I believe anyone can hire amazing people – recruiting takes time and effort but I don’t think it’s an exclusive skill that only few people have.
How to Hire Amazing People
In the last few months I’ve been recruiting and hiring a lot of really incredible people. If you don’t know, last December I joined Liquid Web to help them build out a new and innovative managed WordPress hosting product.
So one of the topics that’s come up multiple times is recruiting. The thinking is that I must have some special tricks to bring together and nab some of the amazing people that have recently joined our ranks. And yet, it’s not true.
The people are amazing. That part is true. But my approach to recruiting high performers is easily copied. So today I thought I would lay out the 10 specific things I do to hire amazing people.
1. Target big and tough problems
While it’s true that many smart and accomplished people had, at some point in their lives, a regular and routine job like working at McDonald’s, almost none of them pursue routine work today. Smart and talented people don’t choose ordinary or routine jobs. It’s not exciting to them.
So one of the first things I recognize about recruiting amazing people is that the challenge has to be worthy of their talents. Even if people are making a lateral move, or maybe especially if they’re making a lateral move, the thing that attracts amazing people is the work.
Sure everyone can be lured by a huge title change, a big promotion, and tons of money. But truly incredible people can get excited about the challenge faster than (or even before) talking about compensation and titles.
If you don’t have any tough or big problems, I don’t know how much my advice will help you. Because for me, I’ve only ever gone into companies where I believe the challenge is big, complex and worthy of my time. And those are the same challenges I put in front of the folks I’m recruiting.
2. Design roles based on people
The second thing I do is build a team around people, not job descriptions.
If that doesn’t make sense, think about the situation you normally see at work. A person leaves and you have to backfill the role. Or you convince the organization that you need more headcount. At that point, what’s the first thing you see happen?
People start writing job descriptions. And then they start looking for people to fill that role. And as a result, you may miss some truly amazing people simply because they don’t fit the box you just defined by crafting that role.
Instead, and I’ll talk about this more in the next step, I’m constantly networking because I know there are a lot of incredible people I don’t know. And I listen to their stories. I ask about what they’re doing and what they’ve done. And in so doing, I may discover some amazing people that I want to work with.
For me, that’s when I start crafting a job description. After finding amazing people, not before.
3. Regularly build relationships
I make a simple rule of never recruiting people who are happy in their current role. I always ask the question, “Are you happy there?” and if the answer is yes, I move on to other topics. More on that dynamic in rule 6.
But if someone is happy, it doesn’t mean I walk away from them. I still want to know their story. I want to ask questions. I want to hear what they’re doing and what motivates them. Because you never know when the timing will work out to work together.
Before I go further, let’s agree that to constantly build relationships and to always be networking, you have to genuinely want to get to know people. This isn’t one of those – let’s connect on LinkedIn in case one day I need something from you. Your genuine curiosity and interest in a person is something they can discern immediately.
And the more you build a network of amazing people, the better the chances that you’ll be able to connect them to each other – even if the timing isn’t right for you and them to work together. I can’t tell you the number of people I’ve introduced to others and watched them get hired, only to wish I had the opportunity to hire them at that minute.
But more than once, I’ve talked to someone who has just taken a position elsewhere. While personally bummed, I’ve been happy for them and offered any help I can for them in their new role. Then, weeks, months or years later, I’ll get a call asking me if we can talk. And that’s when I hear they’re looking.
This brings me to the subtext of networking. It’s not about getting. It’s about giving. The more I help, the more I connect people, the more I offer advice or simply come alongside someone who needs a little advice – the more I do all that, the more I get back. But it’s never a quid pro quo. It’s networking karma.
4. Build organizational flexibility
The thing about recruiting amazing people is that they sometimes have particular needs. Some need jobs that only span 75%. Others need jobs where they can work from home – in a company not used to remote employees. Or they live in a state that your company hasn’t ever hired from.
Hiring amazing people often requires that you work within your company just as hard to create the ways to make things work. It’s just as much inside work as recruiting work. And you have to understand that going in.
There are a lot of things to think about when dealing with the internal dynamics of hiring amazing people.
One time I sent an amazing employee of mine to another business unit in another state to help them out. In this particular case, my Michigan employee was visiting Miami for the first time. In his mind, everything was sunny. So he showed up to the Miami office in shorts.
Within minutes I got a call from the GM of that business unit complaining about his attire. I simply asked him to give the employee a day to do the work and help that GM’s team. I promised we would talk again later that afternoon.
At 5 pm I called the GM to see what we needed to do. His response went something like, “This guy is so fast, and so amazing, and was so incredibly helpful to our team that he can wear anything he wants.”
My job was managing the discussion with the GM so that the employee never even know that an issue had come up. My job was the internal dynamics. He just needed to demonstrate his awesomeness, which I was certain would happen.
5. Be honest and transparent
Not everything within your company is going to be stellar. Not every manager will be great. Not every product will be perfect. The truth is the truth. And the worst thing you can do is not be clear and honest about it.
High performers don’t really handle BS well. They don’t like lies (not that anyone does), and they have low tolerance for betrayal. So I’m much more inclined to make sure they understand everything as it is, not just how I hope it will be.
Many years ago I was being interviewed for an executive role when the CEO invited me to meet all the folks I’d be working with and the ones I’d be managing. I assumed it was another more extensive interview, and said as much. He corrected the notion. He said, “I just want to make sure you fully understand the magnitude of the challenge you’ll be facing.”
To many people, that might sound horrible. To me, it was not only honest, it was a statement that almost felt like a dare. Like he was saying, “Are you really sure you have what it takes to pull this off?” and that’s exactly the size of a problem that was attractive to me (and what I was talking about in rule one).
6. Understand timing
Another truth about hiring amazing people is that you can’t hire them all.
Sometimes the timing just doesn’t work. A few months ago I was talking to an amazing woman that I wanted to hire. But her timing didn’t fit my timing and she ended up going somewhere else. I was super happy for her but wished the timing had worked out. But that’s how things work.
The trick here is never to burn a bridge. Because I have no idea how that new gig is going to go for her. I have no idea if the company showed her the truth of that business, or if she’ll be learning about it over the next few months.
So the last thing I’m going to do is make a fuss. I chalk it up to timing and continue to build the relationship so that at some point in the future we may work together.
One of my most recent hires came that way. I wanted to hire him when I first joined Liquid Web. But when I called him I found out he’d just taken a new job and that he was happy. So I left it at that. And then, a couple months ago, there was an email in my inbox suggesting that maybe now the previous timing issue had disappeared.
Never burn a bridge. Did I say that already? It bears repeating.
7. Invest deeply in your existing staff
I’m going to use a word here, and if you’ve never heard me say it, you need to give me a second to flesh it out, so you don’t think it’s a creepy term. But here it is: don’t be a collector.
I have known people over the years who put on a big chase to recruit someone. They put a ton of energy and work into getting someone to say yes. The hunt is intense. The value is clearly communicated simply by how much work the recruiter is putting into things. But the moment the candidate says yes, the employer moves on to their next conquest.
They collect people, simply because the chase and collection is fun. Don’t be a collector.
Instead, invest deeply in your existing staff. Especially the top performers. Because not only are they a great component of your recruiting, but because people will reach out to them to get the inside scoop.
It’s easy to be amazing in the recruiting process. You’re smooth. You tell great stories. You stay calm. But if you ignore people once they’re hired. Or you run around yelling at people all day long, trust me. You won’t be hiring any amazing people that way.
One of the best ways to recruit amazing people is to invest in the amazing ones you have already. They’ll tell their amazing friends and help you create amazing teams of people.
8. Differentiate your company
Great people often have great options. They aren’t only talking to you. They have their pick of places to work. So this rule is really simple. Make sure that you can tell a compelling and differentiated story about why your company is a great place to work.
It might be the culture. It might be the executive team. It might be the founder. It might be the products. It might be the team.
But it better be something more than just a title and comp plan. Because everyone will have those. Differentiate your business from the rest.
9. Articulate a potential new future
One of the most exciting things I get to do when recruiting amazing people is ask them what they would like to do. The smart ones come opinionated. They have their own sense of what I’m missing, or what we need to do, or ideas that they’ve been thinking about.
Together, what I want from our time is the ability to co-create a future. A new potential with them in it. One where they’re excited to contribute. Because if I have everything figured out for them, where does their own passion and creativity fit?
So as we start crafting a role, part of the work is creating a sense, a vision, of what we can do together and how they can contribute.
Now, I should add a tiny warning here. If you co-create a future and then don’t live up to it, plan to watch them vote with their feet. They may not stick around if they determine that that shared vision they helped create isn’t becoming a reality anytime soon.
10. Handle insecurities directly
The last one is one that I don’t think people think about enough when hiring amazing people. From the outside amazing people look amazing. But on the inside, they have their own insecurities just like everyone else.
They may fear that the role is bigger than they’ve ever had. They may fear that they’re not ready to manage or lead others. They may fear that there’s a part of the job they’ve never done before and worry that they might screw it up. They may worry that they’re not as smart or skilled as you clearly think they are.
Whatever they are worried about, the best way to deal with it is directly.
While I have a high set of expectations for amazing staff, I never start there. I want to make sure that I understand it will take them some time to acculturate and find the best way for them to add value.
Sometimes it’s easy to see where they’re insecure. I then bring it up, see them nodding up and down, and then explain why I’m not worried about their worries. Other times I need them to bring it up because I can’t predict it. But again, the results are the same – it’s my job to deal directly with their fears and calm them down.
Here’s what I know – everyone is amazing in some way. And everyone is insecure in some way. And my job is to highlight that I recognize what they’re worried about and that I’m not worried about it. And if we need to create processes, mechanisms or safe words to deal with it, I’m more than happy to put that on my plate.
Hiring Amazing People
In the end, maybe the most important thing to know is that your recruiting strategies don’t make you or your prospective employees amazing. Those folks were amazing before you ever met them, and will be long after you no longer work with them.
What you have to focus on is building a consistent life of getting to know and hanging out with amazing people. And that means doing the work of finding out what makes each person you interact with amazing.
Another way I say this is simply this – when getting to know someone I need enough of their story to brag about them when I introduce them to someone else. If you do that, all the time, with everyone, you’ll soon discover all the amazing people out there.
And then your job is just to make sure you don’t screw things up.