8 traits of A-players (or how to hire incredible employees)

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 In Behind the Scenes, Hiring advice

A Guide to Hiring A-Players

Through our offices in Montreal and Vancouver, we work with some of the coolest businesses in the country helping them hire, scale, and reinforce their impressive company culture. No matter how complex, unusual or mainstream their search, our clients turn to us with one common request – to show them how to hire incredible employees!

Having personally worked on hundreds (who am I kidding? thousands!) of mandates throughout my recruitment years, as well as having built a world-class team of my own, I can tell you that there are some core characteristics that top performers share irrespective of position, industry and generation (yes, Millennials, I am looking at you also!).

You may already think that you know who the A-players at your company are. Yet my experience consulting with hundreds of entrepreneurs and business leaders has proven many of them wrong. Interestingly, managers have the tendency of overvaluing their staff. So many B-players are treated as top performers, only to emerge as clearly average employees upon further analysis. This checklist will help you shine the spotlight on your team, have you question who your true stars are, or even whether you have any! And as an employee, go through this list to see how you measure up.

Here are the 8 characteristics of A-players:

Smart and always learning


A-players are insatiably curious and always eager to expand their horizons. Some become experts in their specific area of focus; others learn across a variety of disciplines. These are the people who are always aware of the news, can hold a meaningful conversation on a variety of topics, are constantly researching something online and read impressive amounts of books, magazines and online articles.

My Cofounder has launched an awesome internal initiative – article sharing. Each week, one of us selects an article to share with the team. We gather the next day to discuss our impressions, opinions and takeaways. This fun exercise has offered us incredible insight and has been an eye opener into our employees’ personalities, opinions and reading preferences.


Intensely observant


Your A-players know what’s going on in your business – just ask them and you will see! Although they are buried deep in their work and are fully focused on their tasks, they are also passionate about the company as a whole, which makes them pay attention. They may seem to be fully immersed in their own bubble, yet they have a finger on the pulse of the organization at all times.



Work-life juggle


The concept of “work-life balance” continues to be a hot topic, especially for the new generations of employees. I hate to break it to anyone hoping for a big impressive career on a 40-hour weekly schedule. Work-life balance is a myth, even more so in the first decade of your career building. If your employees want promotions, growth, exposure, and the glamour of making it far up the corporate ladder, then they will have to bust it. Hard. Long hours, early mornings, late nights are all part of the deal. They’ll sacrifice a bit of their personal life and will have long and hard conversations with their significant others. They’ll miss some key personal events and will sometimes wish they could clone themselves and be in two places at the same time. They’ll prioritize work and will get creative with compensating for it. As I said, it will be a juggle for them, and interestingly enough, you will not even know half of it most of the time.

In short, work-life balance exists for those who want a job; yet, it is more of a work-life juggle for those of us who dream of a career.


Shape their own job description


In his article Good to Great published in Fast Company, Jim Collins talks about the importance of “getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats”. Awesome analogy but, truth be told, A-players are fully capable of finding their own place in your organization. Give them the opportunity to venture outside of their job descriptions and see them assume ownership of tasks you could only dream of someone taking on. A surprising bonus? Their own work does not suffer as a result! Anyone can dabble into a bunch of difference projects, yet a top performer excels at his own job and delivers in other areas simultaneously.


Mindful of boundaries

restaurant-people-feet-legsThis is something that has both puzzled and impressed me over the years. As a business owner or a line manager, you will form the closest most profound bonds with your A-players. Yet, somehow they will keep their emails professional every single time, will show you unwavering respect throughout every interaction and will never speak to you in an uncomfortably familiar fashion. Interestingly, the degree of familiarity your employees demonstrate towards you tends to grow in reverse proportion with the levels of their performance.

Another side of the same coin is the incredible appreciation A-players show to their managers. Despite being the biggest “givers” in any organization, they are also the most grateful ones on every team. Their work ethic is impressive, yet their manners are equally admirable.



people-apple-iphone-writingMy business partner’s father, Avraham Elarar, is an incredible entrepreneur. We are fortunate to have him as our business advisor from the day we founded Pronexia. During one of our long chats, he asked a seemingly simple question that made it immediately clear who my A-players were:  “If the fire alarm went off at the office on the week-end while you were out of town, which employee(s) would you call?” Ask yourself the same question and you might get some unexpected insight!

Running a business is an adventure full of unexpected twists and turns. You will never be able to scale if you take it upon yourself to put out every single fire. Your A-players will not dodge your calls, will not search for excuses to get themselves out of the added responsibility and will put you at ease as they calmly manage the curveball thrown at them. Another shocker: instead of succumbing to self-absorbing feelings of martyrdom, they will enjoy being your go-to person and will ask you to kindly stop when you thank them for the umpteenth time.



people-coffee-tea-meetingNow, this is a big one for me. Born and raised in the former Soviet Union to a Jewish father, I’ve got paranoia ingrained in me. I have a multitude of stories to explain my constantly nagging feelings of suspicion, but I will save it for another post.

A-players will make you trust them; they are the ones on your team with whom what you see is truly what you get. They will never, not a single time, blast you behind your back only to shower you with praise to your face. They are the ones who will be upfront and honest even at the risk of delivering an opinion you might not want to hear. It is your trust that they value infinitely more than internal gossip and you can count on them being your most valued ally, even though they will have strong and cordial relationships with all the other employees in your organization.



hands-people-woman-meetingYour top performers are aligned. Aligned with everything you have got going on – your vision, the mission, company values. They are fanatical about your organization and are shameless promoters of it externally. Internally, they are protective and are almost allergic to employees who show clear signs of misalignment.




Now, don’t get me wrong. Every company needs some B-players on the team and there is nothing wrong with having employees who just consistently meet expectations. They won’t go above and beyond for you but they will steadily deliver results within their own scope. You won’t call on them for any extra responsibility for the fear of being turned down with yet another barrage of highly credible excuses. They will do their own job thoroughly and consistently, as long as you give up on your futile attempts of pushing them outside of the comfort zone of their job descriptions. In fact, some organizations exist with no A-players at all.

In order to attract and retain incredible employees, you need to have a world-class organization, and let’s be honest – there are all too many average companies out there and yours might be one of them! A-players are high maintenance: they expect to have a place where they will flourish, not get bored and will be able to continuously push their limits. They want to be disrupting, innovating, trying a million different things. They will expect bosses who are A-players themselves and will quickly spot any signs of mediocrity. A-players will push themselves but they will also push you to constantly stay on top of your own game.

A-players aren’t regular employees; they treat your business almost as their own and are possessive, enamored, passionate and proud of it. Just as you are.


Need help building a team of top performers? We can help!

Reach out to us and we will come to your office for a free Company Culture assessment.