How to build a repeatable process for spotting A-Players in an Interview

by Daniel Halstead

Spotting an A-Player is not a particularly intuitive process.­ Sometimes the best interviewees make the worst hires and visa versa.­ However, a thorough and intelligent evaluation process takes place, hiring unknown people can still be a reliable source of A-Players.

A-Players look and sound a lot like everyone else, though if you look carefully there are subtle differences that are possible to identify.

  • A-Players are the top 10% of all people you have worked with in your career and they are probably the best in their function in a given business
  • They love a challenge and will relish problematic situations
  • They are driven by strong internal motivators to perform and succeed and measure themselves against their own ideals and values rather than outside targets or measurements
  • They are usually very well regarded by their previous stakeholders
  • It is unusual to find an A-Player actively looking for a job, so you will have to find them


It is also worth pointing out that even with the very best performers, output is related to environment.­ Be mindful that an A-Player in one environment is not guaranteed to be an A-Player in another.

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Provided you use a reliable, logical process of evaluation, it is completely achievable to consistently hire only A-Players and stop hiring poor performers. Like many things in life it’s not the complexity, but rather the effort that determines your results.

When interviewing, most people look to evaluate all prospective applicants against their general characteristics, their subject, job role or technical knowledge and their qualifications for the job role.­ I believe that these are pre-requisites, and you shouldn’t be in an interview unless your interviewee meets these requirements.­ The real test of an A-Player is how thy deal with challenge, whether previous challenges are similar to the challenges of your job role and whether the environment was similar enough that you can predict a successful hire.

Top performers appreciate challenges, and poor performers do not.­ A-Players respond well to questions about difficulties they have faced and they usually have a very clear sense of why they work in the way they do, and enjoy discussing real world issues.­

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Since A-Players love challenges, I’d recommend sharing all you can about any difficulties associated with the job in question:­ Near unachievable targets? Unfriendly customer stakeholders? Project or programme failing? Uncertain remit? Lacking in budget? Strong competition from incumbents?

Great.­ Let all applicants know about the likely challenges­ of the role and you’ll get a good sense of who’s an A-Player from the level of enthusiasm in their response.

Provided they can control it, challenges are the stuff that­an A-Player out of bed in the morning.­­

During the interview process we establish where, when and in what function the applicant has faced similar challenges to the role in question.­ It is important to focus the interview on specific examples, to gain understanding of reasoning and action taken, and also to understand the context of the situation.­ The greater our understanding of “why”, not just “how” the applicant is motivated, the better we can predict their success.

During my career I have interviewed thousands of people and I’ve never met a person who admitted to being a ‘below average’ employee. Given the bias of the chief witness’s testimony, I don’t recommend making judgement of a candidate’s likely success based purely on their performance on interview day.

I believe independent verification of the witness’s testimony is required to validate the information gathered.

It is imperative to get reliable insight, and this involves speaking to previous stakeholders of the interviewee to understand the applicant’s previous job roles, the specific challenges they faced and the way in which they dealt with them. This essential task provides qualitative information, which gives certainty the future success of your business via your new hire.­ The method we use at Kite goes far beyond the traditional reference and starts to build a scorecard of a person’s likely success in your environment.

It is much easier to successfully predict the future performance of a potential hire when we verify our own evaluation of the potential hire with third party evidence. This enables us to assess the candidate’s likely response to the specific challenges of the role, and their temperament and approach.

Where required we supply only A-Players to clients and are proud to have a high success rate in predicting and recommending A-Player hires.

Kite help our clients to repeatedly, and predictably hire A-Players for their competitive advantage.­ If your business is only as good as your people, our clients­ have A-Player businesses.­ Rules for A-Player hires:

  • Aim to hire only those in the top 10% in their job role
  • Be open about the challenges of the job role
  • Focus on applicants who have solved similar challenges in similar cultural environments
  • Avoid hiring candidates who are simply skilled at interviews
  • Always verify your interpretation of the candidate with previous stakeholder evidence
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