Who by Geoff Smart and Randy Street

The Big Idea: to win in business, learn how to recruit A players.


When do most hiring mistakes happen?

Most mistakes happen when managers are:

1. Unclear about what is needed in a job
2. Have a weak flow of candidates
3. Do not trust in their ability to pick out the right candidate
4. Lose candidates they really want to join them

Why is it preferable to hire internally?

One of the hardest challenges is to hire people from outside the company. A resume is a record of a person’s career with all the accomplishments embellished and all the failures removed.

What are the ten voodoo hiring methods you should avoid?

1. The art critic: going on instincts
2. The sponge: let everyone interview; no assessment is very deep
3. The prosecutor: aggressive interviews and brain teasers
4. The suitor: all talking and no listening; sell the job but not learn about the candidate
5. The trickster: gimmick questions and gimmick scenarios
6. The animal lover: nothing but pet questions; favorite but irrelevant questions looking for creative answers
7. The chatterbox: small talk
8. The personality tester: not predictive of performance on the job
9. The aptitude tester: helpful but only part of the larger equation
10. The fortune teller: hypothetical, behavioral questions; academic literature makes a strong case against; not predictive of actual performance

What is an A Player?

You are who you hire. An A Player is a candidate who has at least a 90% chance of achieving a set of outcomes that only the top 10% of possible candidates would achieve.

What is the “Who Hiring” Method?

1. Scorecard: not a job description; outcomes and competencies that define a job well done
2. Source: have a talent pool before you have slots to fill
3. Select: series of structured interviews
4. Sell: don’t lose the perfect candidate at the 11th hour


What is the Position Scorecard?

Scorecards describe the mission for the position, outcomes that must be accomplished, and competencies that fit with both the culture of the company and the role.

What is the first failure point of hiring?

The first failure point of hiring is not being crystal clear about what you really want the person you hire to accomplish.

What are the three parts of the scorecard?

The scorecard has three parts: job’s mission, outcomes, and competencies.

What is the mission part of the scorecard?

The mission is the executive summary of the job’s core purpose.

Mission statements help you avoid one of the most common hiring traps: hiring the all-around athlete. All-around athletes have impressive pedigrees, speak well, learn well, and seem able to do it all. Hiring all-around athletes rarely seems to work. A family-practice doctor knows something about a lot, but you wouldn’t let him perform open heart surgery on you. If you need solutions to specific problems, you want the specialist.

What is the outcomes part of the scorecard?

Outcomes, the second part of the scorecard, describe what a person needs to accomplish in a role. 3-8 outcomes, ranked in order of importance, is usually right.

Set the outcomes high enough so that you scare off B and C Players and excite A Players.

Job descriptions focus on a list of things will be doing, but scorecards describe what a person must get done to consider themselves successful in the role.

Seek to make the outcomes as quantifiable and clear as possible.

New hires will appreciate the clarity, since they know what they’ll be judged on.

What is the competencies part of the scorecard?

Outcomes describe what must be accomplished. Competencies define what a new hire needs to have/be to achieve the outcome.

What are critical competencies for A Players?

Critical competencies for A Players (from University of Chicago, used by author’s consulting firm)
1. Efficiency
2. Honesty/Integrity
3. Organization and planning
4. Aggressiveness
5. Follow-through
6. Intelligence
7. Analytical skills
8. Attention to detail
9. Persistence
10. Proactivity

What are some other possible competencies to include?

Other possible competencies, depending on position:
1. Ability to hire A Players
2. Ability to develop people
3. Flexibility/adaptability
4. Calmness under pressure
5. Strategic thinking
6. Creative thinking and innovation
7. Enthusiasm
8. Work ethic
9. High standards
10. Listening skills
11. Openness to criticism
12. Communication
13. Teamwork
14. Persuasion

How strict should you be with competencies?

Don’t create a rigid checklist of competencies, because there are multiple ways to succeed in a position. One person might rely on creativity to succeed, while another person might rely on aggressiveness and persistence in the same role.

What does the CEO of Heinz look for?

CEO of Heinz looks for: 1) chemistry, 2) commitment, 3) coachable, 4) humble, 5) smart

Why is cultural fit so important?

One of the biggest hiring mistakes made by CEOs is not evaluating cultural fit.

Bad cultural fits hurt in the short-term for the position, but they also hurt in the long-term, because they affect other people around them.

How do you start to define your company’s culture?

Begin by evaluating your company’s culture. Write down keywords in a brainstorming session. Generate a tag cloud.

Don’t be afraid to write down what cultural competencies might seem blindingly obvious. In the midst of hiring, the clearest things sometimes get overlooked.

Part of successful hiring means having the discipline to pass on talented people who are not a fit.

Why are scorecards so important?

Scorecards are the guardians of your culture.

Scorecards become the blueprint that links the theory of strategy to the reality of execution.

1. Set expectations with new hires
2. Monitor employee progress over time

What is in a scorecard?

1. Mission: 1-5 sentences answering “What is the core mission for this position?”
2. Outcomes: 3-8 specific, quantifiable objectives to achieve
3. Competencies: a) List competencies that describe what behavior is needed to achieve the outcomes for this position. b) List global, cultural competencies that describe your culture for all positions.


Always be working on a talent pipeline, before a new hire is needed.

What are the best ways to find candidates?

Ads are a good way to generate lots of resumes but a lousy way to generate the right flow of candidates. Using recruiters depends heavily on the quality of the recruiter assigned to your project.

The number one method is to ask for referrals from your personal and professional networks. This stance is unanimous among everyone interviewed.

A good question to continuously ask people you meet: “Who are the most talented people you know that I should hire?” Then call them and stay in touch. Do this for years and you’ll have a tremendous talent pool.

Ask your customers and business partners to look out for talent.

Ask your current employees for referrals. In fact, make it part of the job description (and employee scorecard) to refer new A Players.

Incentivize your team with gifts, cash, and PTO for referrals.

Early stage companies often use their advisory board as recruiters.

Being a member of a CEO network gives you access to a network of great recruiters.

Are recruiters helpful?

External recruiters can work well but they need to know the inner workings of a firm. They are like a real estate agent in that they are most helpful when they know your budget, your preferences, your dealbreakers, and your true needs.

You can also hire recruiting researchers. They don’t do the interviews but only identify names. It’s a low-cost way to augment your recruiting. Just be careful about lack of filtering and qualification.

How do you avoid having a weak talent pipeline?

Sourcing talent is not hard. The hard part is having to discipline to source while doing your regular daily work.

Create a system to automate and organize the talent recruitment part of your job. Use spreadsheets and weekly call lists. Or use an applicant tracking system. Spend 30 minutes each week calling potential A players, until you have one live conversation. End those calls by asking them “who are the most talented people you know who might be a good fit for my company?”


What should you use instead of traditional interviewing or voodoo interviewing?

Traditional interviewing is terrible at selecting A players.

Four Interview Sequence
1. Screening interview
2. Who Interview
3. Focused interview
4. Reference interview

What is the screening interview?

The screening interview is a short phone interview to clear out B and C players. This is the opportunity to save lots of time later by screening out people quickly.

Use the same questions every time to ensure consistency and quickly learn how to qualify candidates.

What is the structure of the screening interview?

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

1. What are your career goals? Don’t talk about what you’re looking for, to avoid tainting the discussion. Anyone lacking career goals needs to be screened out. Listen for candidates with passion and energy about topics relevant to the role. Alignment is more important than skill.

2. What are you really good at professionally? Push candidates to tell you 8-12 positives so you can build a complete picture of their professional aptitude. Ask them to give you examples. If you see a major gap between someone’s strengths and your scorecard, screen that person out.

3. What are you not good at or not interested in doing professionally? Push for a real weakness or a real area for development. Don’t let them weasel out. If you still need to push, rephrase as “what will your references say is your weakness or area for development?” If you see any deal-killers relative to your scorecard, screen them out.

4. Who were your last five bosses, and how will they rate your performance on a 1-10 scale when we talk to them? Note the assumption that we WILL talk to them. Find out why they were rated that. 7 is a neutral, anything below requires explanation. Occasionally someone is fired but actually an A player.

How should you start and end the screening interview?

Start the screening call by reviewing the scorecard, then launch right into the screening questions. If you don’t like what you’re hearing, end the call after 15 minutes. If you like what you’re hearing, schedule a follow up to finish the screening. End the call with an offer to answer questions.  After the screening call, compare your notes to the scorecard.

What are some other tips for the screening interview?

Stick with the four screening questions but if you want to learn more, ask a follow-up question that begins with “what”, “how”, or “tell me more”.

Weed people out as soon as possible. Try to weed out 80% of people at the screening stage. Listen to your gut when something doesn’t match what’s on paper.

What is the Who interview?

Start your next stage, 2. Who Interview, when you have narrowed your list down to 2-5 candidates. This is the key interview. The literature says that this interview is the most reliable predictor of performance. Use the power of data and patterns of behavior for making predictions about future performance.

What is the Who interview?

The Who Interview Guide is a chronological walkthrough of a person’s career. Ask the same 5 questions for each job. Learn the story of a person’s career. Remember that people love talking about themselves, so this should be easy.

Always conduct the Who Interview starting with the first job on the resume and talk forward.

What is the structure of the Who interview? What are the 5 questions you ask for each job?

1. What were you hired to do?
2. What accomplishments are you most proud of?
3. What were some low points during that job?
4. Who were the people you worked with?
5. Why did you leave that job?

1. What were you hired to do? Learn what their original scorecard was. What were their missions and outcomes?

2. What accomplishments are you most proud of? Let them elaborate on the high points of their career. See if those accomplishments match your scorecard. See if there is a mismatch between the accomplishments and the original scorecard for that job.

3. What were some low points during that job? If hesitation, reframe it. “What went really wrong? What was your biggest mistake? What would you have done differently?”

4. Who were the people you worked with? Get all bosses’ full names with full spelling! This forces them to tell the truth. Then ask what they thought it was like working with each boss. Look for overly negative answers. Then ask what each boss will say about their strengths and weaknesses. Keep pushing until you get the truth about what their boss will say. Ask how they would rate the team they inherited and what changes they implemented to make a better team. What will they say your strengths and weaknesses are as a manager?

5. Why did you leave that job? Were they promoted, recruited, or fired. Were they taking the next step or running from something? Get as specific as possible. Don’t let the candidate off the hook with a vague answer.

How long should the Who interview take?

The Who Interview takes 3 hours on average. For every hour you spend on a Who Interview, you’ll save hundreds of hours by not dealing with poor performance.

Who should conduct the Who interview?

Conduct the Who Interview with two interviewers, not one. So that two people can take alternate taking notes and asking questions.

How do you start the Who Interview?

Start the Who Interview by explaining the question structure and there will be room for candidate questions at the end.

What are some tips for the Who interview?

1. You have to interrupt the candidate. But do it with positivity instead of reprimanding.
2. Use 3P’s when assessing an accomplishment. How did the accomplishment compare to P=Previous year, P=Plan, and P=Peers?
3. Being pushed out of a job vs being pulled out of a job = very important difference.
4. Get as specific as possible until you can completely visualize what the candidate is saying.
5. Look at body language for a mismatch in verbal vs nonverbal communication.

What is interview #3, the Focused interview?

Use the Focused interview to gather specific information about your candidate. The Focused Interview is focused on the scorecard (mission, outcomes, and competencies.) Go through each point in the scorecard and make sure you ask about it. Include cultural competencies to ensure cultural fit.

What might a typical interview look like?

Typical Interview Day
8:30-8:45: team huddle
9-12: Who Interview
12-1:30: other employees take the candidate to lunch
1:30-4:30: Focused Interviews x 3 (or on a second day)
4:30-5: team debrief

What is the reference interview?

Don’t skip the references. Conduct reference checks for all hires.  Ignore references your candidate gave you and contact former bosses, peers, and subordinates. Ask around to find those people. Tip: ask the candidate to make an introduction to help facilitate the calls. Check 7 references = 3 bosses, 2 peers, 2 subordinates.

What questions do you ask in the reference interview?

1. In what context did you work with the person?
2. What were the person’s strengths?
3. What were the person’s biggest areas for improvement back then?
4. How would you rate the person’s overall performance on a scale 1-10? Why? (Note: adjust for inflation. A 6 is really a 2.)
5. The person mentioned he struggled with ____ in that job. Can you tell me more?

What are some code words you might hear when talking about a risky candidate?

Code for risky candidates: can only confirm dates of employment, “if…then” responses to qualify their reference, lots of “um’s and er’s”, hesitation instead of enthusiasm, lukewarm or qualified praise, neutral references

What are some general red flags to watch out for during the who and focused interview?

1. Doesn’t mention past failures.
2. Exaggerates answers.
3. Takes credit for the work of others.
4. Speaks poorly of past bosses.
5. Cannot explain job moves.
6. For managers, no hire/fire experience.
7. More interested in compensation vs job.
8. Tries too hard to look like an expert.
9. Self-absorbed.
10. Too much talk about winning. (might be petty)
11. Adding too much value. (instead of giving praise, tries to always improve, too much ego)
12. Starting sentences with “no,” “but,” and “however.” (overactive ego and overly argumentative)
13. Blaming others.
14. Making excuses.
15. Proclaiming “that’s just me” indicates a fixed mindset.

How do you make your final selection?

1. Review scorecards
2. Review your ratings of candidates vs score card (A, B, C)
3. Eliminate B and C’s
4. Rank all A’s and start with #1

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