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Book Summary — Who

The A Method for Hiring

You can find all my book summaries — here.

This book has been recommended to me by dozens and dozens of people. I was putting it off as it’s about hiring and it wasn’t relevant to me for the past year. As the Startmate Fellowship selection day is happening this next week — I picked it up and loved it.

1 paragraph summary:

‘Who’ gives you a great replicable framework for hiring A players for the role you need to fill. It provides a step by step process to make the most out of every interview, provide the optimal experience for the interviewee and maximum information for the interviewer. The two basic steps are: #1 Create a scorecard #2 Check if the candidate fits the scorecard.

The most important decisions that businesspeople make are not what decisions, but who decisions.

Every company’s largest problem is to hire and retain the best and right people for the job.

Use the A method for optimal hiring.

#1 Scorecard

  • describes exactly what you want a person to accomplish in this role
  • description of outcomes and competencies that define the job well done
  • NOT a job description

The scorecard should list the following:

  1. Mission — in plain English, it’s a good mission if nobody has to ask clarifying questions
  2. Outcomes, which must be accomplished — ideally 3–8 outcomes — not activities the candidate will be doing, but stuff they must get done
  3. Competencies, which ensure
  • Behavioural fit — some ideas for A players: Efficiency, Integrity, Planning, Aggressiveness, Follow through, Intelligence, Analytical skills, Attention to detail, Persistence, Proactivity, Flexibility, Ability to Hire/Develop others, Creativity, Enthusiasm, Listening, High Standards, Communication, Persuasion
  • Cultural fit — “What adjectives would you use to describe our culture?”


Don’t hire generalists. Every role you’re hiring for should be well defined. Job requirements are rarely general. If you’ve defined the role correctly you should be looking for narrow but deep expertise.

We all want employees to be great at everything, but in fact few are, and those who are may well demand higher salaries that make us pay for “features” that we don’t need. Remember, it’s all about the specific skill set you need when you need it.

Scorecards translate your business plan into role by role outcomes and create alignment among your team, and they unify your culture and ensure people understand your expectations.

#2 Source

  • systematic sourcing before you have roles to fill
  • the best way to source candidates is to ask for referrals from your personal and professional networks.
  • actively build your network through referrals and stay in contact
  • always follow up with “who do you know who might be a good fit for my company?”
  • every senior exec’s job should be to source 3 candidates who can pass a phone interview
  • be open and honest with recruiters

#3 Select

  • structured interviews so you can rate your scorecard
  • series of 4 interviews which build on each other

1) Screening Interview

  1. What are your career goals? if no goals or too close to website goals, screen them out — everybody should have their own goals
  2. What are you really good at professionally? always press for examples, if significantly different to scorecard screen them out
  3. What are you not good at or not interested in doing professionally? dismiss weaknesses which are strengths, identify 5–8 areas, tell them you will talk to bosses
  4. Who were your last five bosses, and who will they each rate your performance on 1–10 scale when we talk to them? “what will they say when I call them” — 6 is bad, 7 is neutral, you’re looking for 8–10, dig into why

Always dig deeper with “What, How, Tell Me More”.

Gut feeling is particularly important in determining who not to hire, not for hiring.

2) Topgrading Interview

  • Go through each position starting chronologically.
  • Can take 3–5 hours depending on position.
  • You have to interrupt
  • 3Ps — how did your performance compare to 1. previous year, 2. plan, 3. peers
  • Body language — look for inconsistencies to statements, dig deeper
  1. What were you hired to do? Build your mental model as to what the Scorecard would have looked like
  2. What accomplishments are you most proud of? Listen to outcomes linked to their old and your new scorecard, screen out if talk generally about meeting people or events
  3. What were some of the low points during your job? Keep pushing, rephrase “What went really wrong? Biggest mistake? done differently? parts you didn’t like? peers stronger than you?”
  4. Who were the people you worked with? Name? How was work with him/her? They say biggest? strengths/weaknesses? Don’t let them off the hook
  5. Why did you leave your job? pushed out not good (if pushed out >20% of jobs don’t hire, A players decided to leave after being successful

3) Focused Interview

  • talk about outcomes and competencies on your scorecard
  1. Purpose of this interview is to talk about [competencies / outcomes]
  2. What are your biggest accomplishments in this area?
  3. What are your insights into your biggest mistakes and lessons learned?

4) Reference Interview

Don’t ever skip this step!

  1. Pick the right references — don’t just use the provided reference list
  2. Ask the candidate to set up the calls
  3. 7 reference calls — 3 bosses, 2 peers/customers, 2 subordinates


  1. What context did you work together?
  2. Biggest strengths?
  3. Biggest areas of improvements back then?
  4. How would you rate their performance 1–10? Why?
  5. The person said they struggled with X and Y. Can you tell me more about that?

If they just confirm the dates of employment, that is a bad sign. If somebody really thinks that a person is good, they’re going to do more than that.

  • Um’s and Er’s are another code for unspoken problems. Hesitation means unspoken and carefully chosen words.

The absence of enthusiasm is a terrible sign.

5) Skill / Will Bull’s Eye

You hire if:

  • skill (what they can do)
  • will (what they want to do)

matches your scorecard.

Red Flags

  • does not mention past failures
  • candidate exaggerates
  • takes credit for the work of others
  • speaks poorly of past bosses
  • cannot explain job moves
  • managerial positions — never had to hire or fire
  • more interested in compensation and benefits than job
  • tries too hard to look like an expert
  • self-absorbed
  • “winning” things that don’t matter
  • starting sentences with “no’, ‘but’, ‘however’ → overactive ego
  • winners don’t blame
  • making excuses for their challenges
  • excessive need to “be me” → might not be able to adapt

#4 Sell

  • persuade them to join

After interviewing them for hours you should have a good idea what matters for them. You should sell them in all the below categories.

  1. Fit — company’s vision with individual’s goals
  2. Family — making the change as easy as possible for the family
  3. Freedom — won’t micromanage you
  4. Fortune — financial upside and stability
  5. Fun — personal relationships and activities

You should always be selling:

  1. Sourcing
  2. Interviewing
  3. Between offer and acceptance
  4. Acceptance and first day
  5. First 100 days

If you have the choice to be or hire somebody to err on the side of being too fast and focused versus being slow and extremely collaborative, we recommend going with the fast and focused option.

Emotional intelligence is important, but only when matched with the propensity to get things done.

The Dreamteam #1 → Startmate
The Dreamteam #2 → Blackbird
Dreamteaming — just be yourself! → Expert30

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