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January 30, 2006

The Art of Recruiting

The art of recruiting is the purest form of evangelism because you're not simply asking people to try your product, buy your product, or partner with you. Instead, you are asking them to bet their lives on your organization. Can it get any scarier for them, and tougher for you, than this?

  1. Hire better than yourself. In the Macintosh Division, we had a saying, “A player hire A players; B players hire C players”--meaning that great people hire great people. On the other hand, mediocre people hire candidates who are not as good as they are, so they can feel superior to them. (If you start down this slippery slope, you'll soon end up with Z players; this is called The Bozo Explosion. It is followed by The Layoff.) I have come to believe that we were wrong--A players hire A+ players, not merely A players. It takes self-confidence and self-awarness, but it's the only way to build a great team.
  2. Hire infected people. Classically, organizations look for the “right” educational and professional backgrounds. I would add a third quality: Is the candidate infected with a love of your product? Because all the education and work experience in the world doesn't matter if the candidate doesn't “get it” and love it. On the other hand, an ex-jewelry schlepper like me can make it in technology if you're infected with a love of the product.
  3. Ignore the irrelevant. This is somewhat redundant with the prior point, but it merits repetition. Often a candidate's educational and work experience is relevant on paper but irrelevant in the real world. Would a senior vice-president from Microsoft with a PhD in computer science be an ideal employee of a startup? Not necessarily--this poor guy has been working for a company with $60 billion in cash and 95% market share, and he woke up every day not worried about the competition or customers but the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice. The flip side is also true: the candidate--using a jewelry analogy-- without the “perfect” background could be the diamond in the rough.
  4. Double check your intuition. Everyone has stories about the candidate that they “knew” would work out who turned out to be a nightmare employee. Or the employee they “knew” wouldn't work out despite a lack of qualifications who turned out to be the employee of the decade. The problem with intuition is that people only remember when their intuition was right--truth be told, their intuition was probably wrong as often as right. My recommendation is that you ask every candidate the same questions and take extensive notes. You might even conduct the first interview by telephone so you cannot judge the candidates by their appearance. In particular, startup founders believe they have a good “gut feel” for candidates, so they conduct unstructured interviews that are way too subjective, and they end up with lousy hires.
  5. Check independent references. How many of us have limited reference checking to only those provided by the candidate? I know I have. Can we be more stupid than this? This often happens because we don't double check our intuition: we like the gal, so we only call the references she's provided because we don't want to hear that we like a bozo. Do as I say, not as I did: check independent references--preferably at least one person that she worked for and one person that worked for her.
  6. Apply the Shopping Center Test. As the last step in the recruiting process, apply the Shopping Center Test. It works like this: Suppose you're at a shopping center, and you see the candidate. He is fifty feet away and has not seen you. You have three choices: (1) beeline it over to him and say hello; (2) say to yourself, “This shopping center isn't that big; if I bump into him, then I'll say hello, if not, that's okay too;” (3) get in your car and go to another shopping center. My contention is that unless the candidate elicits the first response, you shouldn't hire him.
  7. Use all your weapons. Once you've found the perfect candidate, use all the weapons at your disposal to land her--not just salary and options. More important--and more telling--is the attractiveness of your vision for how you'll change the world and the other employees (who doesn't like to work with smart people who are kicking butt?). To this armory, add your board of directors and advisors who should use their sway to sign her up. And finally, throw in the resume-building potential of working for a great organization like yours (let's not be naive, here). Once you decide you want a person, pull out all stops and go with shock and awe to land her.
  8. Sell all the decision makers. A candidate seldom makes a decision all by herself. There can be several other people contributing to the decision. The obvious ones are spouses and significant others, but it can also be kids, colleagues, and friends. With Asian Americans, it can even be parents because Asian Americans are perpetually trying to make their parents happy. In the interviews, simply ask, “Who is helping you make this decision?” And then see if you can make them happy too.
  9. Wait to compensate. A common mistake that many organizations make is using an offer letter as the starting point for negotiation. This is very risky because you don't know what reaction this first data point is going to have. If the candidate is Asian American, for example, she might show it to her mother; her mother might be offended by your lowball offer and then tell the candidate to forget your organization because it's dishonored your family. A offer letter confirms what everyone has agreed upon. It is the last step in negotiations, not the first one.
  10. Don't assume you're done. Garage once recruited an investment banker (mea culpa #1) from a large (mea culpa #2) firm. After weeks of wooing and several offers and counter offers, he accepted a position with us. He even worked for us for a few days, and then he called in sick. Late the next night, he sent me an email saying that he had accepted an offer from a former client of his old investment bank. I learned a valuable lesson: never assume that your recruiting is done. Frankly, you should recruit every employee every day because when they go home at night, you might never see them again if you don't keep the lovin' going.


Here's a great article called “25 words that hurt your resume.” I found it because this site had a trackback to this blog entry.

Written at: Benihanas, Cupertino, California


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» How to hire the exceptional from the brand builder
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Here's some advice. I learned the hard way. These days, with people jumping jobs all the time, you may have a candidate that says they can't track down people from their past jobs. Don't screw up and blow it off, even if you are just hiring a "low-level" position. If you can't produce a list of good references, duh, there's probably a good reason for it. How many stellar people do you know that have no one on the planet that will rave about them?? Regardless of corporate policies against references.

One thing I always used to do in interviewing for my team was say something blatantly incorrect to see if the interviewee would tell me I was wrong.

The last thing a team needs is "yes men".


Not sure what Guy's response will be, but I would argue that it's even more critical for passion to exist with a startup. The new hire may not see a product yet, but surely they can catch the vision of the startup's C.A.U.S.E. (ref to "Selling the Dream").

I recently jumped from a Fortune 100 company to an accessible voting startup, and didn't need to know squat about the product. The boss convinced me of the worthiness of the vision he has for meeting the needs of the market.

Also, don't mistake "product" for being what sits on the shelf. The product IS the startup. If you can't sell a new hire on its cause, the startup is probably already doomed--It's a sign that you haven't sold yourself.


"Check independent references"

Counterpoint for job seekers: Your references aren't something you put on your resume, your references are your resume.

I'd be interested in the interview questions. Good post with good insight. Recruiting is certainly important, so it's important to do it right, otherwise your product may not turn out nearly as good as you expected.

Sub bukwas hi


I'd love to hear more details about interviewing. How do you choose the questions? How long is a good interview? How do combine selling the job with checking out the prospective hire? etc.

I would add one more point: hire thankful people. That is hire people that have a hard time getting a job, not because of their lack of skill, but e.g. because of cultural intolerance of other employers. If you are the first one to show them their own true potential, they will do everything for you in return.


Regarding your 2nd point.
Quite often I have seen that the "right" education and professional background information hides the individual attributes of a person -- especially those attributes required at leadership positions. E.g. someone from a "Top" Univ with work-ex at "Top-line" organizations may have developed an insane level of arrogance and egotism.
Sometimes people get lucky with a string of CV and Univ eassy lies and then with all that "right" educational and work-ex backgrounds they become organization destroyers -- who hire yes-men, play petty politics, and kill morale of useful people in the organization.


I've realized that it's much better to print your posts like this and to read them - because they are much more like "Chapters" from the book than blog posts.

Thanks, you are writing really interesting and useful things!


Step 3 might be less relevant for an early startup since the products might not be that well known for people to be infected with it and it might have even less relevance for startups offering consulting services.

what do you think ?

I wrote a post about the method and steps my company takes to this same end...

Good Blog. Although I to use the translation of google to read

Thanks for the post. The thing that was revealing to me when I thought about it was: even companies that are good at hiring often focus only on the first 6 tips you've discussed above. 7 through 10 are ignored.

Most recruiters forget: they are trying to hire as well as sell. Further, and unfortunately, following up on a great hire is often left to the HR department - rather than the interviewer following up personally.

My tip to add to this list: make the interviewer(s) responsible to sell the job, hire the candidate and follow up to start-off the candidate within the company.

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