April 30, 2019

When the Talent Market Is Tight, Don’t Settle for B Players — Hire A Potentials Instead


The market for the best talent in 2019 is brutal! The overwhelming majority of top performers — “A players,” as they are known — are extremely satisfied at their current firms. Business is good, and A players are doing purposeful work that makes them feel fulfilled both culturally and monetarily. That is all great news for them and their current employers, but not so much for companies and recruiters looking to add talent to their teams.

Not that A players are impossible to find in this climate — but the odds are stacked against you. A players have become the proverbial unicorns! In this tight employment market, undiscerning managers and recruiters tend to fall for B players: the imposter candidates who walk like ducks, talk like ducks, and indeed are ducks — not the A players you seek. Lately, my clients and I have been calling them “70 percenters” because they have about 70 percent of the performance capacity of true A players.


Still, B players can seem alluring. They have worked for all the right companies in the right industries; they have silver tongues they use to describe the action they saw in their front-row seats at these firms. Make no mistake: As you interview them, they are describing to you someone else’s results and not their own. They were the spectators in the stands, not the gladiators in the arena.

B players are fond of using the royal we at work: they won’t tell you what “I” did — they’ll tell you what “we” did. If you are not following a structured interview process that can sort the pretenders from the contenders (which most companies do not), you will not realize you have hired an imposter — a B player — until it is too late

If you pay close attention, you will see in the resumes of these B candidates that their tenures at those elite firms are now several years removed. Their more recent job histories are laden with shorter hops at less well-regarded companies. There is a good reason they are no longer at these elite firms: They are all show and no go. These B players cannot deliver results, and they are let go when their employers find out. However, they’ll probably have a great excuse on hand about how they did not properly vet the opportunity; they’ll blame the departure on the company that hired them.

Unfortunately, because B players look the part, they can sing a sort of siren song to hiring managers. The industry fit, work history, and experience level all look right, so the average recruiter will rush to snap them up. Similarly, hiring managers eager to fill a void will readily schedule interviews and extend offers.

As with the allure of an all-night bender, so with the allure of a B player: Hiring managers too readily forget what the hangover feels like when the hiring process goes wrong — and it inevitably will. Simply put, a B player who has been operating at 70 percent will not change their stripes at your firm.

The criteria that confirm an A player are twofold: You would enthusiastically rehire them, and they live and abide by your company’s core values. They perform, they get results, and they are delights to have in your company culture.

Not so with a B player. Around a month into their employment, you will realize you are not getting the performance you paid for. You will try to salvage the candidate. This will probably go one of two ways: Either you will wait far too long before deciding to part ways, or you have a company culture that tolerates B players, in which case you will add another wallflower to the team.

When You Can’t Hire A Players, Hire A Potentials

When A players are nowhere to be found, that doesn’t mean you have to settle for B players. Instead, the far better yet unconventional approach is to hire an A potential candidate. These candidates come in two flavors:

  1. A junior up-and-comer who is new to the industry, hence their industry fit is by nature less than perfect.
  2. A proven performer in an adjacent industry who has a skill set similar to the one required in your industry. Often, this adjacent industry is viewed as somewhat less sophisticated, less technical, or not as elevated as your own industry. Don’t be narrow-minded about the quality of candidates from these industries! These businesses are complex, too, and these folks work hard. These industries can be treasure troves of A-player potential for you.

In each case, the A-potential candidate has bona fide bottom-line results that can be transferred to your industry and company. Usually, these A potentials are playing on a smaller stage in their current job, so they can go overlooked. They are akin to the AAA baseball player, hitting a great .399 batting average while waiting to be called up to the majors to replace a slumping veteran. To translate the analogy back to the business world, it’s like finding an outstanding assistant financial controller who is ready to become a controller or an operations manager from a tier 2 supplier who is ready to perform on the larger stage of a tier 1 manufacturer.

The other good news is that both up-and-comers and candidates from adjacent industries often have very affordable compensation requirements and represent outstanding value to you. Provided you have proven company systems, documented processes, and training programs in place, you will be amazed how quickly you can develop A potentials into A players! At the firms I work with, we call this “salary arbitrage”: the act of using our company processes, systems, and training to turn A potentials with lower earnings into high performers at a fraction of the market value for the position.

In today’s tight talent market, purpose-driven A players are enjoying the fruits of their labor at jobs they love. You may not be able to lure these A players away, but you can develop undervalued A-potential talent into full-fledged A players. In that scenario, everybody wins, and you are no longer at the mercy of the hiring market!

Rick Crossland is author of the The A Player and a certified Scaling Up coach. More resources are available at www.aplayeradvantage.com.

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Rick Crossland is author of the book, "The A Player." He works with organizations across the country to transform good companies into great companies. More information on this and other ways to improve your own performance and the performance of your organization and culture can be found in the "The A Player." More resources are available at www.aplayeradvantage.com.