HIRING

How to Spot Truly Excellent Employees

Think beyond simply finding someone with competent skills. You need to hire masters-of-craft. Narrow down your search with these tips.
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Do you know an excellent employee when you see one?

If you've ever thought your marketing, sales, or product managers have been a waste of money, chances are you didn't have an excellent lead in each of those roles, says Hunter Walk, a partner at seed stage venture fund Homebrew.

"When Founders make hiring mistakes, or tolerate middling team members, it's often because they don't know what excellent looks like," Walk writes on his blog. "Until you've see an artisan practice their craft, it's difficult to discern Jiro [Ono] from any other sushi chef."

So, how do you pick out truly excellent employees? It's all about realizing what excellent looks like, Walk says. Below, read how his tips for fine tuning your hiring strategy.

Meet with excellence.

Walk says you need to tap all of your friends and colleagues who are at the top of their fields to help define excellence in their own line of work. Get a sense of what makes an excellent employee in the role you are trying to fill. "Ask investors, your lawyers, other founders to introduce you to someone who is an excellent [lawyer, CMO, UX designer, etc]," he writes. "Take them to a meal or for a walk. Ask them how to ID excellence within their profession: what types of experiences to look for, what interview questions to ask."

Bring in the excellence experts.

Let's face it: you may have started the company, but you are not an expert in every field of every facet of your company. And as your start-up scales, the more parts of the business will be out of your expertise. So, be humble and bring in people you know and trust to help with the interview process. "If you've got an advisor, investor or friend with experience in the discipline you're trying to hire, bring them into the final interview process for candidates," he writes.

Measure excellence.

You will need benchmarks to see if the candidates are actually up to snuff. Start thinking about each role and what you want to get out of that employee. "What's the right close rate for an excellent salesperson? Best practice response rates for email marketing? Sure it can be apples to oranges, but come up with a performance range that suggests excellence and if a team member isn't performing within it, work with them to figure out why," he writes.

Ask the candidate to define excellence.

This one is easy: Ask candidates to define excellence in their role. Walk says that it may be awkward, but ask them these two questions: "What makes an excellent employee in your field?" and "What do you do better than other folks we're interviewing?" Listen to how the candidates respond. If they brag, you know they aren't the right fit. If they blend modesty and self-confidence in a self-aware and thoughtful way, you may be looking at your next employee. Just be wary of "situational excellence," Walk says, which is a person who can be excellent in situations but isn't a true gem.

IMAGE: Getty
Last updated: Nov 12, 2013

WILL YAKOWICZ | Staff Writer | Reporter, Inc.com

Will Yakowicz is a staff writer for Inc. magazine. He has covered business, crime, and local politics for The Brooklyn Paper and was the editor of Park Slope Patch. He has also reported in the West Bank and Moscow for Tablet Magazine. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.




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