Don’t Hire People Who Aren’t Great At Something Else!

I am well aware this post is going to rile some feathers. Yup, I know it’s controversial. I know some of you aren’t going to like it. It’s one of those posts that just touches too close to home for many. I get it.

With that said, I will also qualify this post with the statement that I have no empirical data to support my belief. Although I believe very strongly in my theory or hypothesis, I have little evidence to back it up so therefore if you don’t like what I say then you can dismiss it as being baseless. With that said, the argument is pretty sound.

I have been hiring sales people and sales leaders for years and overtime one particular, yet subtle, trend seems to surface quite often. People who aren’t great at anything outside of work, pretty much suck at work.  In other words, if someone isn’t good at something outside of work, at another effort besides their primary job, they aren’t going to be good at their job. I believe “A” players are “A” players outside of the office and their job is just another extension of their commitment to excellence. I have found a close relationship with people who are exceptional in their day-to-day lives to being exceptional at work. And people who are not exceptional outside of their profession are rarely exception in their profession. (The exclusion to my theory is professional athletes, musicians, actors etc, people who have dedicated their ENTIRE life to one pursuit.)  Outside of these people, those who are not exceptional at something in their personal life are almost never “A” players.


Being exceptional or being great at something takes time and commitment. Being great is NOT a haphazard pursuit. Exceptional people have learned what it takes to achieve greatness. They have learned to take a passion and turn it into achievement or performance. They know what it takes to focus on something and work through the growing pains of getting good. Those people who have become exceptional at something have that something inside them, that others don’t, that drives them to push, go further, explore, learn and develop their talents.

If someone hasn’t become exceptional at something in their own life, on their own time, expecting them to or believing they will be on the job is stretch. A HUGE stretch.  Being extraordinary at something doesn’t mean you have to be the next Tiger Woods. It does mean you are phenomenal at something, an awesome knitter, a killer rock climber, a heavily relied on philanthropist, a great golfer, a top of the class student, a brilliantly informed political wonk, a history buff, an extraordinary model airplane builder, a bad ass electric guitar player — it means you are better than MOST people at something, anything.

What does being better than most people mean?  Being better means that if you lined up 100 random people, you’d be better than 80 -85% of them, at least. It means that you’ve taken it beyond a hobby. It means you’ve committed to something as more than just a fun thing to do on the weekends. It means you’re intimately connected to it. Being better means you practice, study, learn, embrace growth and achieve an expertise most other don’t posses.

When people reach this level in any endeavor,  they carry that sense of accomplishment and success to other parts of their lives. Their body and mind are conditioned to trial and error. They understand the path to performance and growth. They understand what it takes to make it and set deliberate learning goals. They embrace failure as part of the process. The know how to self motivate. They aren’t afraid of sacrifice. They accept success is rooted in their own efforts and hard work. They’ve learned to deal with obstacles and nay sayers. They bring a creative energy to their environments. People who are exceptional in their personal life are far more likely to carry it over to their professional life.

When I hire, I look for personal stories or commitments to outside efforts and accomplishments. I want to know what the candidates are doing when they aren’t working. If they are sitting on the couch watching TV, I’m concerned. If they aren’t committed to something or if they have never been recognized in any environment outside of work for anything exceptional, 9 out of 10 times, they’re not an “A” player and I won’t hire them. They are a manager. They are a foot soldier. They are “C” or “B” players at best.

The few times I’ve hired someone or recommended the hiring of someone who wasn’t great or hadn’t been great at something else has almost always failed. Every time I kick myself.  Greatness outside of work is an unbelievably accurate predictor of performance. Is it a perfect predictor? No. It is far better at predicting who won’t be an “A” player. I have found that just because someone is great at something outside of work doesn’t mean they are an”A” player. But, it is fairly accurate at telling me who WON’T be an “A” player and that’s a great start.

Excellence, greatness and being extraordinary are NOT situational. They are states of mind. They are attitudes that are embraced and developed. If someone hasn’t embraced and developed a commitment to excellence and greatness elsewhere in their lives, you can pretty much be sure they ain’t gonna do it for you at work.

Don’t hire people who aren’t great at something else, because they ain’t gonna be great for you — just sayin’!