Top tips for recruiting great people

I have just finished re-reading Harvey Mackay’s excellent book “Swim with the Sharks without being Eaten Alive”.  As a result I decided to compare what I consider to be top tips for recruiting great people for small businesses with the list Harvey presents in his Lesson 63.

As you might expect, there are some similarities as well as some differences.  The following tips from Mackay’s book are particularly pertinent to small businesses:

  1. Don’t follow up references – they will be good.  Spend your time on point 4.
  2. Hold multiple interviews with different people and compare notes afterwards.
  3. Socialise with the candidate in a different setting.
  4. Check with outside sources what they know about the candidate.

The “outside sources” will be people you know and trust and who have a good knowledge of your market.  It is valuable to find out what these people know and how they view your candidate.  It is very effective for senior appointments where you will need some relevant track record.  For more junior positions your candidate may not have had enough visibility to get on other people’s radar.  You can also perform a Google search on the candidate and check for anything relevant on social media sites.

After years of building sales and marketing teams with a mixture of successes as well as failure, I developed a series of questions to determine how strong a candidate was in five crucial areas.  Failure in any one area meant automatic rejection.  The five crucial areas that I concentrate on are:

  1. Demonstration of a good attitude
  2. Determination to learn and succeed
  3. Evidence of good organisational and time management skills
  4. Evidence of building good relationships (with clients, suppliers or co-workers)
  5. Evidence of taking responsibility, handling pressure and meeting deadlines

When recruiting someone to work in a sales and/or marketing role, I am now less interested in their current sales skills but very interested in their ability (and willingness) to learn, take responsibility and work well as part of a team.  Specific sales skills can be quickly developed by someone who wants to succeed.

I’ve been let down a few times after appointing sales people who interviewed well and who seemed to have a great sales track record, only to find their attitude was poor and their willingness to learn was missing.  They struggled to generate sales or fit into a close-knit team.  Now I focus on these five crucial areas and only candidates that pass in all five will reach my final shortlist of candidates.

Once on the shortlist, all the candidates have satisfied me they can meet the five crucial areas and so can now be assessed on their other attributes.  This might be knowledge of our products/services; knowledge of our industry and prime markets, knowledge of our competition and what “extras” they can bring to the role.

I’m sure this approach isn’t documented as a recognised recruitment process but it does work well. You will end up with a team of individuals all working together to achieve their goals and targets.  Their productivity may be lower in the early days as they come to terms with their individual tasks but in the medium term they will operate at maximum effectiveness.

I’ll finish with one more reference from “Swim with the Sharks”.  Harvey Mackay claims the following question is the acid-test for hiring (Lesson 64).  Ask yourself “How would you feel having this candidate start working for your competition instead of working for you?”

It’s an interesting question.  Could it be extended for use when you are undertaking performance reviews for existing staff?


  1. Reflect on the five crucial areas and modify them to reflect you own business.
  2. The next time you recruit, concentrate on the five crucial areas relevant to your business.
  3. Adopt the four steps from Harvey Mackay’s book into your recruitment process and apply the acid test for hiring on every candidate.
Posted in Recruitment