Tuning in to Recruit a Roomful of Rock Stars

Recruiting guru Jeff Hyman weighs in on finding the best fit and keeping that employee once they are hired.
recruiting rock stars

Author Jeff Hyman

Jeff Hyman’s recruiting process may seem rigorous to some people. The author and chief talent officer at executive search firm Strong Suit LLC has been a recruiter for 25 years and has found the recruiting process to be crucial to a company’s success.

Hyman shares his industry knowledge in a new book titled, “Recruit Rockstars,” which includes a 10-step method companies can follow when trying to find the best fit and how to keep an employee once hired. Workforce intern Aysha Ashley Househ spoke to Hyman about relying on data instead of a gut feeling when interviewing candidates and what he learned from previous mistakes.

Workforce: In the book you outline how to recruit rock stars. It’s an involved process and companies need to invest time based on your advice. What should employers do if they can’t afford to spare that much time?

Jeff Hyman: What I tell my clients, and I firmly believe it’s true having run four companies, is that you’re already spending that time. You’re spending 30 to 50 percent of your time babysitting your B players, micromanaging your C players, firing your bottom performers, having tough coaching discussions, trying to motivate people. And it just takes a lot of time. If you flip it upside down, spending that same amount of time instead on the front end of the process can make a significant impact on your organization. It frees up so much of your time.

Now if we’re on the clock and time is not on our side, the No. 1 thing to do is to rely on your employee referral program. Most companies either don’t have an employee referral program or it’s very poorly executed. It solves a lot of the problem but you’ve got to have a program in place and you need to market it the right way to your employees.

WF: Most people say you should trust your gut but you advise to rely on data instead. Why?

Hyman: I’ve been recruiting a long time and I’ve made many mistakes. And when I did and I’m honest with myself and look back, and I think my clients can say this too, it’s because they ignored the data and instead went with their gut. The reason is quite simple. There are some things in life where you need to trust your gut. When it comes to hiring, which is a huge financial cost, your gut feeling is often formed on very superficial aspects of a candidate and is not predictive of success.

For example, there have been many studies that show people who are attractive are perceived to be better leaders. There’s all these kind of bullshit factors or impressions that we get and a lot of it is summarized in confirmation bias. So you form your first impression: she’s really sharp, this is going to be a great interview, she’s got a firm handshake. Or: he has bad posture, he’s sweating and he’s nervous, we can’t shake, this is going to be a waste of my time. And if you trust your gut and rely on those first impressions, you’ll be wrong half the time. So I just never want to rely on my gut because my gut — just like anyone’s — will mislead me and I’ve been doing this for 25 years full time.

Recruit rock starsWF: You mention you’ve made every mistake in the book. What are some examples and what did you learn?

Hyman: I’ve under-hired and over-hired. Meaning, hired someone who was just too light for the job because I thought they had the right DNA and the right spark and they just couldn’t ramp fast enough or learn fast enough. I’ve over-hired people that had way more than the skills we needed and then they got bored within three months. So it was a mismatch. I’ve hired people who would have a two-hour commute and they swore up and down they were so excited about the job that they would do a two-hour commute. And after two months they crap out because who the heck can do a two-hour commute every day?

I’ve been too cheap. Sometimes I wouldn’t spend the extra $10- or $20,000 where it would’ve made a difference between this caliber person and that caliber person. And it cost us way more in lost time and lost productivity. When you devote your life to recruiting or to anything you just make a shitload of mistakes, I’ve made them all. That’s why I decided to write the book, hopefully to save the reader from making some of those same mistakes.

WF: Rock stars may be managerial nightmares. So why is it important to hire them?

Hyman: Let’s be really clear about the definition of a rock star. I’m not referring to what you might be thinking or what some people think conjures the word rock star. This arrogant, prima donna person that can’t get along with others. It’s simply a word that I chose. My definition is: for the amount of money we can afford to pay for a given position, a rock star is someone that’s in the top 5 percent of people available at that compensation level.

When you are going through that process of looking for that top 5 percent, you’re spending a lot of time looking at their DNA. And so if you are a managerial nightmare I find ways to exit them from the process. If they’re not going to be able to succeed in a company — a company is a bunch of people — and if you can’t play nicely with others and demonstrate leadership and teamwork, etc., it really doesn’t matter how good you are at your function.

WF: You need rock stars. But what about those who are willing to do the “dirty work,” so to speak?

Hyman: I get that question a lot, and I have a slightly different way of looking at it. When I talk about a rock star being in the top 5 percent, I’m not saying the top 5 percent of your employees and then the other 95 percent are that other category. I don’t see any reason why a leader can’t aspire to put a rock star in every seat because the definition is top 5 percent of the universe available, not top 5 percent within your company. I don’t think leaders should settle and say, “Well, 5 or 10 percent of my company will be rock stars and the rest I’m OK with the B players.” That’s not at all what I propose. Every seat, every role, every level your aspiration should be to recruit great people.

WF: What are your thoughts on recruiting technology?

Hyman: There’s so much recruiting technology that it’s almost impossible to even keep track of all these tools. Many of recruiting technology companies that have ever been started have failed. Only a few make it. I don’t like being an early customer, a guinea pig. I want to see some genuine testimonials and I will actually call them [other businesses] and I’ll say tell me about your experience working with this technology company. And in many cases, it doesn’t help you hire better people, or faster, or cheaper. It’s just technology. The hard part is interviewing, assessing, and vetting and I haven’t seen technology yet that can do it.

WF: What is your advice to readers who agree with your approach but need to convince their leadership?

Hyman: Yeah it’s hard. This is either important to your organization or it’s not. Now certainly readers can start with their own areas. So if it’s the Head of HR and she has a staff of five she should put this in place in her function. She has control over that, and hopefully the word spreads.

Now if you’re a very junior individual and you don’t have a team, then it’s trying to convince senior people, which I think is much harder than trying to find one or two case studies or guinea pigs who are willing to try this approach. And you try a different process, and I don’t care if it’s my process or another process but have a process. That’s where 95 percent of companies go wrong, you don’t even have a recruiting process. Use that process and share the results and show that this is working to your higher-ups and they will listen. You can’t ignore the data. Higher retention, faster recruiting, higher satisfaction levels. That’s what leaders want most.

Aysha Ashley Househ is a Workforce intern. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com.