One of the most difficult tasks facing managers is how to rapidly identify the top candidates from among the average. Although there are few “secret” “A” players, you can speed up the sorting process by compiling a list of key identifiers or commonalities that “A” players consistently have (and that “C” players don’t have). 


A) Identifying them through their resumes

Elements of a resume that may identify an “A” player include:

  • They quantify their accomplishments and job outputs using dollars and numbers.
  • They state that they have developed new or innovative processes, systems and approaches.
  • They directly compare themselves to their competitors in the industry.
  • They cite the tools and skills they used to accomplish their major tasks.
  • They mention that projects and task were completed “on-time” and/or “under budget.”
  • They quantify the success of products (services) they helped to develop in terms of market share, first entry or profitability.
  • They use advanced terminology and key buzz words when describing the tools they used to accomplish their job.
  • They list examples of promotions, awards or internal or external recognition.
  • They cite major firms by name or industry-leading statistics as benchmarks.
  • They mention a teamwork approach as frequently as individual accomplishments.
  • They mention that they took a leadership role in major projects.


B) Assessing/sorting them prior to the interview

Because “A” players do not always possess “A” quality resumes it is often beneficial to do some additional assessment of potential “A” players prior to a formal interview. Some possible tools and strategies for pre-assessment include:

  • Ask your current “A” players if they know them and would recommend them.
  • Ask your current “A” players to call them, have lunch with them or seek them out at industry events in order to assess them further.
  • Ask your recent hires (from their current firm) to give their opinions on their skill level.
  • Search the Web, chat rooms/listservers and Usenet for their comments, articles and opinions.
  • Search their personal website/social media for examples of their work and indications that they are “A” players.
  • Send them a pre-interview questionnaire asking them to develop a list of the characteristics of a top performer in their field. Ask them to identify the top three problems and opportunities facing your industry. This can also be accomplished with an informal telephone interview.
  • Call them and ask their advice on steps you should take to solve a critical problem you are facing.
  • Send them an e-mail and tell them that you have noted their ideas in an Internet chat room/ listserver or an article. Then pose a problem you are facing and ask their opinion on the steps you should take to resolve it.


C) Assessing them during the interview

Consider the following tools in lieu of (or in addition to) traditional interviews:

  • Tell them you are looking for problem solvers and ask them to walk you through the steps they would use to solve your toughest problem. Probe why they took that approach. The manager might also ask the candidate for their ideas on a key problem(s) that the candidate will face during their first month on the job.
  • Ask them to walk you through the steps they used in solving a difficult problem in their current job.
  • Ask them to forecast the major issues and opportunities firms in your industry will face in the next two years.
  • In lieu of the traditional interview, ask a senior manager to have a “professional conversation” with them at lunch or during an industry event. Ask the manager to informally assess their skills and abilities.
  • Ask the candidate to quantify their outputs and accomplishments.
  • Ask candidates if/how they included continuous improvement elements in their major projects.
  • Ask candidates to walk you through the steps they take in learning about new issues and solutions.
  • Ask candidates to list other top performers and “A” players they know in the industry. See if their list compares favorably with your list. Also use the list given by this and other candidates as a target list for potential recruits.
  • Ask candidates to compile their own list of key identifiers they would use to differentiate between “A” and “C” players to see if they know what an “A” player is.
  • Remember that pre-assessed employee referrals from your “A” players turn out to be top performers in over 75 percent of cases. So, treat these referrals with less skepticism than your standard candidates.


This list is an excerpt from “Catch Them if You Can! How Any Manager Can Win the War for Talent in the Global Labor Shortage” by Dr John Sullivan and Greg Ford, M.Ed.

About Catch Them if You Can!

Catch Them if You Can! is a book about talent acquisition, written not just for recruiters or HR people but for everyday managers struggling to win the “Worldwide War for Talent.” Written in a story-based format, it is a quick, easy read about three managers who learn how to find employees during the massive labor shortage.

No matter what sector you’re in, no matter what size your organization is, you’ll gain a new appreciation and attitude toward recruitment. You’ll find practical applications that can be implemented easily, in any organization. You’ll get straightforward advice—backed by statistics—and a step-by-step recruitment plan that you can take away and apply immediately.

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