The most talented people build the best companies. It’s that simple. No successful business was built purely on market fit and a ton of investments. People are the #1 asset of any company, its biggest strength or weakness. The concentration of talent per square foot determines the chances for a business to skyrocket. That’s why having as many A-Players in a team as possible is crucial for any company.

Who are A-Players, and why are they so valuable?

An A-Player is an employee who has a 90% chance of performing in the top 10%.

Brad & Geoff Smart

A-Players bring an ownership mindset, self-awareness, intellect, depth, and curiosity to any organization. An A-Player is someone who would be enthusiastically rehired by previous employers. But the chances to find and hire one are slim: they comprise only up to 10% of the labor market in their industry. For an amateur to find an A-Player is a matter of luck, but for a professional sourcer, it’s a result of a defined strategy.

The reality is that your team most likely consists of a mix of A, B, and C-players. But is it possible to create a team where 90% of staff are A-Players? Sounds like a daring dream, but applying the right sourcing strategy, it’s achievable. I would like to share an 11-step guide on how to do it properly.

Step 1. Develop and customize a sourcing strategy for every role

Create and share with the team a document with a sourcing strategy for every role. It should contain:

  • a job description,
  • Q&A and keywords for the role,
  • a list of target companies, meetups, and organizations,
  • search strings,
  • possible role titles,
  • useful search hints.

Describe the steps you take to source potential candidates, but customize it for every individual case. Don’t let this document just sit there. Keep brainstorming with your team on new sources and add updated information.

Step 2. Start your research before meeting a client or hiring manager

Start working on the position before meeting the client or hiring manager. Study the job description and define gaps to ask the person in charge. Thoroughly research the tech stack. Tools like GlossaryTech will be beneficial for this purpose. Find 3-5 relevant candidates to calibrate your search better, and ask for feedback on them from the client. Prepare a list of questions and draft a plan for the meeting. It will help you have a fruitful conversation instead of just nodding along and returning with more and more questions afterward.

Step 3. Schedule an intake meeting with the client or hiring manager

After doing background research, schedule an intake meeting with hiring managers and decision-makers in the company. Ask all kinds of questions, starting from basic (job location, requirements, perfect candidate profiles, companies to source from) to advanced ones (value to a candidate, culture uniqueness, expected outcomes for a new employee). It’s your chance to clarify any confusion, so don’t hesitate to do so. Also, discuss profiles you have sourced for the meeting. A good tip would also be to ask a client or hiring manager how they would describe themself if they were looking for the job in question. It’s a great way to gather relevant keywords and get a sense of the natural language used by candidates.

Step 4. Identify an A-Player

A-Players can be identified by several markers, described below. Of course, not everyone can create a perfect LinkedIn profile or describe their strongest features. Most A-Players don’t even identify themselves as such. That’s why I recommend reaching out to any candidates who meet two or more of the criteria listed below.

  • Product-focused description in their profile. A-Players don’t just list technologies they work with but point out their impact and contribution to the business.
  • Entrepreneurship experience. Starting a company requires a healthy ownership mindset, self-motivation, and self-organization. People who started their own companies understand how business works as a whole and will be a good fit, no matter their business outcomes.
  • Current or recent employers that hire top performers. With experience, you’ll get a sense of companies that have high hiring standards. Keep track of them on the list, and you’ll get a database of companies you can source from.
  • Promotions. A-Players are performance-driven, motivated, innovative, and effective. They believe in self-development and maintain exceptionally high expectations of themselves and others. Hence, they are more likely to be promoted within a company.
  • Three recent employments lasted at least 1,5 years. A-Players must make an impact within a company, and it always takes time. Also, their time commitment to an employer shows that they choose companies with a clear mission and vision, a problem-solving product, and values that coincide with their own.
  • Open source experience. An innate need drives the growth of top performers. They have at least one area of expertise they know profoundly and share their knowledge.
  • Good references. Top-performers love what they do and make an exponential impact on the business and the team. They also know how to build and keep relationships and are likely to receive good references from their employers and colleagues.
  • Volunteer or mentorship experience. A-Players are interested in the success of the group more than their own. Volunteer or mentorship experience is a good indicator of a proactive community-oriented person who will sacrifice their own time or benefit for the success of a team.

Step 5. Brainstorm sourcing ideas

Create lists of target Companies, Schools, Meetups, and Organizations to source from and update them every day. Having a ready-to-go list will dramatically speed up the search process. You could use Owler, Google Search, or tech companies guides to identify target companies. A good lifehack: check-out relevant conferences and their sponsors who are usually companies interested in a particular industry.

Step 6. Make a list of relevant keywords

Compose a list of keywords based on a job description, intake meeting, and surface research. Make sure to include technologies, tools, and natural language phrases. Pay attention to specific words that the candidates use to describe themselves. Come up with as many variations and descriptions as you can, using tools like GlossaryTech or a thesaurus.

For example, to find a candidate who has participated in some coding challenge and won, the list of keywords would include (programming OR coding) AND (competition OR challenge OR contest OR hackathon) AND (won OR selected OR achieved). Avoid general phrases like self-motivated or competent team players that stand for nothing in particular.

Step 7. Check your database

Start your search with the list of former candidates who were among the finalists for past openings but weren’t selected or responsive. Those second-runners, also known as silver and bronze medalists, may have grown enough to be a good fit now. They also may be ready for a change and be more likely to engage this time. Come up with an idea of how to re-engage them. It’s always better to send a message with an update about a company and its product, an invitation for a meetup, or to congratulate the candidate on an achievement. Don’t reach out to those warm contacts out of the blue. Make your message personalized based on the information you already know about the candidate.

Step 8. Stretch your search to alternative channels

Now, when you have all the necessary information, you can start your search. Don’t limit yourself to traditional channels like LinkedIn, GitHub, Google, etc. To advance your sourcing strategy and find unique information about a candidate, go further and include social media, articles, and personal websites. You can also use professional tools like TurboHiring or AmazingHiring that provide necessary resources and contacts.

Information from alternative channels will help you personalize your outreach messages and demonstrate that you genuinely care about the candidate. People appreciate it when recruiters research before sending a message and provide essential points on why the offer would be a perfect match.

Step 9. Outreach smart

  • Compose messages in advance. Prepare one note and two follow-ups to send to a candidate. Be assertive but not annoying. Check your writing using tools like Главред (for Russian) and Grammarly (for English). Don’t trust only your own eyes in this case. Those tools will identify possible mistakes and help you compose a stylistically correct message. They will prevent you from awkward typos that may ruin a connection with a candidate.
  • Remember to follow-up. Don’t rely on your memory for that. Set a reminder to write back to the candidate or use an email automation tool like Yesware. It will not only follow-up with non-responsive candidates but will track open and reply rates. This information will be useful when measuring your results.
  • Outreach through different channels. Don’t limit yourself to one channel. LinkedIn connection and InMail are reliable alternatives to reach out to a candidate.
  • Test your message. Write a couple of variations of the same message, and A/B test them. By measuring and comparing the response rates, you will identify the most effective one and can increase the overall rate in the future.

Step 10. Source continuously

The best practice is to create your database of potential A-Players and update it is as soon as you spot a top-performer. Keep looking for A-Players even if you currently don’t have an opening. Because when you do, it will be easier to have a ready pool of talented people and pull relevant ones out of it. To make this internal search faster, mark your candidates as you add them with appropriate tags (e.g., #python, #marketing)

Step 11. Measure your results

Measuring your results will help you identify the most effective strategy and, if needed, provide a report about the work done to the client or hiring manager. It’s also useful to reflect on your performance to know how you can improve. Here are a few metrics to keep track of:

  • the number of sourced candidates
  • open and reply rates
  • contact to interest ratio
  • interviewed to introduced to a client ratio
  • interviewed to hire ratio

Consider only metrics relevant to your initial inquiry and goal. To determine them, ask yourself what you would like to measure why you need to know it, and how to do it.

Finding and hiring an A-Player is like mining for gold: it looks like a matter of luck but is, in fact, a guaranteed result if you know where and how to look for it. Following the steps described above and adjusting them to your particular case will result in an A-Player hire. It may seem like a tedious process on the surface, but this strategy saves a lot of time and will increase your effectiveness in the long-term.

Sourcing A-Players isn’t just about bringing the most experienced people on board. It’s about finding someone who has high standards of work and performance, a sense of ownership, clear values, flexible and critical thinking, curiosity, and a passion for what they do. The quality of the people in the team determines an organization’s capacity to deliver extraordinary value and exceed customers’ expectations.

Kate Hotsyk is an A-Players Talent Sourcer with more than five years of experience in talent acquisition for start-ups and fast-growing environments. More information at aplayersrecruiting.com.


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