Are you an owner of a start-up company and having troubles deciding on hiring the best of the best? Take your time to listen to Jeff Hyman, the author of Recruit Rockstars, who has an expertise in finding the right person to hire for your company.

He launched his recruiting career at Heidrick & Struggles and Spencer Stuart, the preeminent global executive search firms. Along the way, Jeff created four companies, backed by $50 million in venture capital.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • The early stages of Jeff Hyman’s career what he learned about hiring wisely.
  • The big idea behind Recruit Rock Stars.
  • Predictive DNA of prospective employees and how itis vital to the employer.

Jeff Hyman is the author of Recruit Rock Stars, and I want to read to you what Dick Castelo, the former CEO of Twitter said about Jeff’s book:

“I read this book in one weekend and I loved it. Everybody claims they want to hire A players, but Jeff and his book helps you understand why B players are more damaging to your company than you expect. You can’t build a world-changing company without world-class talent. Ignore Jeff’s wisdom at your peril.”

In our conversation, Jeff and I talk about what every growing company needs to know in order to hire the right people. We talk about the common mistakes that most of us make when we’re hiring people such as hiring applicants who remind us of us.

Jeff also breaks down all the critical steps in the hiring process and the things that you have to do before you ever post a job listing. Finally, we talk about where, at least 50% of, your company’s hires should be coming from and if they’re not, well, you’re losing out on the best people and you’re wasting a ton of time and energy in the hiring process. See if you can guess what that is.

How Jeff Hyman Started Recruiting

Charlie Hoehn: How did you get started in the field of recruitment?

Jeff Hyman: As a candidate coming out of business school many years ago at Kellogg. I was very frustrated because I didn’t really have much of an interest in going to work for a big company. I was always more entrepreneurial. Other than large companies, I just didn’t know how to connect with small to mid-sized companies that might be doing something more interesting, more progressive.

This was before the days of online recruiting. After I moved to Silicon Valley, I wound up starting one of the first online job boards called Career Central at the time.

Even though we were in the business of recruiting, I had no idea what I was doing when it came to recruiting. We were using software to match candidates with companies. But in terms of building my own internal team, I was a 26-year-old kid who thought he knew everything and didn’t know anything.

“I made every mistake in the book. But one that comes to mind was key: the financial officer.”

The business was growing, and my board of directors encouraged me to hire a heavyweight chief financial officer, and they did. It was clear in this hire within four weeks. He was falling asleep during meetings, really making math errors in board decks. I had to part ways with him, and that was really difficult.

No one likes firing someone, but especially because I had just lost a lot of face with my investors, my venture capital firms.

That was kind of my “scared straight moment.” It that taught me I needed to get much more serious and methodical about recruiting.

Ever since then, for 20 years I’ve just been a student of it. I’ve kept track of what works, what doesn’t work. I’ve read every study about it and just became fascinated with it.

Charlie Hoehn: What have you discovered over the last 20 years of recruiting?

Jeff Hyman: The biggest takeaway is not even a step. The steps are the mechanics. The big idea is that 90% of business issues are really recruiting issues.

That sounds so obvious, but as founders, as entrepreneurs, as business leaders, CEO’s, we’re so busy doing that we don’t spend time on this most important thing.

If you’ve got an amazing product or service or startup idea, it is doomed to failure without the right people to make it happen.

When you get a rock star in every single position in your company, it is literally transformative.

“You get your life back, you get your weekends back, you’re not micromanaging, you can sleep at night.”

It has a very personal positive effect as well as an effect on the business. The problem is, most companies don’t do this well. 50% of new hires don’t work out.

You’re basically flipping a coin. The average person is gone within 18 months.

Why Your Recruits Don’t Work Out

Charlie Hoehn: Why don’t they work out most of the time?

Jeff Hyman: You know, that’s what the book is about. There are 10 main reasons I found, but the overall issue is that you hire the wrong person. And you hire the wrong person because you probably looked at things that were not predictive of success in that role.

You looked at the wrong things. Or you looked at nothing.

“You didn’t do your homework.”

You didn’t interview them the right way, you didn’t do the right reference checks, and if so, you didn’t talk to the right people. But one of the biggest things is, you looked at things that are not predictive. You didn’t look at their DNA, what makes up the person as supposed to their resume and what companies they worked for.

Charlie Hoehn: Can you break down what an average employer does that seems right on the surface, but is actually wrong, and doesn’t question the predictive behavior?

Jeff Hyman: Because this is not really taught, we tend to fall victim to a lot of biases. We look for people like ourselves, we hire that we think we’d like to spend time with. None of that is predictive.

What school they went to, not that predictive. What companies they worked at, not that predictive.

There have been studies that have shown what is predictive, and it’s the person’s makeup. tYou have DNA that tells what color your eyes are going to be and your hair color and your height.

“You also are hardwired at a pretty young age, turns out it’s about eight, you are the person you’re going to be.”

With rare exception, you know if you’re detail oriented, if you’re funny, if you’re creative, if you are a hustler and you work hard, whatever it is, that is baked at a very early age. The problem is that stuff doesn’t appear on a resume. It doesn’t appear on their GPA, it doesn’t appear on if they worked at a competitor.

You can’t just say hey, what’s your DNA? Some people don’t even know what it is, they’re not self-awre. But if I can get at that in the recruiting process, I can get that 50% accuracy up to 90% accuracy. That helps you build a company of rock stars.

Charlie Hoehn: How do we get to the predictive DNA and test for that? Where do we begin?

Strengths Finder is a wonderful model for the individual to understand what a person’s strengths are. It’s a great book. But as an employer, most people are lazy and don’t take the time to think about what success looks like in this role.

“What competencies are going to be necessary for success in this role?”

Then, what DNA enables a person to have those competencies to do them every day and excel at it? Before you just start interviewing and post a job or something like that, you take the time to really think about what does this job entail. What is this person doing every day, what competencies will they need to succeed at it.

I’d say 95% of people don’t take the time to do that, so how can you possibly find what you need if you don’t know what you’re looking for?

Charlie Hoehn: What do we do next in the process?

Jeff Hyman: Now we know what we’re looking for, where most hiring managers go wrong is they’ll whip together a job description, you’ve seen these, I’m sure. Most of them would put you to sleep in three seconds.

First of all, they’re not compelling, they’re boring, they’re poorly written. They read like an HR person or a legal person wrote it but most importantly, they are focused on those same ridiculous requirements, five to seven years and a CPA or an MBA, whatever.

It turns out that studies have shown that many people will not apply to a position if they feel that they don’t qualify. Nearly 100% of women will not even apply.

A focused man working on a sticker-covered laptop in a coffee shop

Charlie Hoehn: How do you feel about this seemingly automatic filtering out by making the barrier seem too high?

Jeff Hyman: It’s so painful, especially when you’re at 4% unemployment, you’re lucky to get anyone interested.

“Why would you artificially constrain your pull by including a laundry list of requirement, which (P.S.) aren’t predictive anyway?”

And I know you would flex on them anyway. If you said, “Must have five to 10 years’ experience,” and I bring you the perfect person who has 11 years experience, are you going to tell me you’re not going to meet with them? Of course not.

Flip the whole job description on its head and develop what I call a job invitation, which is a sales piece.

It’s written by a professional copywriter and it talks not about the requirements of the job but why it’s such an amazing job.

It doesn’t sound like rocket science and it’s not. But if you take a few minutes today and go to any major job board, read through 10 job descriptions, and it’s like reading through the phone book.

It’s awful. I’ve actually literally hired professional copywriters to write these things, and they’re so compelling and so masterful. They cost 50 bucks or hundred bucks but you’ll get a dramatically broader funnel of candidates interested. People that aren’t really actively looking will even raise an eyebrow and pay attention.

Charlie Hoehn: What do you tell the copywriters? How do you guide them to write that type of a post?

Jeff Hyman: You’re taking them through the scorecard and the DNA that we talked about to try to breathe life into the kind of person and the kind of work that this person will be doing so that it self-selects.

I read this and I’m like, “Wow, that’s me. I would love to do that job every day,” or, “That’s not me, I’d have no interest in this and I don’t apply,” right?

“Not only do you get more applicants, more interest from candidates, but the degree of the match goes up as well.”

I always tell clients in those job invitations to link to a two minute video that you can do on an iPhone. I don’t care if it’s professionally produced, but it brings life to your company, your office, the job, far more compelling than any words.

Don’t just have HR write a boring job description.

Making the Most of Your Applicant List

Charlie Hoehn: People are going through the process and you’re getting a bunch of applicants in, now what?

Jeff Hyman: Well, the biggest mistake here is that that’s where companies stop, right? They post and pray, they’ll put this job description or job invitation on a job board or a couple of job boards. By the way, there are tens of thousands of job boards. They pick the wrong ones.

But more importantly, no one applies relatively speaking, because we’re at 4% unemployment. No one’s looking for a job. We’re essentially at full employment. In fact, we’re at 2% unemployment for college educated workers.

Charlie Hoehn: Why doesn’t it seem that way in the media?

Jeff Hyman: A lot of people pulled out of the market because they couldn’t find a job they wanted after the crash in 2008. A lot of people are unhappy and disengaged.

That’s different. Technically, they got a job. Some are looking, but most are not. The hidden grail and the focus of chapter four is your employee referral program.

“Only two-thirds of companies have an employee referral program.”

Of the two thirds that have one, only 20% of their hires come from that program. Half of your hires should be coming through your employee referral program. Far more effective, faster, cheaper, longer, and retention higher scores than hiring some stranger off a job board.

There’s just so many benefits, because your rock star employees will introduce you to other rock stars that they’ve worked with. When they bring their friends and colleagues who are rock stars, they will stay longer because they want to work with other rock stars. It’s like building a moat around your company.

It’s less about building a culture and more about building a team of people that just want to work together because they challenge each other.

Charlie Hoehn: Who’s the best at this that you’ve seen?

Jeff Hyman: There are some companies in Silicon valley that will get over 50, 60% of the referrals through employee referrals. They’re not especially sexy companies or any household name companies, but they’re very good at creating a story that we want to build an amazing place to do your best work.

That is not about ping pong tables or beer bashes on Friday. That is about us recruiting and surrounding you with a team of rock stars that can challenge you and teach you and do your best work. It’s what gets the referral flowing. It’s not different than you know, sales leads and sales referrals.

The Importance of Getting the Right People

Charlie Hoehn: Are you saying that everybody could be a rock star, they just need to be in the right role?

Jeff Hyman: That’s the point of the whole book, right? There’s a lid for every pot.

A lot of people never do that soul-searching. They just drift aimlessly. Arguably, they don’t deserve to find it because they’re too lazy to really figure out what they should be doing.

On the other hand, every job is interesting and compelling for the right person. Then employers don’t hire the right people and so you have this disconnect, this love connection that never happens.

“It’s much like divorce: 50% rate, very similar dynamic.”

Charlie Hoehn: Why do 80% to 90% of new businesses fail in the first few years? And how much of that percentage do you attribute to just having the wrong people in the wrong roles?

Jeff Hyman: Well, rather than give you my opinion, I’ll quote the very famous study that found 66% of growth companies fail because of people problems. That may be the founders can’t get along, they hired the wrong people, they built the wrong culture.

It’s more than product market fit, it’s more than we launched the wrong product, the market didn’t want, or we priced it wrong, had crappy marketing. It is the number one reason businesses fail.

Now, if you’re a restaurant with 98% failure rate, it could be you’re on the wrong corner, location, whatever. Or your food sucks. In general, for most growing businesses, this is the reason they fail.

Most entrepreneurs, most founders spend all their time thinking about their product, sales, raising money. But they spend very little time thinking about the types of people that they bring on the bus in the first place.

Recruitment Strategies for a Job Hunt

Charlie Hoehn: Ultimately, for the people listening to this who are maybe in a role that they feel is incorrect for them, can they apply the principles from your book?

Jeff Hyman: Yes, as a job seeker? Absolutely. The number one thing that you wouldn’t want to do is to join a company that didn’t take recruiting seriously. When I talk to candidates or individuals, friends. They say, “I’m so frustrated, I’m interviewing with this company and they’re putting me through the process and it’s taking so long. They’ve had me do all these things.”

I’m like, “That’s great.” They take recruiting seriously, they actually give a shit about making the right match and finding the right role for you.

“If it turns out it’s not the right home for you, wouldn’t you rather know now versus after you start?”

The best thing they could do is look for companies that are known for great recruiters. Not for having the coolest culture, the most ping pong tables or even paying the most. Instead, look for companies that are just really good at recruiting.

Their job, the positions are interesting and immediate. The job descriptions bring them to life, the interviews are compelling and engaging and thought-provoking. They actually check your references really thoroughly. If that all goes well and you get the offer, there’s a very high likelihood you’re going to be successful in that role and you’re going to love working there.

Because the company has made such a commitment and investment in recruiting you, you can feel pretty confident they’re going to treat you pretty well and want you to stay.

If they just hire you after – in a one-hour meeting, they have no skin in the game, they don’t really care if it works out or not, they’re just looking for a warm body. That’s the number one thing you could do and a lot of job seekers have told me, they’ve read the book even though it’s not at all a job-seeking book but they kind of have reverse engineered to your point, the process.

Build a Better Interview

Charlie Hoehn: Tell me about the interview process. What do employers get wrong there?

Jeff Hyman: Everyone thinks they’re great at interviewing, and I can appreciate that; we’ve all done a lot of interviews. A headhunter does more interviews than most, right? I’ve done over 10,000 interviews.

Just like anyone who has done 10,000 anything, you get to see the same patterns over and over. Versus most of my clients who just haven’t done as many interviews.

“Probably the biggest mistake is asking questions that are not predictive of success.”

They’re really just a waste of time and kind of annoying. A good example, which Google used to do is they would ask brain teaser kind of questions.

Thinking that if someone was smart enough to figure it out, then they must be super smart, we should hire them. PS, we’ll look at their GPA as well and if they don’t have a three-five GPA, we’re not going to hire them.

Well, it turns out, last year, they did a big retroactive study and found that people that could answer those brain teasers were no more likely to be successful than those that couldn’t, and that GPAs were not predictive of anything.

They banned both of those practices, they no longer ask those silly questions and they don’t care about your GPA.

I ask the same questions over and over. They’re listed in the book. I give them to the candidate in advance. There are no trick questions. There are no surprises. This is not about entertaining me or entertaining myself with how smart a question can I come up with which is what most people do just to stay awake.

“I ask the same questions over and over about each role.”

When I do that, I can form a pattern. I can start to see like a stock chart — is the person trending up, are they trending down, have they flat-lined, have they peaked?

Also, I can compare them to other candidates because I’m asking the same questions of everybody. Most people will ask random questions in a random order to random candidates, you can’t possibly compare and contrast candidates against each other.

Charlie Hoehn: How many questions are you asking before you feel like you’ve got the stock chart of the person?

Jeff Hyman: It’s like dating, you spend progressively more time with the person. The book goes through that process but there’s a 20 or 25-minute phone screen, just to see if there’s even a basis for discussion but that phone screen is very different than most people do it.

“Then the heart of the interviews is a career deep dive with about 15 to 20 minutes per job.”

That takes about an hour and a half based on how many positions the person has held, and then there is a DNA interview to get at that.

Each interview has a different purpose and different questions. All that’s in the book but I’d say in an hour and a half, you’ve got a pretty good sense of whether this person has the competencies and the DNA to be successful in the job.

Charlie Hoehn: Do you have a personal favorite question that you ask that evokes really good answers?

Jeff Hyman: In a given role, what was the biggest thing you did that delivered results and what were those results? Everyone has one and they’ll tell you what it was, you know, I grew the business by 20% or I turned around this division or I found this bug in the software and all that’s great.

Then, the next question, which I know is pretty simple, “How’d you do it? Tell me how you did it and walk me through it.”

I just drill down for a couple of minutes, and for the rock stars, the story totally holds together. It’s compelling. The storyline holds together. It starts to make sense that why their DNA and competencies led them to find that error.

For B or C players, the story just falls apart. It turns out they got lucky or the prospective client just landed in their lap. They didn’t find them through prospecting and hunting or it really was a team effort as opposed to their effort.

The Final Steps

Charlie Hoehn: Tell me about the incubation period where you’re testing things out?

Jeff Hyman: So 91% of companies skip this step. Even if you do the interview the right way, even if you follow every word of the book, interviews are notoriously still unpredictive.

It’s all theory. It’s all interview speak, and people that give great interviews are not necessarily great candidates. So instead, I put them through a test drive, and the book walks through how to do that. Now you can only do this for probably the final two candidates because it takes a little bit of time.

“But it’s a two-hour, two-day, real-life exercise, even if you have to pay the candidate for their time, where they are doing something that is essentially what the job would be.”

So if you’re hiring them for an assembly line, they’re putting widgets together for a day. If it’s a sales position, they’re going to be reading a dossier and preparing a presentation and presenting to you. If it’s customer service, they’re going to answer some of your calls.

How the person does in that test drive shows you a ton about how they are going to do in the real world when you actually start. So basically they are starting the job before you actually extend the offer.

Charlie Hoehn: Once they get through the test drive is there anything else to the process?

Jeff Hyman: Well yeah, you’ve got to validate everything you’ve been told. Reference checks and most people hate them. I’m not going to tell you they’re fun to do, but most people, if they do them all, do them after they have already made their decision. Sometimes after they have already extended an offer. They do it to cover their ass or tell HR that they did the reference checks.

If you are going to do reference checks, do it the right way and do it before you make the decision. Do it with backdoor references, people that candidate did not give you, so that you can really get at validating the information you’ve been told.

The front door references would be the three or four or five references that the candidate gives me, and I’m certainly going to talk to them.

“Backdoor references use LinkedIn to find people that I know that also know the candidate.”

Speaking with those backdoor references is arguably even more revealing than the ones they give me, and it doesn’t have to be co-workers. It could be customers, maybe vendors, investors, board members.

Charlie Hoehn: Do you stick with mutual contacts or just people they are connected with?

Jeff Hyman: You start with mutual contacts because they are far more likely to be candid with you because they don’t want to see you make a hiring mistake. In the book, I tell a quick story about an amazing candidate that I interviewed in Chicago. Two hours, just amazing, blew me away, checked references with two texts to people that I knew that knew him.

Both of them has said, “Run, don’t walk from this guy.”

So I avoided a catastrophe just by checking references, and he never would have given me those two people.

“A great interview or candidate interview won’t mention those ethical issues and you will never find them unless you check references.”

Even then you may not find them until it’s too late.

I make the candidate arrange the references, not just an email intro but none of this phone tag back and forth. Rock star candidates can produce their references on demand really quickly, and B and C players can’t. So it actually is very telling. I found that who they produce and with the ease they produce them is almost as useful as the reference check itself.

In other words, if you can give me every manager you’ve ever had and you can get them on the phone with me in 24 hours, I already know what I am going to hear versus if it takes you a week and half of them are “not available” and “this guy died” or whatever. Even if there’s good explanation, I’m not in the business of taking risks, and so I’m not going to take the risk.

Charlie Hoehn: Anything else that I may be overlooking here?

Jeff Hyman: The problem becomes rock stars have choices. So don’t be arrogant and assume you are just going to get a yes because you’ve blessed this person with an offer.

“B and C players will just say yes, but a rock star is going to ask a lot of questions.”

They are going to negotiate, they have other opportunities, you’ve got to close them and so there’s a whole chapter on that because most companies are arrogant and say:

They email the job offer letter, and then they get a ‘no’ and they’re surprise. You actually want to start at the end of the process and work your way up the funnel. So if you are getting no’s, you’ve got to figure out why. Is it because your Glassdoor ratings stink? And if they do then you’d better fix that first.

It is much like a sales funnel. I actually thought about writing the book in reverse because you’ve got to fix the funnel from the bottom up.

Success With Recruit Rock Stars

Charlie Hoehn: Can you tell us a few of your favorite success stories?

Jeff Hyman: Well, I’ll tell you one that is recent. No names mentioned. So a CEO that didn’t read the book but he listened to my podcast. It’s The Strong Suit Podcast and we do much like this — interviews with people, CEOs and other experts, a lot of headhunters, a lot of VCs — and we talk about talent and recruiting.

This CEO had heard an episode about the test drive. He was really challenged because he had made a bunch of bad hires recently and the interviews were amazing. They knocked the socks off, but that was it. Like 80% of them bombed in the job.

When he heard that the test drive is the most predictive thing you can possibly do in recruiting, that you can even stop the interviewing and do the test drive and you’ll do better, he brought me in to construct test drives for his most common role. It’s not rocket science, the book actually lays out how to do it.

“He reduced that error rate from 80% or 85% down to less than 50%. I think he will get it down to even 20, 25%.”

The difference in the business is enormous because as your sales people come in with a long sales cycle, they fall out then you have a vacancy. It’s costing you money because you have a sales territory that is not being covered. And then, the new hire starts and they have to start building the pipeline all over again.

That one change of implementing a test drive totally changed everything about his sales force. It obviously has already made a significant impact on his revenue because he doesn’t have as many bad hires, he has higher retention.

Make Better Hires

Charlie Hoehn: Are you saying that avoiding bad hires is easier than we would think and we just aren’t being systematic about it?

Jeff Hyman: Chapter nine touches on getting rid of your bad hires. I don’t mean your bad performers, I mean your bad hires. So let’s assume you get to 90%, which is my goal with clients.

“That means one out of every 10 hires was a miss, and you will usually know within 30 days.”

Sometimes you’ll know it within 30 hours. If you don’t deal with it right there and then, it quickly spreads to the other rock stars. They start to resent that they are having to carry that person, and they also start to view you as a weak leader because you are not recognizing your mistake and making the appropriate change. So it does spread very, very quickly.

It doesn’t turn them bad, it just turns them off because rock stars want to work with rock stars.

So when you let someone like that, get them into the right role where they might excel. So maybe you hire someone into a sales team into a hunter role and it turns out they are a way better farmer, why wouldn’t you move them to the farming role?

When you let them sweat it out and sit in the hunting role. They miss their numbers, everyone is pissed off, and it takes months and months or longer, years before you finally deal with it. Your rock stars will leave in the interim because they won’t tolerate that kind of mediocrity on the team.

Connect With Jeff Hyman

Charlie Hoehn: Can you give our readers a challenge — one thing they can do from your book this week? And then finally, how do our listeners stay connected with you?

Jeff Hyman: One thing you can do this week is think about some of the mistakes that we’ve talked about and just be honest with yourself, what do you think is the biggest one?

Don’t try to tack up the whole process at the same time. Is it that you’re not thinking about the roles and developing a score card? Is it you don’t know what your company’s DNA is? You don’t have a test drive in place, people that you’re interviewing have no idea what questions to ask?

Just pick one, don’t try to fix everything. I think that is a really good place to have this intellectual, honest conversation with your leadership team, whoever that may be. It may be your board of advisers or maybe your directors, “How can we improve this stage of the process?”

“Ask the right interview questions or implement a test drive and you’ll be surprised the impact it can make pretty quickly.”

Just one thing. One thing, you know I would start with the test drive because 91% of companies don’t have it, and it is the most predictive. So I would probably start there. The ones that you hire a lot of, you’ll get the most impact from creating a simple test drive for that role.

In terms of how people can stay in touch, Recruit Rock Stars is the website, You can get the free video course, you can get the book, you can get the free podcast. I have a free webinar every month, so I’m happy to talk to people. I love talking about this stuff, and I believe in giving it away as much as I can.