How To Hire (And Retain) Great People

How To Hire (And Retain) Great People | No BS Hiring Advice

By Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter

Originally published on

The Big Career Management Lessons from The Shawshank Redemption

As I speak with business owners and hiring managers, one of the most common laments is, “I’m having trouble finding and keeping great people.”

We are currently in a time when unemployment is at a decade low, various visa programs to admit foreign talent remain tight and some demographics of the U.S. population are particularly challenging. When it comes to age, the pool of talent for many businesses resides in the smallest population cohort.

But beyond that, we’re trying to hire for “fit” — and it’s not working.

When I entered recruiting, it didn’t take long to figure out that both job hunters and employers would misrepresent themselves to one another.

Job hunters have been trained to behave a certain way with people who are in positions of authority from the time they are in school to the time they walk into your office or business.

On the other hand, very few employers ever confess to a job hunter that they are stepping into a minefield. After all, no one ever says, “I’ve just been moved into this role. My predecessor was fired, and her predecessor was fired. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what my fate will be if I can’t turn this thing around!” Instead, every job is said to be “a wonderful opportunity” with “a terrific team of people” and “great advancement opportunities.”

Is it any wonder that people become annoyed or angry to discover you withheld critical information from them?

Hiring people who care and giving them complete information about what they are stepping into goes a long way when correcting your staffing issues.

The question is: how do you find these people and reject the others?

Here’s what you can do to improve your odds of recruiting and retaining great people.

10 Mistakes Firms Make With Their Hiring Process

1. Prioritize those who care about doing a good job. 

As I sat in a restaurant one day, I noticed two employees who were friendly to customers and noticed and handled details in a way that seemed natural and smooth. These are usually the people who are taken for granted while managers and business owners try to “fix” poor performers.

You can’t improve mediocrity. Instead, focus on high or higher performers, and reward them with frequent praise and requests for input. Let everyone see that people get attention for doing a good job and will not get attention for dragging the team down.

2. Ask the right interview questions.

Research shows that almost half of new hires (46%) fail in the first 18 months. The survey reports that 26% of new hires fail because they can’t accept or implement feedback (correction of poor or inadequate performance), 23% because they can’t manage their emotions (often this is the same as being unable to accept feedback or criticism), 15% because they have the wrong temperament for the job (bad attitude) and 11% because of skills deficiencies.

The message I take from this is that skills evaluation is generally adequate, but we can do more to hire emotionally intelligent candidates.

To find the people who care, ask, “What would two people whose lives you positively changed say if I were to call them?” Be wary of candidates who complain about having helped that person.

You can also ask, “What was your part in bringing this solution about?” Listen for those who have the emotional intelligence to recognize they played a part in certain events. People who can’t recognize their contribution to issues will repeat that pattern with you.

Another question you can ask is, “How does this position compare to others you are interviewing for?” Listen carefully for those who can point to the challenge, the opportunity, and the other positive characteristics of any of the jobs they are considering and not try to butter you up with praise.

Remember, you have been trying to create a positive impression. Focus on their answer and whether it shows maturity or not.

3. Fire faster. 

Everyone has bad hours or days; don’t tolerate people who have bad months. Remember to view them as though they are new. They should be trying to create a great impression with you. If they aren’t trying hard at the beginning, they won’t be better than this six months from now.

4. Create an environment of excellence.

Environments win. Excellent people don’t want to work with managers who don’t care about the workplace they’re creating. Replace mediocre talent who make the environment nothing more than average. Keep the inspired, or risk losing them to someone who creates the environment they want.

5. Look in the mirror. 

Ask yourself what your part has been in creating a high-turnover environment. As I suggested earlier, it is easier to blame others than take responsibility for your decisions. Own up to your part, and make changes.

Even with a smaller labor pool, many business owners and hiring managers can hire and keep great people by screening for people who care, rewarding them with attention and opportunity, and creating environments where they can succeed.

Ⓒ The Big Game Hunter, Inc., Asheville, NC 2018, 2021 

How to Elicit Missing Information


Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter
Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter

Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a coach who worked as a recruiter for what seems like one hundred years. His work involves career coaching, as well as executive job search coaching, job coaching, and interview coaching. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 2000 episodes.

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