Put an End to Bad Hires: Q&A with Jeff Hyman, Author of “Recruit Rockstars”

December 19, 2017 Mary Lorenz

“Ninety percent of business problems are actually recruiting problems in disguise,” writes Jeff Hyman, in his new book, “Recruit Rockstars: The 10 Step Playbook to Find the Winners and Ignite Your Business.” A professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and experienced executive recruiter, Hyman says one of the biggest problems is that nearly all companies view recruitment as a cost, rather than an investment. That mindset is not only hindering their ability to bring A-players, or “Rockstars,” into their organizations, but it’s leading them to make bad hires. We recently spoke with Hyman about the reasons companies continue to make hiring mistakes, how to find A-players in a tight labor market and why “DNA” is vital to success. 

CB: Many of the concepts you discuss in the book – from offering higher pay to onboarding new employees properly – aren’t new concepts. So why do so many companies still get hiring so wrong?

JH: One of the biggest [reasons this happens] is that it takes a “talent pipeline” mindset as opposed to a “just in time” mindset. A “just in time” mindset means, “We have a position to fill, and we have to scramble, so let’s see what resumes we have and hire the best person we can.” And that person is usually a B-player.

A “talent pipeline” mindset, on the other hand, means you’re always recruiting – even if you don’t have positions open. Most companies don’t have a talent pipeline mindset. Most executives spend 30 to 50 percent of their time on the back end, babysitting and micromanaging and dealing with B- and C-players. I advise them to spend the same amount of time on the front end and hire Rockstars, who don’t need to be micromanaged or babysat. Your business will achieve much better results.

A lot of employers tell us they can’t get the qualified candidates they need for their open positions. What do you do when you want to recruit Rockstars, or A-players, but only B- and C-players are applying?

JH: In a tight labor market, which we’re in now, most Rockstars are currently working, so many of them aren’t looking at job listings. It is harder to find people, but most companies don’t find creative ways to do that. I’ve found dozens of ways, one of which is the employee referral program. The employee referral program is the holy grail of recruiting, yet one third of companies don’t have one. If you do have one, about 50 percent of your hires should come from employee referrals, but for most companies, it’s less than 20 percent, because they totally mismanage it.

[Just as important] is networking. The role of any leader or manager – whether the CEO or a department head – is hiring. That means they personally need to be networking – not to find their own next job, but to find great people. Recruiting is not just the job of the HR department or the recruiter. A manager needs to take responsibility and say, “I’m going to go find this person.” And while it’s not easy to find A-players, they’re certainly out there; however, it does take work to network to those people, and a lot of people don’t do it, because they’re either lazy or too busy managing B- and C-players on the back end.

CB: In your book, you say you can’t turn a B-player into an A-player, but what about the idea of “hiring for potential and training for skill?” Are those two completely different concepts?

JH: I wouldn’t say you can’t [ever] turn a B-player into an A-player. There are exceptions, [like] when you have time and training programs, you can sometimes evolve someone into an A-player. Especially in a larger company, [where] you may have another role they’re better suited for. They may be a B-player in one role but an A-player in another. But for smaller to mid-sized companies, where they need someone to hit the ground running almost immediately, if they don’t have a very good training program…you can’t turn a B-player into an A-player, at least in your timeframe. Filtering out the B-players and only letting in the A-players in to begin with is your best bet.

As for [hiring for potential and training for skill], if someone has the right “DNA” – which, as I explain in the book, is their genetic makeup, or their predisposition to do the work and do it well – you certainly can train for skills. I can train you how to use a computer, I can train you to operate this machine, I can train you how to use Microsoft excel, but if you don’t have the right DNA to begin with, no amount of training will take care of that.

CB: In the book, you mention the need to get rid of B- and C-players, even if it means other people will have to pick up the slack for a while. Should companies that do this be worried about their employees getting burned out or resentful?

JH: Yes. You may have to scale back your dates or plans or your timelines on, say, shipping a new product, because the headcount just can’t support it. But that is always better. You’d be surprised what Rockstars will do when they have a goal in front of them, because they respond to a challenge more than anything else. What they hate is having to cover for B- and C-players. They start to resent it. They’d much rather carry an empty seat than cover for a B- or C-player in that seat.

There may be times when you don’t want to burn those people out, so you have to scale back a little bit until you can find the right person to take that seat. That’s why you always need to be recruiting, because if it’s a “just in time” situation, filling that spot could take weeks, months or quarters. But if I’m always recruiting, it’s much more likely that I already have someone in mind to take that seat.

CB: If there’s one thing you want people to take away from your book, what would that be?

JH: You really can’t do this halfway. If you’re serious about doing this, and you do it consistently and train your managers on how to do it, you can make an enormous upgrade in the caliber of talent you have – even in a tight labor market. And that will have significant impact on your business.

Start building your talent pipeline with Rockstars today. See how CareerBuilder’s Talent Network makes it easy to recruit all year long.

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