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Q&A: Author Jeff Hyman Wants You to Stop Hiring the Wrong People

Rockstars may seem too bright a bauble for most company budgets. But they can help you outshine the competition, says Jeff Hyman, author of the new book Recruit Rockstars.

Q&A: Author Jeff Hyman Wants You to Stop Hiring the Wrong People

Jeff Hyman

By: Anne Fisher

Whatever your company is wrestling with—whether it’s lackluster revenue growth, paltry profits, or a dearth of new ideas—chances are it’s because you’ve hired “B players,” according to Jeff Hyman, author of Recruit Rockstars: The 10-Step Playbook to Find the Winners and Ignite Your Business.  

“Ninety percent of business problems are actually recruiting problems in disguise,” Hyman says. 

By his lights, most companies insist on hiring the wrong people. He cites, for instance, a recent study by training and consulting firm Leadership I.Q., which looked at about 20,000 new hires by 5,247 managers in 312 companies over three years. 

The researchers found that 46% of those hires failed at their new jobs and were gone within 18 months. Just 19% achieved what their bosses describe as “unequivocal success.” 

That kind of costly and disruptive turnover isn’t limited to the rank and file, Hyman notes, citing a Harvard Business Review study that puts the failure rate among people hired for management jobs at over 50%. 

Formerly with headhunting giants Heidrick & Struggles and Spencer Stuart, Hyman created and ran four companies backed by $50 million in venture capital. He’s now chief talent officer at Chicago-based Strong Suit Executive Search, and teaches recruiting in the MBA program at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. 

Along the way, he’s recruited about 3,000 people. “I’ve over-hired and under-hired. I’ve overpaid and underpaid. I’ve had people quit in their first day on the job,” he writes. “I’ve made every mistake in the book.”

Recruit Rockstars is aimed at helping readers do better, and raise their hiring success rate from 50% to 80% or 90%. “It’ll never be 100%,” Hyman adds. “No recruiting process is flawless.”

Monster recently spoke with Hyman about how to attract the top talent that can give your company a competitive edge.

Q. The word “rockstar” might sound like a red flag to hiring managers who equate it with a big ego or a prima donna attitude. What do you mean by the term?

A. I define rockstars as those in the top 5% of candidates for a given role. They’re sometimes referred to as A players, difference makers, game changers, or top performers. “Rockstar” is shorthand for the best talent you can get your hands on to ensure that your company thrives.

Q. Isn’t hiring rockstars expensive?  Why are they worth the premium you usually have to pay them?

A.  The smartest managers view hiring top talent as an investment to be made, rather than as a cost to be minimized. The return on investment in people is exponentially greater than the return on any other resource, whether it’s advertising, research and development, or acquisitions to fuel growth.

So yes, a rockstar’s compensation is often higher than a B or C player’s, but they prove to be of tremendous value. I have a saying: “Recruit five rockstars, pay them like eight, and get the results of ten.”

Q. You recommend replacing job descriptions with “job invitations.” What does that mean?

A.  Most job descriptions are all about the company. They detail what the company wants and expects, including a laundry list of requirements that only serves to eliminate someone who may be a rockstar but who lacks x years of experience, a 4.0 GPA, and so on.

By contrast, a well-crafted, compelling job invitation is all about enticing a rockstar to consider a conversation with a hiring manager about an open role. 

The thing to bear in mind is that most rockstars are already in a job they’re happy with. They must be lured. A job description that screams, “Here’s what you can do for us” is much less effective in capturing their interest than an invitation that says, “Let’s talk.”

Q. Why are most employee referral programs less effective at finding rockstars than they could be?

A.  Typical employee referral programs fail in several different ways, such as not consistently reminding employees that the program exists, and not following up on referrals employees have made—which guarantees they’ll never bother to make another one.

Another common mistake is rewarding referrals for some kinds of positions, like software developers, more than others, like salespeople. It sends the wrong message about which employees are more valuable to you than others. 

Q. You write that “interviewing is where recruiting falls apart” in most companies. Why is that?

A.  The first major issue is that managers tend to ask random interview questions on a whim. That is, they don’t ask exactly the same questions of each candidate. But in order for an interview to truly predict someone’s performance, it has to be consistent and methodical. This allows you to compare candidates with each other. You’ll know you’re doing it right if the interview process starts to bore you a bit.  

The second biggest interviewing mistake is making hiring decisions based on interviews alone. People who are great at impressing an interviewer aren’t always such great employees. So, at the end of the interview process, before extending an offer, I add one additional component, which I call the Test Drive.

Q. Your book goes into detail about this, but could you describe it in a nutshell?

A.  A Test Drive puts finalist candidates in a simulated situation that represents what they’d actually be doing in their new job if you hire them. It allows you to see how they’d perform, and how well they’d work with your team. Because it immerses the person in the actual work, it’s the most predictive aspect of the whole recruiting process. 

Nine out of ten employers skip the Test Drive. But it’s the best way to tell whether someone is merely very skilled at interviewing, or is really a bona fide rockstar.