am going to ask you five core questions:

What were you hired to do? What accomplishments are you most proud of? What were some low points during that job? Who were the people you worked with? Why did you leave that job? At the end of the interview we will discuss your career goals and aspirations, and you will have a chance to ask me questions.

Eighty percent of the process is in this room, but if we mutually decide to continue, we will conduct reference calls to complete the process. Finally, while this sounds like a lengthy interview, it will go remarkably fast.

I want to make sure you have the opportunity to share your full story, so it is my job to guide the pace of the discussion. Sometimes, we’ll go into more depth in a period of your career. Other times, I will ask that we move on to the next topic. I’ll try to make sure we leave plenty of time to cover your most recent, and frankly, most relevant jobs. Do you have any questions about the process?”

Setting expectations will put the candidate at ease and enable you to launch into the first chapter of his or her career with minimal confusion or intimidation.

A few pieces of advice

You have to interrupt the candidate. Anyway,  we think it is rude to let somebody ramble. The good way to interrupt somebody is to smile broadly, match their enthusiasm level, and use reflective listening to get them to stop talking without demoralizing them. You say, “Wow! It sounds like that pig farm next to the corporate office smelled horrible!” The candidate nods and says “Yes!” and appreciates your empathy and respect. Then you immediately say, “You were just telling me about launching that direct mail campaign. I’d love to hear what was that like? How well did it go?”

People who perform well are generally pulled to greater opportunities. People who perform poorly are often pushed out of their jobs. Do not hire anybody who has been pushed out of 20 percent or more of their jobs. From our experience, those folks have a three times higher chance of being a chronic B or C Player.

Pull. “My biggest client hired me.” “My old boss recruited me to a bigger job.” “The CEO asked me to take a double promotion.” “A former peer went to a competitor and referred me to his boss.”

An entire science has evolved to tell when people are lying. The biggest indicator, as it turns out, is when you see or hear inconsistencies. If someone says, “We did great in that role,” while shifting in his chair, looking down, and covering his mouth, that is a stop sign. When you see that, slam on the brakes, get curious, and see just how “great” he actually did. There is probably more to the story than he wants you to know.

Think of yourself instead as a biographer interviewing a subject. With all of the interviews we present in this book, get curious after every answer by using the “What? How? Tell me more” framework

Don’t skip the references!

Ask the candidate to contact the references to set up the calls. Interview for instance three past bosses, two peers or customers, and two subordinates. With them, follow the same structured pattern as the other interviews we recommended. This makes it very easy to merge what you hear with what you have already learned about a candidate.

Ask the reference to rate the person. The rating itself is interesting. Does the reference give the person a 10 or settle on something lower, such as a 6? Remember, a 6 is really a 2. In the end, you are looking for people who consistently get ratings of 8, 9, and 10 across your reference calls. Anything lower than that is a warning flag

You can be fairly certain references are speaking in code when they qualify a response with the same “if…then” formulation that fooled Stacy Schusterman. When you hear that, pull out your decoder ring and get curious about what’s really being said.

When you ask, “How did so-and-so do?” you want to hear tremendous enthusiasm, not um’s and er’s and carefully chosen words.

Recognize warning flags

Based on our experience, the major flags during the hiring process include:

  • Candidate does not mention past failures.
  • Candidate exaggerates his or her answers.
  • Candidate takes credit for the work of others.
  • Candidate speaks poorly of past bosses.
  • Candidate cannot explain job moves.
  • People most important to candidate are unsupportive of change.
  • For managerial hires, candidate has never had to hire or fire anybody.
  • Candidate seems more interested in compensation and benefits than in the job itself.
  • Candidate tries too hard to look like an expert.
  • Candidate is self-absorbed.
  • “Winning too much. I would look out for people in the hiring process who boast about winning battles that do not matter that much.
  • “Starting a sentence with ‘no,’ ‘but,’ or ‘however’ during the interview process.
  • “Telling the world how smart we are. The unhealthy display is taking excessive credit,
  • “Making destructive comments about previous colleagues is a huge red flag.
  • “Passing the buck. Blaming is always bad. Winners don’t blame.
  • “Making excuses.
  •  “The excessive need to ‘be me.’ Listen for comments like ‘That’s just me, I’m not organized.’ ‘That’s just me, I’m impatient.’ ‘That’s just me, I don’t include other people in decisions. That’s just the way I am.’ Beware. Somebody who has an excessive need to ‘be me’ is telling you that they are not open to adapt their style to fit your culture or your company and should not be hired.”

Personal note: the authors took a significant chunk of the list above from “What Got You Here Won’t Take You There” by Marshall Goldsmith

While none of these red flags in itself is sufficient for a thumbs-down, they do tend to correlate highly with people who, while they appear to be A Players, sink down to the B and C level once a hire is made. That’s why you need to take a hard look at the data when you see too many red flags.

Sell yourself to the candidate: fit, family, freedom, fortune, and fun

Let’s assume the candidate passes the screening interview and the Who Interview as well as the focused interviews on a selection of points of the scorecard. At this point, we really want the person. Nevertheless, an interview goes both ways! Above all with A players.

The five areas, which we call the five F’s of selling, are: fit, family, freedom, fortune, and fun. Identify which of the five F’s really matter to the candidate: fit, family, freedom, fortune, or fun. Create and execute a plan to address the relevant F’s during the five waves of selling: during sourcing, during interviews, between offer and acceptance, between acceptance and the first day, and during the first one hundred days on the job. Be persistent. Don’t give up until you have your A Player on board.

Closing thought: lamb and cheetah CEOs

Boards and investors have a tendency to invest in CEOs who demonstrate openness to feedback, possess great
listening skills, and treat people with respect. These are executives who have mastered the soft skills. We call
them “Lambs” because these CEOs tend to graze in circles, feeding on the feedback and direction of others.

Boards love Lambs because they are so easy to work with, and in fact, in our study Lambs were successful 57
percent of the time. That is not a bad success rate. A batter who hit .570 over a career could walk backward into the Hall of Fame.

The second dominant profile that emerged from our analysis was of CEOs who move quickly, act aggressively, work hard, demonstrate persistence, and set high standards and hold people accountable to them. We call these CEOs “Cheetahs” because they are fast and focused. Cheetahs in our study were successful 100 percent of the time. This is not a rounding error. Every single one of them created significant value for their

Emotional intelligence is important, but only when matched with the propensity to get things done. Too many executives have fallen into the trap of accentuating their Lamb skills at the expense of their Cheetah qualities. They work hard to stay in tune with their employees. They’re well liked on the shop floor and in the boardroom. There’s only one problem: they don’t produce value at anywhere near the rate Cheetahs do.

This isn’t to say that Cheetahs lack soft skills. To the contrary, they are talented people whose soft skills played
a critical role in their ascent to the top job. The difference, though, is that Cheetahs know when it is time to stop asking for feedback and to attack a target to achieve key outcomes that move a company forward. It appears that speed and focus really count when it comes to delivering great financial results.

Texte pour le guide Curatus

Recruter les bonnes personnes simplifie presque tous les problèmes ; pourtant, très peu d’organisations recrutent avec science. La plupart des entretiens de recrutement tentent de déceler une compatibilité humaine à venir sur la base d’une rencontre courte et peu structurée. Quand on pense au coût financier, en temps passé et en opportunité gâchée d’un mauvais recrutement, on comprend mal comment nous pouvons encore faire confiance à des méthodes aussi peu scientifiques. Alors, que faire ?

Les auteurs proposent une méthode pour déceler ce qu’ils appellent les « A players » par l’identification rigoureuse de sources de talents, l’écriture d’une scorecard pour structurer l’évaluation et une série d’entretiens. Ceux-ci permettent de filtrer d’abord et ne faire perdre de temps à personne, comprendre en détail le parcours (l’entretien « Who ») et réaliser des focus thématiques avant de vérifier les références.

L’ouvrage détaille comment mener chaque entretien, liste ce qu’il faut chercher et partage une longue expérience fondée sur la pratique. Il pousse même jusqu’à énoncer une méthode en cinq « F » pour se vendre aux candidats : Fit, family, freedom, fortune, and fun. Rappelons une évidence : un entretien va dans les deux sens.

Cette méthode ressemble beaucoup à ce que les grands cabinets de conseil appliquent et elle est décrite de manière très complète et lisible par des auteurs compétents. Investirez-vous quelques euros et quelques heures pour vous en inspirez ? Ou préférerez-vous faire confiance en votre bonne étoile ? A vous de choisir ! (et si vous passez des entretiens en ce moment, cela donne de bonnes idées dans le rôle du candidat…)

Note : cette méthode est dirigée vers le recrutement de managers seniors. Elle suppose que le poste pour lequel vous recrutez peut attirer et motiver sur une longue période une « A player ». Elle suppose aussi que vous avez le budget pour le payer et souhaitez investir un nombre conséquent d’heures dans le process de la trouver. Pour les autres situations, pensez à appliquer seulement certains aspects de la recette.