MCP Insights

'A' Player Traits and How to Spot Them Using a Prescreen Interview

Posted on September 19, 2017 by Howard Miller

A previous post presented, on a high-level, the approach we take to finding the A players for our public safety communications careers, known as “Topgrading,” a methodology developed by Dr. Brad Smart, who is considered by many to be the world’s foremost expert on hiring practices. This article will explore some of the nuances of Topgrading, and contains tips for public safety leaders looking to find A players to add to their organization.

Unlike the yeti, the A player is no mythical creature. Indeed, the A player—who is defined as a person among the top 10 percent of professionals in his or her chosen field—has numerous discernible traits such as:

  • Best-in-class achievements—A players are results driven, exhibit consistently excellent performance, and often are award winners
  • Superior problem-solving abilities—A players are quick studies and able to perform complex analysis
  • Outstanding leadership skills—A players not only are self-starters, but also self-leaders; typically, you give them a direction, and then get out of their way; they are highly adaptive, they execute needed change, and they inspire others to higher levels of performance
  • High passion and energy—A players are driven to succeed and work at a fast pace; they will do whatever it takes—within the bounds of ethics—to get the job done.

Having a roster of A players is vitally important to every organization, but none more so than public safety agencies, which every day encounter situations where lives are on the line and every second counts. So, how does one identify the A players in the public safety sector? It all starts with the Topgrading prescreen interview.

The typical phone interview may last 15 to 20 minutes and is a “tire-kicking” exercise—not so with Topgrading. In a Topgrading pre-screen interview—which typically lasts 60 to 90 minutes—the idea is to find out what the tire is made of. The methodology involves probing the candidate, asking them to not only speak about their positive traits and career accomplishments, but also reflect on the challenges they’ve faced throughout their career.

For instance, candidates often are asked to identify what they are not good at professionally. Their response often is along the lines of, “I take on too much,” or “I can’t say ‘no.’” Those are not the answers that should be sought for—those are the answers of the B and C players. Such answers are not surprising—most people are uncomfortable speaking negatively about themselves. Nevertheless, a hiring manager who embraces the Topgrading methodology seeks answers that are real, and even a little painful, and will probe for them. This is not terribly difficult when one is dealing with A players, who readily provide such answers. They instinctively understand that mistakes result in lessons learned that will enable them to become better at what they do—they have an uncanny ability to turn blunders into successes.

The Importance of Vulnerability

Patrick Lencioni, founder of The Table Group, and a noted writer and lecturer on team management, often speaks about the need to embrace vulnerability—his theory is that one cannot become an effective team member unless one makes oneself vulnerable to the group.

A big aspect of the Topgrading prescreen interview is to identify the ideal team players. The ability to do so has less to do with the questions that are asked than the answers that are provided by the candidate. During the interview, the hiring manager always will ask the candidate to speak about his or her accomplishments. B and C players almost exclusively will talk about individual accomplishments.

In contrast, A players will talk as much, if not more, about team accomplishments—these are the people that a public safety agency needs to hire. The hiring manager who embraces the Topgrading methodology listens for answers that speak more to “we” than “me.”

In the next blog, we will explore in depth the Topgrading in-person interview.

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How to Find 'A' Players: Intro to "Topgrading" for Public Safety Leaders

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