The real danger of hiring based on top-performer indicators

The real danger of hiring based on top-performer indicators

Top-performers. A-players. Or whatever term you’d like to give it. It’s something that every single company is on the lookout for. But it’s also one of the most dangerous hiring practices. Hiring for top-performer indicators requires crystal clear insights into what makes your top-performers actual top-performers, a solid method to evaluate candidates on these indicators. Lastly, is required for the realisation that hiring for top-performers can easily lead to the copy-paste effect – constantly hiring the same type of people, eventually hurting your company’s diversity.

In this blog, I’ll tell you about the two most common mistakes people tend to make when trying to hire top-performers & how to identify top-performer traits and assess this for candidates

P. S. This blog is an excerpt from the playbook we wrote on hiring for top performers – you can download it here!


2 mistakes we make when trying to hire top-performers

Mistake #1: Thinking we know what to look for

We all think we know exactly what makes a top performer – the skills and traits they must possess, their positive attitude and unconditional dedication to work. However, there is not one definition of what makes someone a top performer, so all in all – we’re just assuming what makes someone an A-player.

The reality is that it’s context dependent. The fact that some people are your ‘top performers’ does not mean that they are the best out there. Or even that they are the best for your company.

Top-performers might be deemed top-performers given the fact that they master skill A and B, but it could be that skill C is also an important contributor to their performance. By not focusing on measuring the right skills that drive top performance means you might unconsciously eliminate a huge part of your potential talent pool, mastering that skill C. Ultimately, resulting in mishires and significantly slowing down your company growth.

Mistake #2: The copy-paste effect

Imagine you are hiring a replacement for Sarah, the current Sales Lead at your company. She is one of the top performers in your team. Based on Sarah’s skills, experience amongst other qualities, you then create the ideal candidate profile. Now, why exactly is this so bad? Because you become anchored to the expectation that the next Sales Lead should (and will) be exactly the same as the current one, it should be a Sarah.

This is called the copy-paste effect. This means that, when hiring people, we tend to search for look-alikes of top performers we already have in the team.

It is important to realize that you are looking for another individual to become a Sales Lead, not for a duplicate version of Sarah.

This is why it’s a dangerous hiring tactic to use: copy-paste effect leads to a lack of neurodiversity (in your teams). Teams that lack neurodiversity are more likely to fail without as that goes hand in hand with a homogeneous representation of skills and personality traits. By focusing only on top-performer specific traits, you will keep hiring people with identical skill sets and personalities. Copy cats are not what drive innovation and creativity.


How to identify top-performer traits and assess this for candidates

When looking for new hires, everyone wants to hire the best of the best – top performers. However, before attracting top talent, you first need to know for sure what it is that makes your top-performers actual top-performers. Sadly, there’s often a huge gap between what we think are top-performer skills or personality traits, and what they actually are. That’s why hiring for top-performer indicators starts with more objectively analysing your current top-performers, without risking hiring the exact same people over and over again. This is how you can do it the right way by following 2 steps.

Step 1. Reveal what your top-performers have in common

In order to reveal what your top-performers have in common, it’s very important to first select the people from your teams that perform the best. Then take a step back and list their (soft) skills and weaknesses. One way to do this is by using the TP-MLP Matrix.

A visual representing TP-MLP Matrix, that allows to identify and divide traits that are important for top-performers. It also illustrates the differences between top-performers and mid- and  low-performers.

Take a look at this blog we wrote about top-performers-based hiring in scaleups to learn more about how this matrix can help you reveal what your top-performers have in common.

Step 2. Look for a method to assess candidates on these traits

Without having insights on soft skills of your top-performers, your hiring needs will likely be too general. Listing general skills increases the chance of making a mishire and not achieving your business objectives.

After you’ve revealed what your top-performers have in common and what traits & skills they are lacking, you’ll have a more clear picture of what to look for in future hires. So, now that you know what to look for in candidates – let me tell you how to look for it. There are two options:

  • The free option: situational and past-behaviour questions
  • Non-free option: (soft) skill assessment

The free option: situational and past-behaviour questions

Situational and behavioral interview questions are most effective when they directly relate to the role you’re hiring for.

Situational questionsPast-behaviour questions
Present the candidate with a hypothetical situation and ask them how they would handle it.

For example:
“What would you do if…”
Ask the candidate to recall a past experience and describe how they handled it.

For example:
“Tell me about a time in a past job when…”

There are two stages of the hiring process during which asking situational and past-behaviour related questions will help you determine someone’s personality traits: (i) through the screening process or (ii) during the interview process

However, there is one downside – soft skills and personality traits are notoriously difficult to measure objectively. Soft skills are intangible and once we try to assess them ourselves, we are subjective and form biased opinions.

Result? We make biased assumptions about candidates and either reject someone who might be a good fit or make a mishire that results in financial losses.

Non-free option: (Soft) skill assessment

Assess soft skills right away, by making use of assessment tooling, so that you’re not required to make assumptions. In the following chapter I’ll tell you how to identify and hire based on top performer indicators in an objective, unbiased and data-backed way.


Use case: How Equalture helps reveal & hire based on top-performer indicators

The Image shows a customer quote from Annual Insight about how the Equalture software helps hire A-players in an unbiased and data-driven way.

Our software helps scaling companies objectify their hiring practices to build the best possible team. We do so by enabling those companies to act on data rather than gut feeling. These insights are data based – objective and bias free – allowing you to learn more about the cognitive abilities and behavioral traits of current employees and potential future hires. So how does this work when it comes to identifying top performance indicators?

We help you get insights into the current representation of your team’s (soft) skills by letting your team members complete our neuroscientific games. Now you can split the top- and low-performers to reveal differences between these team members, which helps you understand what the top-performers have in common. As well as what to look for in future hires. Are you curious about what the games are like?



Time to stop trusting your gut feeling and begin identifying & hiring A-players that will take your business to the next level! Do you want to know more about how we can help you with this?

We would be more than happy to tell you how, so get in touch with us and begin hiring A-players the right way!

Cheers, Anete

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