How to Spot A Player Talent in an Interview

Guest post from Rick Crossland:

Why Don’t Executives Love to Interview?

It is
surprising how many executives and even HR professionals do not like or look
forward to interviewing candidates.  After
all, this should be the celebration of bringing on another great employee,
right?  Their fear is likely because many
of them have historically not had very good success predictably selecting top
performers through their current interview process.

Here are some
of the reasons hiring managers do not enjoy better success in hiring top

do not follow a structured hiring process.

ask the wrong kind of questions in the interview.

are looking for the wrong attributes in candidates.

are often fooled by candidates that talk a good game, but lack results and or

The cost of
underperformers to your organization is immense. When an interview is carefully
and properly done—and the right questions are asked, it is very straightforward
to determine if your candidate is an A, B or C Player.  You only want A Players—those employees in
the top 10% of the workforce for the salary paid that you would
enthusiastically rehire.  The recently
released book, The A Player is
dedicated to defining and showing your executives and team members what A
Player performance looks like.

Let’s examine
the factors needed to successfully spot A Player talent consistently in your

Use a Structured Interview Process

In a typical interview
process, HR managers, hiring managers and other team members interview a
candidate in short, back-to-back interviews. 
You have the good intention to thoroughly compare notes after the
interviews, but often this never happens. 
If it does, the debrief process usually does not include enough
specificity on the strengths, weaknesses, results and skill sets of a candidate.

Instead, follow
a structured behavioral-based interview process.  Get your entire decision team in to interview
the candidate in one two-to-four hour sitting. 
A longer, more intensive interview like this helps you see the
differences between A, B and C Players, as the latter cannot provide enough
details of their accomplishments.  After
the interview, immediately go through the specific results the candidate has
accomplished and compare notes for inconsistencies and where the candidate
exaggerated his or her capabilities. Comparing your top two or three finalists
using this methodology will yield amazing clarity.

Managers Typically Ask the Wrong Types
of Questions in an Interview

Recently some
HR managers of trendy, high tech companies have espoused some seemingly cool
interview questions and techniques.  
These include handing candidates a marker and having them sketch out the
process of their favorite hobby on a whiteboard, asking if they believe in life
in outer space, or the proverbial “tell me about yourself” interview question.

The problem
with these techniques is they tell you nothing about what the candidate has accomplished
in your industry.  Even if they happen to
map out an industry-specific process, they are likely parroting what they saw
someone else do.  They may just possess
academic knowledge on a topic, not firsthand results.

It is important
to understand that the primary determinant to a candidate’s future success is his
or her actual past accomplishments.  To
determine these, you must use behavioral
questions.  A behavioral
interview asks specific questions about the candidate’s actual
accomplishments.  This is far more
predictive than a situational interview,
which asks hypothetical questions that are quite easy for a candidate to
fabricate answers.

Managers Often Look for the Wrong
Attributes in Candidates

Managers are
often fooled by the wrong kinds of candidates. 
The candidates that tend to most often fool managers are the flashy
candidates or “showdogs.”  These types of
candidates typically have good emotional intelligence (EI/EQ) skills and tend
to be well dressed and articulate.  They
tend to woo hiring managers with buzzwords, industry jargon, name dropping and
strategic sounding talk. 

But don’t let
these candidates fool you with these sweet-nothings.  These are candidates who talk a good game,
but do not produce results.  In about 18-24
months they will be repeating their speech at another unsuspecting company.

The key to
identifying these candidates is to use the structured interview and behavior
interview tools mentioned above.  In
addition, develop a job scorecard with defined performance attribute metrics on
all aspects of the role.  A sample format
of this job scorecard can be obtained at 

Ask specific
behavioral-based questions around the scorecards.  These will sound like “When you were the
marketing manager at Atlas Corp., describe a time you improved the return on
investment (ROI) of your marketing actions. 
What were the specific results and how did you accomplish this?”  Or, “Describe a B or C Player you coached up
to be an A Player.  What were the
specific results and how did you accomplish this?” 

As you have
already most likely ascertained, the showdog candidate will not be able to hold
up to this level of scrutiny.  They will try
to take credit for their teammates’ results—but cut through this smoke screen
by asking them “What were your specific
contributions and results.”

These types of
flashy candidates appear impressive,
but they aren’t. You do a disservice to your organization hiring them. 

The above-mentioned
tools will help you spot A Players who may or may not have great interview
skills, but can produce real results.  While some folks wow you from answer one, other
great candidates are a little more shy or humble.

Remember, if
you want to be an A Player manager or leader, you must have a team of A
Players. Therefore, being able to spot A Players in an interview becomes an
invaluable skill to you.

is author of the book The A Player.
He works with organizations across the country to transform good companies into
great companies.
His practice, the A Player Advantage, which he founded eight years ago,
is consistently employed to help take quality businesses to the next level of
efficiency. He works with organizations across the country to transform good
companies into great companies with his A Player approach.