25 World-Class CEOs Share Their #1 Hiring Secret

Hiring isn’t a simple process. It takes a lot of thought and energy to create a thorough and effective hiring processes on your own. Not to mention money and time.

It’s difficult for two reasons:

  1. It’s difficult to find A-players and
  2. It’s difficult to get A-players on your team because they’re probably already on a great team

The average ROI of a bad hire is -298%.

The problem is that it’s incredibly difficult to hire effective employees. In 2012, a survey by CareerBuilder found that 66% of U.S. employers reported having bad hires costing upward of $50,000 each. Not only that, those bad hires negatively affected employee morale, decrease productivity and had a negative impact on client relations.

To give you insight into effectively hiring A-players, 25 CEOs have taken the time to share their #1 hiring tips with us and now we’re going to open up the kimono for you.

These CEOs have founded multi-million dollar companies and learned how to hire the hard way. Together, they have over 100 years of experience in business and hiring.

Using these tips, you won’t have to learn to hire from scratch. You won’t have to hire B-players, C-players or worse players.

Here are the #1 hiring tips from 25 CEOs.

Free Download: Get the 25 world-class hiring secrets ebook! Click here to download for free.
Mark Bartels, StumbleUpon CEO
Use interview templates. It standardizes the questions & the candidates. Always check references, and request an additional reference when talking to a reference.Questions to ask the candidate:

  • When I speak to your reference tomorrow, what will she say about you?
  • What kind of work environment do you excel in? The candidate doesn’t know your environment, so there’s no *right* answer.
  • What kind of environment do you struggle in? Again, the candidate doesn’t know your environment, so there’s no *right* answer.

Remember the following advice when screening candidates – per Malcolm Gladwell’s presentation:

Confidence and efficacy are the key drivers for success. Rather hire the top graduate from a tier 2 university vs. someone at the bottom of the ladder at a tier 1.


Mark Organ, Influitive CEO
Assuming that the basic functional expertise is solid (for functional expertise, I look for people who understand the strategy, process, people and metrics required to nail the function), then I have a shorthand way to quickly figure out if the candidate is an A player. It’s Jack Welch’s 4Es and a P.
Energy: Does this person have the pep to give it 100% every day?
Energizer: Does this person have the ability to energize and inspire others?
Edge: Does this person make consistently great decisions – know good from bad, right from wrong – in support of a strong desire to win?  Edge is both decision-making edge and competitive edge.
Execution: Does this person consistently beat targets?
Passion: Does this person exude passion for the company, job, product, etc.?
I can tell within a minute of meeting someone if they are 4Es and a P or not.


Nick Robinson, Quest Nutrition CMO
Thin slicing.You can quickly tell if someone is a fit or not if you listen to your gut in the first 2 seconds of meeting someone. It will take your rational brain 5-10 minutes to catch up to that gut instinct.
Getting to a yes is much harder and generally takes an hour. The trick there is to find out what that person truly wants out of life. Hire people that are going to be doing their dream job or have the ability to grow into their dream job.


Kyle Porter, SalesLoft CEO
Run events in your startup community that provide a ton of value to your audience. We started Atlanta Startup Village, B2BCamp, and the Atlanta Chapter of American Association of Inside Sales.


Steli Efti, Close.io CEO
Don’t ask amazing people to make a life-changing decision like coming to work for your company right away. That’s a giant leap. It’s too easy to reject that. In fact the type of person you want to hire should reject that. You probably don’t want to hire anyone you can hire that easily just by throwing out an offer.Instead, make the first step compellingly small. Relationships progress in increments. Deepen the commitment step by step.


David Brown, Founder and Managing Partner at Techstars 
Have a great job description. Make sure your candidate meets it. Don’t just rely on cultural fit.


Nick Kenn, Flippa General Manager 
The best people aren’t looking for a job and if you get the slightest chance to get in front of them, understand that you have to do a damn good job at selling the company, vision, culture to them, not just the job itself.  That starts with the job ad and continues through to the interview and interim communications and even includes the tone of the offer letter.


David Hassell, 15Five CEO
We screen for passion/culture fit first.  If people don’t have an attitude of “this is the most incredible company I can imagine working for and I wouldn’t want to work anyone else” vs. “you’re one of three opportunities I’m looking at” they’re almost always a “No.”
Then of course they need to pass the skill/competence test, but if that first part is there AND they have the skill they almost always show up as an A player.


Ian Ippolito, Exhedra Solutions Inc. CEO, vWorker.com Founder and Former CEO
My best hiring tactic is simply to make the final interview involve doing whatever is involved in doing the job on a day to day basis. I’ve learned the hard way that typical final interview techniques, like watching how well the candidate interacts with myself and the team, scrutinizing their interpersonal skills, trying to divine their true personality etc. are no better than rolling dice, and can easily be faked by someone who’s smart enough/motivated enough.
Ultimately, the only thing that matters is how they do the job, so it’s important to make sure the interview tests that. If the job is for a customer service position, I tell the candidate that they should pretend that they been hired, and then another employee role-plays being different types of customers, and I watch how they respond to them. If the job is for a programmer, I give them an actual bug being worked on, and ask them to fix it… explaining their thought processes they go. This technique has really turbocharged my hiring process.


Russell Glass, Head of Marketing Products at Linkedin, Bizo CEO
Think culture first.  The right culture fit is easy to train on the right skills, but the wrong culture fit with the right skills will never be successful.To help, ask “Why” they’ve made the decisions they have made instead of “What” they’ve done. Gives you a much better understanding of how someone thinks and potential culture fit with the org.


Mike Michalowicz, Author of Profit First
Our little trick is to request video cover letters.  It is shocking how many people won’t do it (so we generally rule them out). Out of the ones that do, we find that some folks have the communication and presentation skills we are looking for. In fact we just hired a new employee yesterday because she 1. made a video for us 2. did a professional job.  She stood out from the rest of the pack of applicants. It is too early to tell, but so far… we are IMPRESSED.


wade foster
Wade Foster, Zapier CEO 
Have a great team. A players want to work with other A players. If you already have a great team, then it’ll attract more great teammates.


Tom Kulzer, AWeber CEO
A-players only want to work with other A-players. It starts from the inside out making sure that you only have them on the team to begin with. Once you’re there, other A-players will usually be knocking on your door. Mediocre folks will likely be upset as the bar keeps rising higher and higher, but in the long run you’ll have a much stronger team and organization.


Thomas Schranz, Blossom CEO 
Use your network. You probably already know some people with amazing skills that you’ve worked with in the past. So does the rest of your team. Work those connections. A lot of hugely successful companies got started by friends, fellow buddies from university and previous co-workers.Check for cultural fit. A-teams consist of extraordinary people that work well together.
Checking for cultural fit early can be a great leading indicator whether you’ve got someone who is not only good but also works well with your team. Establish a well defined onboarding phase or start with a tiny example project.
Hire globally. The best people for your team might not be where you are. Don’t underestimate how much amazing talent is out there. Remote teams can be highly effective.


Tom Salonek, Intertech CEO
The most effective hiring tactic that helps us hire A-players is a rigorous hiring process.  We have eight steps. From technical to personality assessments to team interviews, we’re very thorough and hire one in 20 applicants.  The downside is it takes time and resources but compared to the cost of a bad hire it’s worth the investment.

For the rest of the #1 hiring tips, download our free #1 Hiring Tips eBook!

Free Download: Get the 25 world-class hiring secrets ebook! Click here to download for free.


There are a lot of moving parts when it comes to hiring. These CEOs have been there and done that. They’ve learned first hand how difficult it is, and they’ve created their own hiring processes to make sure they have an effective team of A-players.

Now it’s your turn. These CEOs shared their #1 hiring tips which helped them build enormous multi-million–even billion–dollar companies. Imagine that you can also hire a first class, kick ass, team.

Which of these tips are going you to implement into your hiring process?

More From This Category

Join 14,000+ Marketers and Founders

Enter your email to get free instant access