A company needs to hire more achievers in order to grow. While it takes extra effort to find and hire achievers, the cost of not proceeding is a sure fire way to put a lid on a company's potential.

There are two types of candidates companies typically hire: the best of those who apply or the best available. I call the best available "achievers." They rarely apply. They typically are referred by an employee or sourced by a recruiter. I define achievers as those in the top half of the top half. They are the people you want to hire since they raise a company's talent bar.

By definition, an achiever is a person in any job who, year after year, is in the upper 25% based on performance in comparison to his or her peers. Here are the basic requirements for a person to be considered an achiever. I call them:

The classic achiever pattern

  • Consistently meets or exceeds increasingly challenging performance objectives
  • Delivers high-quality results on a consistent basis on all types of projects
  • Works well with all types of people and with cross-functional teams
  • Works well with all levels of people inside and outside the organization
  • Makes a significant technical or business impact far beyond their peers
  • Self-motivated, requiring little direction
  • Can be counted on to get results despite problems and challenges
  • Doesn't make excuses, makes it happen
  • Volunteers for bigger assignments and difficult projects
  • Learns new skills far more quickly than their peers

As a result of the above, the classic achiever tends to get promoted more quickly, gets formal recognition, and typically earns more in comparison to those who aren't achievers. Interestingly, in the first five to 10 years of their careers, achievers tend to have less absolute experience (in years) than their peers and are typically lighter in depth of skills due to more rapid promotions or being assigned to handle more difficult projects. That's why it's important not to screen on these factors, since you'll be eliminating all the high-potential candidates from consideration before you even have a chance to meet them.

From an assessment standpoint, it's pretty easy to identify the achiever pattern if you don't first get seduced by the candidate's first impression and presentation skills, strong or weak. I suggest that during the interview or first phone screen, spend at least 20 minutes on the work history review. As you go through the person's resume, look for this type of evidence of the achiever pattern:

  • Rapid promotions or assignments to bigger projects
  • Offered advanced professional training, including fellowships
  • Assigned early leadership positions for a variety of projects consisting of multi-functional groups
  • Formal recognition for exceptional performance, including awards, honors, and letters of commendation
  • Technical recognition, including patents, whitepapers, presentations, and industry acknowledgments
  • Upward growth, including an expanding portfolio of accomplishments
  • Mentored others and was mentored
  • Hires top people, including previous employees or was hired by a previous supervisor
  • A pattern of self-development, especially during gaps in employment

A person doesn't need to have all of these to be categorized as an achiever, but to claim the title, look for a pattern of exceptional performance over extended periods of time. Identifying achievers is actually far easier than finding and recruiting them. The key idea to remember here is that achievers don't look for new jobs or accept them the same way as everyone else.

Here's some quick advice to companies, hiring managers, and recruiters who want to attract more achievers.

1. Implement an early-bird sourcing strategy.

Most achievers are passive candidates. As a result you'll need to be more proactive to find them as soon as they enter the job market. One way to do this is to use highly-networked recruiters who are connected to these achievers.

2. Don't post your internal job descriptions.

Your job postings need to be compelling, emphasizing the employee value proposition and some of the challenges of the job. Most job postings are designed to weed out the weak. To find achievers, your ads need to be written to attract the best. Here's a great example.

3. Learn to slow dance.

Hiring achievers is not a transactional process. It takes additional time for a top person with multiple opportunities to decide which job offers the best career opportunity. Big point: Hiring managers must conduct exploratory meetings with these types of prospects.

4. Offer career moves, not lateral transfers.

Achievers are in high demand. As a result they have no need to take jobs just like the ones they now hold. Unless you're willing to offer big salary increases, you need to offer these people career opportunities with significant upside growth. The three steps above will get help make the case, but the process of hiring achievers starts by preparing a performance-based job description.

Unless you're seeing these achievers before or as soon as they enter the job market, you'll be fighting an uphill battle to hire any of them. While it might take some additional resources in the short-term to find and hire these extremely talented people, the long-term cost of not proceeding is sure to stunt your company's future. That's a cost few companies can bear.