Hiring the Right People: How To Spot a Great Hire

Hiring the Right People: How to Spot a Great Hire

Written By Dick Massimilian


Hiring people is easy, but the challenge is hiring the right people. Every hiring manager wants to find that diamond – that indomitable self-starter – the person who will stay late when there’s work to do, who will handle both crises and lulls with aplomb, who will be more concerned with making an impact than with time off and sick leave policies. Those diamonds are out there. But how do you recognize them, especially in an interview setting in which everyone’s best foot is forward or when you can’t even meet the person face-to-face?

What To Look For

There are no fail-safe interview questions, psychometric tests or reference checks. But there are clues. Having worked with hundreds of leaders on five continents, I have noticed that the vast majority of the most outstanding individuals have one or both of two things in common:

  • They are/were athletes
  • They overcame adversity

Commonality #1: They Are/Were Athletes

I was never an athlete. I didn’t understand that world until, to my considerable surprise, my sons turned out to be jocks. Watching them, I now understand why recruiters love athletes. Athletes live in the world of results. Theirs is not the world of theory or of what ought to happen. Theirs is the world of instantaneous feedback. Something worked or it didn’t. You get nowhere as an athlete unless you are resilient, unless you can bounce back from setbacks and unless you can practice and develop your ability over time. Moreover, out on the field you are exposed. Everyone can see you. There is no hiding.

If you spot someone with a background as an athlete, find out about their sport(s) and their accomplishments. You will likely be impressed.

Commonality #2: They Overcame Adversity

People who overcome adversity inspire us: the general counsel who lost his mother at age twelve. The controller who overcame a sudden, inexplicable illness in high school. The teacher who grew up in an acrimonious broken home. The engineer who waited tables to pay for college. There are an infinite number of stories, and admittedly, the stories are harder to uncover than experience as an athlete. But a skilled interviewer who is authentic and present can ask simple questions that reveal the courage and heart it takes to persevere and beat the odds. Look for that courage and heart as you interview. You will be inspired.

The hiring manager who finds one or both attributes – athletics and adversity – in someone has increased his or her odds of having found a diamond exponentially. Hiring the right people isn’t a science, it’s a skill – Keep your antennae up.