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What to Look for When Hiring A-List Players


Steve Jobs was brilliant at hiring A-list players at Apple. His laser focus on designing the best products was dependent on hiring and keeping the best talent. Based on his relentless pursuit of exceptional employees, Jobs left behind valuable advice about the importance of these players to the success of a high performing team:

“I noticed that the dynamic range between what an average person could accomplish was 50 or 100 to 1. Given that, you’re well advised to go after the cream of the cream. A small team of A+ players can run circles around a giant team of B and C players.”

With continued growth in the size and stature of today’s legal and compliance departments, many executives are following Jobs’s advice. So how do you find the best of the best? Here are some common traits to look for as you begin the interview process.

  1. A growth mindset. A-list players are not only experts in their specific disciplines, but they have an insatiable curiosity and a constant desire to learn. In fact, they love challenges and seek opportunities to try new things. As a candidate, they want to know that even though you are hiring for a current position, you expect them to grow and develop, and that there will be opportunities to do so. The best talent operates outside of the box, not in a silo.
  1. Passion for what they do. Top players are often “powerhouses” who have a passion for working in-house, a passion for the business, and a passion for their particular role or area of expertise. Because of their passion and conviction, A-list players have the confidence to move forward on their own and are not afraid to speak up in support of their recommendations.
  1. Appetite for risk. When hiring in-house counsel or compliance officers, it is vital to get a picture of the candidate’s appetite for risk. In today’s business climate, an A-list player will be expected to serve as a trusted business partner and help make critical business decisions and work with the CEO and board. To help move the business forward, the candidate must have the confidence and ability to take smart risks. Risk tolerance should be challenging to the business and the role, but not out of line with company values.
  1. A focus on client service. Empathy is also high on the list of traits of top performers. They can put themselves in their clients’ shoes, so to speak, and figure out how to reduce the burden on them by eliminating complexity, over documentation, and other issues that are aligned with risk taking. This client service mentality also results in simplicity and directness, good communication, flexibility, resiliency, and the ability to adapt to quick changes.

In addition to these four characteristics, I suggest that you add a few others to your checklist that are no less important to finding a well-rounded A-lister:

  • Excellent judgment
  • High ethical standards and integrity
  • Broad thinker
  • Sense of urgency
  • Good problem solver
  • Effective team player
  • Likeability and cultural fit

You may need some tools to help you to determine if an individual meets these criteria. Past achievements are a certainly a good indicator of future success, but it’s important to go beyond that and get into their thought process and gut reactions, so you can figure out if they will fit into the culture of the company and the department. Behavioral interviewing involves determining behaviors that are key to your culture and then asking open-ended questions to get to the motivation behind how an individual approaches situations, ultimately revealing if there’s a fit. Many other assessment tools are also available.

If you need assistance in recruiting A-list talent, BarkerGilmore can help. Our profound understanding of the legal and compliance field, as well as our access to the most capable candidates, allows us to find the best talent to help your team reach new levels of excellence and success.

Topics: Compliance   |   Legal


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