Hiring the Right People

When it comes to hiring the right people, we hear many versions of the same story. It goes something like this: “We hired this person...” and with that comment, a very frustrated leader reaches across the desk and hands me the resume of the person they’ve just let go, and then adds, “…but this isn’t the person who showed up on the job.”

According to Leadership IQ’s Mark Murphy, a hiring thought leader and avid pollster, 46% of all hires don’t last past 18 months. Digging deeper into the data, 13% fail due to coachability problems, and 12% fail because they lack the emotional intelligence required in the position. Another 9% lack sufficient motivation to deliver results. 7% have some sort of attitude or personality issue that prevents them from delivering what the position needs. And remarkably, only 5% fail due to the lack of technical competencies required in the job.

If such a high percentage of people fail for reasons other than technical competencies, why do we spend the majority of our time interviewing to qualify these? A better question might be, Is there a set of qualities, characteristics or attributes that is common to A-Players, regardless of position, title or career stage?

Having polled hundreds of CEO’s, most agree that the following traits are desirable for hiring the right people: 

  1. Integrity, Honesty, Ethics and Character: There is no substitute for integrity, honor, ethics, morality, and good character. If a candidate lacks these, no matter what they produce, you will always second guess their work.
  2. Humble, Hungry and Smart: Patrick Lencioni’s book The Ideal Team Player describes three traits: 1) humble – a person who gives credit where credit is due; 2) hungry – a person who is appropriately aggressive in their pursuit of making things happen; and 3) smart – a person with the emotional intelligence or people smarts that allows for the effective management of interpersonal relationships.
  3. Passion and Perseverance: Angela Duckworth writes about this in her book Grit. Duckworth builds a convincing case for the benefits of passion and perseverance developed over time through difficulties, trials, and tribulations. According to Duckworth, the qualities of passion and perseverance matter more than talent and genius. (Another way to describe these is motivation, energy, drive.)
  4. Problem Solvers: A-Players are Independent and Critical Thinkers and Problem Solvers. This set of qualities brings self-initiative and action together to not only identify a problem but to find solutions as well. (Think of the applied practices of Continuous Improvement and Lean.)
  5. Coachable: Veteran Convene Chair Jeff Abbott likes to say, “Champions eat feedback for breakfast.” A-Players are coachable, lifetime learners who have high standards and accept constructive criticism. They love to grow.
  6. Trust-Builders: A-Players believe they are responsible for earning trust and building credibility. This know it’s an unending process, and they completely take ownership for this.
  7. Self-Management, Commitment, Competence & Focus, and Courage. This set of qualities is from a classic article, “In Praise of Followers,” written by Robert E. Kelly, published by Harvard Business Review. Self-Management carries the positive idea of what people do in their discretionary time. Commitment has the obvious quality of being committed to the organization and cause. Competence & Focus are almost a reference back to the commitment to learning and commitment to self-improvement. Finally, a critical element is Courage. A-Players have the courage to stand alone, to speak up even when it’s not popular. They respectfully say the emperor has no clothes on, if that’s the case.

Dee Hock, the founder of Visa Credit Card, said this of hiring: “Hire and promote first on the basis of integrity; second, motivation; third, capacity; fourth, understanding; fifth, knowledge; and last and least, experience. Without integrity, motivation is dangerous; without motivation, capacity is impotent; without capacity, understanding is limited; without understanding, knowledge is meaningless; without knowledge, experience is blind. Experience is easy to provide and quickly put to good use by people with all the other qualities.”   

I just returned from a week in Texas with the relief organization Samaritan’s Purse. I was there on a mission trip helping with the reconstruction effort in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. While there, I saw Dee Hock’s wisdom in action. Samaritan’s Purse volunteers come from all over the country, most without formal construction experience, to rebuild homes destroyed by the hurricane. Most volunteers had integrity, motivation, and capacity. Few had understanding, knowledge, or experience. When we arrived, we were quickly sorted into teams. Guided by expert Samaritan’s Purse General Contractors, these Construction Supervisors led us daily into our work. It became quickly apparent which volunteers were most conscientious about their daily work.

Substituting the word conscientiousness for integrity, each of the remaining qualities Dee Hock listed remained as stellar markers for our team members throughout the week. Though a few volunteers were less than energetic, even those who came with no construction skill produced excellent results if they came with integrity, motivation and capacity. Those three attributes were the foundation for building understanding and knowledge, which led to usable experience. Those who came with the first three left with the latter three by the end of the week.

Hiring the right people is critical to the success of every organization. What qualities are you hiring for?  


Scott’s life purpose is helping people find meaning in their work and find meaningful work. He brings over three decades of team building and professional recruiting experience focused on leadership, organizations, and individuals’ contributions to organizational and personal success.  Armed with experience from thousands of interviews and placements, Scott’s insights into the factors that create mutual value for people and organizations form a set of talent acquisition and management principles that apply to individuals, their careers, organizational leadership and success. 

A Convene member since 2003, Scott is the CEO at Amtec, Inc., a professional recruiting organization with 59 years of experience, nationwide operations, with offices in Southern California, Oregon, Arizona, and the Philippines Islands.  Amtec specializes in placing professionals in a variety of disciplines, industries, and companies ranging from small entrepreneurial start-ups to the fortune 100.