10 Hiring Secrets of Famous Coaches

To Our Readers: This week, TLNT is continuing our annual tradition by counting down the 35 most popular posts of this past year. This is No. 19. Our regular content will return Wednesday January 2, 2013.


Tried-and-true recruiting and interviewing tactics are great, as long as they keep on working.

But would you know, really, if they weren’t? How can we imagine the team we didn’t build, or gauge the hypothetical performance of the passed-over candidate who seemed too anxious? We can’t, and that’s why recruiting and hiring decisions are so important.

It’s time for a little expert advice. We don’t mean the traditional gurus, like motivational speakers, life coaches or even the head honchos at highly successful companies. We’re talking about the people who live and die by their hiring decisions: professional sports coaches.

These men and women know that the team they assemble is what determines success or failure, and that’s why they take recruiting and hiring more seriously than possibly anyone else on the planet. So to help you channel some of their hard-won wisdom into your employee selection process, we’ve tracked down 10 inspiring quotes from the coaching greats.

Read on, and perhaps these pearls of wisdom will inform your own future hiring decisions.

1. “The measure of who we are is what we do with what we have.”Vince Lombardi.

Not all achievements are equal. An applicant who inherited Dad’s business and ran it for a while is different from an applicant who built a business plan of his own while acing college and working two jobs. To gauge a candidate’s true potential, don’t just look at where he’s standing. Look at the road he walked to get there.

2. “Putting on the same jerseys doesn’t make a team. You’re still just a collection of individuals until you find a common goal.”Harry Sinden

While conducting an interview, ask yourself the following question: “If this candidate wasn’t interviewing with me right now, where would he be?” Would he be at home working on the stuff your business specializes in? Would she be interviewing with a competitor for a job in the same field?

Perhaps this person would be talking with a completely different company in a totally different field, hoping to get the gig by simply charming the pants off of HR. Look for applicants who share a passion for what you do and who’d continue to do it with or without you. Basically, don’t settle for people who settle.

3. “An acre of performance is worth a whole world of promise.Red Auerbach.

Promises are easy, but results are tough. Instead of basing your hiring decisions exclusively on the interview and resume, dream up something that’s a little more concrete. A pre-interview task is a great way to gauge a candidate’s aptitude.

For example, you could ask a would-be creative director to pitch a campaign to a mock client. Actions speak louder than words, so stir some up. Round one of the employee selection process goes to the candidates who impress you the most.

4. I guess more players lick themselves than are ever licked by an opposing team. The first thing any man has to know is how to handle himself.” Connie Mack.

Want your hiring program to be successful? Then it’s time to start asking your applicants about their failures instead of just their achievements. Get them to tell you about a time they screwed up, what they did about it and how they view the experience now.

Look for applicants who can acknowledge their mistakes and still remain positive, despite their setbacks. Self-sabotaging applicants who display even a mildly defeatist attitude will bring that same attitude to your business, and that’s something you definitely don’t need.

5. “Management must speak with one voice. When it doesn’t management itself becomes a peripheral opponent to the team’s mission.” – Pat Riley.

It’s as true in business as it is in basketball: in order to succeed as a team, management needs to be on the same page. That’s why it’s important to meet before interview time to discuss what you’re looking for in a candidate. Be sure to keep detailed notes during each round of interviews. When your team works together on hiring decisions, you’ll choose employees who mesh.

6. “The only thing I believe is this: A player does not have to like a manager and he does not have to respect a manager. All he has to do is obey the rules.” — Sparky Anderson.

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You won’t come to think of every new hire as a son or daughter, but that doesn’t mean these same applicants can’t do outstanding work. So during your interview, ask candidates about a time they butted heads with a member of upper management. How did they handle it? Their answer will tell you a lot about what you can expect down the road.

7. “There’s always the motivation of wanting to win. Everybody has that. But a champion needs, in his attitude, a motivation above and beyond winning.”Pat Riley.

If all an applicant wants from you is a paycheck, all you’ll get back is work that’s “good enough.” Look for a candidate who’s deeply interested in the work, a person who has been a lifetime supporter or your brand or industry, an applicant who views his job as a calling instead of just a meal ticket. That’s how to find an employee who’s just as invested in your company as your company is in him.

8. “Coaches who can outline plays on a black board are a dime a dozen. The ones who win get inside their player and motivate.”Vince Lombardi.

Interviews aren’t just for deciding who you will and won’t hire. They’re your first chance to get inside your new employee’s head and find out what makes him or her tick. So ask why they  chose to apply, why they want to work for the company, and even why why they selected their major in college.

Go beyond this by designing questions aimed at unearthing the candidate’s values, interests and even pet peeves. Don’t get too personal, but do try to see the whole person. When you better understand your employees’ motivations, you’ll be better able to motivate your workforce.

9. “No baseball pitcher would be worth a darn without a catcher who could handle the hot fastball. – Casey Stengel.

Your future employee is not an island, so don’t treat them like one. When you’re making hiring decisions, don’t just analyze how a candidate will perform alone – think of how he’d fit in a team. Don’t just think of what your business needs – think about what each department and the employees in it need.

Is your sales team looking for a strong leader or someone who knows how to take direction? Questions like these will help you find the right person for your team, not just for the position.

10. “I gave it my body and mind, but I have kept my soul.” — Phil Jackson.

Every candidate wants to tell you what you want to hear, but employees with true integrity will know where to draw the line. To make sure you don’t hire a “yes man,” ask applicants what they don’t like about your company and what they’d change if they were in charge. The more honest they are in the interview, the more honest they’ll be throughout their career.

Following your own style when it comes to making hiring decisions has brought you this far, and hopefully it’s a good place. But there’s always room for growth, and when that’s the case – in life or in business – a fresh perspective is usually the key.

So the next time you’re running an interview, remember that the world of sports actually does have something to say about recruiting success and hiring success.

Quotations like these remind us of something deep, something that’s easy to forget. When we’re recruiting and when we’re hiring, zoom out, see the big picture and put the team first.