Hiring Great People

A quick and simple guide to why and how.

Something I say a lot is that in the long run, the best team always wins. Hiring and retaining a team of all-stars (and only all-stars), and giving them the right roles and environment will lead to success. Even if you screw everything else up, great people, doing what they’re great at in an environment that allows them to thrive and collaborate will figure the rest out. As one of my favorite books Good to Great says, the leaders of the most successful companies of our age focused on getting:

“…the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.”

Even before figuring out exactly where the bus was going.

But “great people” is a subjective term. How do you know if someone is “great”? There are a wide array of opinions, from psychometric testing to gut feel. So how as a manager or entrepreneur do you go about ensuring that you are building a team of the “right people”?

The clearest, simplest and most honest approach to this I’ve ever read was written back in 2007 in a post by Marc Andreessen entitled “how to hire the best people you’ve ever worked with“. In summary, he says to look for 3 criteria:

  1. Drive — It doesn’t matter what drives them. Whether it’s money, insecurity, family, fear, love, etc… The drive and ambition to push stubbornly forward and achieve is something people either have or they don’t. If they have it, they’ll always have it, and if they don’t, they’ll never have it. It doesn’t matter why they have it, just that they have it.
  2. Curiosity — Great people are naturally curious. They spend their free time researching, practicing, tinkering and improving at what they are naturally curious about. But being curious about anything is not enough. If you’re hiring an engineer and she’s naturally curious about bird-watching (but not engineering), she will never be a “great” engineer. Great engineers are curious about engineering. It’s not enough to get the right people, but you also must get them in the right seats.
  3. Ethics — At the end of the day, you’re trying to build a great team. To do so you and all the team members must have a shared set of values. This is hard to test for, but this is why you really need to write down what you’re trying to understand about a candidate in an interview and ask questions that give you a good idea of that person’s ethics. In Marc’s own words, one way to test for honesty for example, is to “Pick a topic you know intimately and ask the candidate increasingly esoteric questions until they don’t know the answer. They’ll either say they don’t know, or they’ll try to bullshit you. Guess what. If they bullshit you during the hiring process, they’ll bullshit you once they’re onboard.”

I would expand on the Ethics topic to say that, as a team, you should identify a few ethics that are important to you and specifically test/probe for them during the interview process. Ultimately, it is these ethics (assuming you base hiring, promotion and firing decisions on them) that will form the basis for your culture and your brand. You spend a good chunk of your life at work, so you should make sure that it’s with people you like.

Marc goes on to talk about process. They’re common sense tips that people often forget or skip. They’re a good refresher:

  1. have a written hiring process. (i.e. have a consistent process that you follow)
  2. basic skills tests. (nothing crazy, just make sure they have the basic skills they claim to have on their resume)
  3. plan out and write down interview questions ahead of time
  4. pay attention to the little things during the interview process. (i.e. be aware of warning signs — never laughs, interrupts, etc…)
  5. pay attention to the little things during the reference calls. (i.e. referrers will only hint at major issues. A downplayed hint is probably a major issue)
  6. fix your mistakes fast… but not too fast.

Now go read the full post.


This article was originally published on a blog that I never updated. This post was worth saving, however.

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