Clarification of the “No A-hole” Policy

Kurt Wilkin

A Conscious Leader’s Secret to Building a Great Team

It may seem obvious, but “conscious hiring”—finding like-minded people who are ready to do good things—takes real effort, but can pay off in spades.

We’ve all heard of the “No A-holes Policy” in business. And most of us have a version of it in place. As a general, unwritten rule, you don’t want to work with jerks. You let people know that you won’t work with jerks—and you certainly don’t want to hire them.

At HireBetter, when it comes to clients, candidates, vendors, and especially our own team, I like to point to the concept of conscious leadership, or servant leadership, because it resonates with me. A conscious leader is someone who has a purpose higher than themselves. They work to better those around them, whether it’s members of their team, the constituency they serve, or the community they live and work in. We want to work with companies that are driven by purpose, not simply the bottom line.

But at the end of the day, it seems easier to just say, “We don’t want to work with A-holes.” And never is that more important than when it comes to hiring. Allow me to explain.

A Few Bad Apples
This was not a realization we came to overnight. When I first bought HireBetter, we pretty much took on any and every client that came through the door. We were running a business and we figured every dollar of revenue was a good dollar. I’m sure many of you can relate. Most of the people we worked with were amazing. They helped us as much as we helped them. But some of them were just bad people. They treated us poorly, they were rude, and they acted like we were lucky to be working with them.

Worst of all, when we finally found a candidate who the client liked and wanted the opportunity, their working relationship was often doomed to failure. To make matters worse, my team HATED working with these clients. My recruiters recruit candidates out of other companies to place them—and they build relationships with the candidates in the process. So when a client company turns out to be a bad actor, it sucks for all involved. My team is frustrated, the candidate quits, and the client is mad because their employee quits.

Over time, we realized that these companies are often led by—you guessed it—A-holes. And when a company is led by a bad person with toxic behaviors, those behaviors often permeate throughout the organization. When there’s a culture of arrogance, disrespectfulness, aggressiveness, and other unacceptable behaviors, it poisons the work environment for everyone.

We came to the realization that we simply didn’t need to work with those types of people. Or, to put it more accurately: We couldn’t work with those types of people.

Our model is, by necessity, collaborative. We work with clients to strategically understand, plan for, and solve their talent challenges. We seek out the absolute best candidates, most of whom are gainfully employed and aren’t looking for a job. We build relationships throughout the search process, from start to finish. Once a hiring decision has been made, we work with clients and their new hires to ensure alignment throughout the onboarding process. At every step of the way, collaboration is an absolute must!

In order to attract candidates that fit into your company’s positive and welcoming culture, you’ve got to have, well, a positive and welcoming culture. And honestly, when we find a stellar candidate, we don’t want to place him or her in a situation that sucks.

As a result, we try to be very selective when it comes to choosing the clients with whom we work. I like to think that our policy goes deeper than saying we don’t work with jerks. As I mentioned above, I often refer to the concept of conscious leadership. In addition to those traits, we identify conscious leaders by their humility, their willingness and desire to collaborate early and often—and honestly, the way they treat everyone they meet in their daily lives.

Conscious leaders create positive environments that allow team members to thrive. They build a culture and community at work that employees believe in. These types of companies are easy for us to work with. We work together to strategically solve their talent challenges, and we typically don’t have trouble finding all-star candidates who love working in these organizations.

The exact opposite is true of companies with toxic cultures. In today’s highly competitive, candidate-driven market, companies run by A-holes will have trouble attracting and retaining talent. The funny thing is, good candidates can usually tell when they’re being interviewed by a jerk. And when they have multiple opportunities, why would they choose the one with a bad environment?

Be Conscious in Your Hiring
It’s easy to see that company culture starts at the top of the organization. But once you’ve committed to the ideas of conscious leadership, it doesn’t just make the bad apples go away. How do you avoid them? How do you build a team of like-minded people who are ready to do good things?

The best way to answer these questions is to apply the concepts of conscious leadership to every level of your organization—especially the hiring process. Think of it as conscious hiring.

No one wants to hire a candidate who is a bad person. But by being conscious of your needs, your culture, and what type of person completes your team, throughout the hiring process, you can not only avoid the jerk, but actually find the right person.

Conscious hiring starts before you even have an open position. Your company culture is vitally important to you—so take time to instill it in your team members. When you plan for the future, assess what types of people have principles that align with your greater purpose. When you have an opening, find people that fit that mold. And DO NOT settle!

In today’s job market, there are plenty of great jobs available to all-star candidates. It can be tempting to settle for the first person who checks the boxes and says yes. Don’t! In the interview, you don’t need a conversational version of their resume. Lay out your vision for the candidate—and see how they respond. You need to get to know them. How do they see themselves? What motivates and drives them? What is their greater purpose? Do their values align with the organization’s. You should be able to tell, because there’s no BS-ing on big-picture questions—you may have found the right fit!

Still in doubt? Find out how they treat others when they think they aren’t being watched. Are they kind and gracious to your receptionist? Did they demean your executive assistant? These are just a few of the ways we find out what kind of candidate we’re interviewing.

Once you’ve added the perfect candidate to your team, you’re not done! Conscious hiring demands a robust onboarding program to ensure that new hires feels welcome, knows their expectations, and gets acclimated to the team as quickly as possible. You want your new superstar integrated into the team and your culture as quickly as possible.

Being conscious during the hiring process goes beyond the traditional No A-holes Policy. Rather than excluding people you don’t like, it requires you to go out and find people you love. It makes you reassess yourself, your company, and the way you look at the culture of your business.

HireBetter’s Policy in Practice
It took us some time to recognize the potential of conscious hiring. We dealt with some real A-holes at our clients and even at HireBetter. Sometimes those employees happened to be high performers, before their toxicity made the situation unbearable. Toxic environments are detrimental to my recruiting team, as well as the candidates with whom we build relationships. Even if we “successfully” place a candidate, bad environments never work out in the long run.

Working with bad-actor companies just isn’t viable for us. So we now choose to work with companies and people who espouse, or at least aspire to follow, the concepts outlined above. When my team is mistreated, or candidates feel that they are being abused during the process, we listen. We have fired clients before and have actually advised a candidate not to take a position before, when it became obvious to us the true character of the company.

In the grand scheme of things, our purpose isn’t to put a warm body in a seat. Nor should you. We want to impact lives by connecting and empowering good people to build great companies. I especially like the “good people” part, which directly translated means… “no A-holes!” We encourage leaders to make hiring a best practice by taking a strategic approach to talent, participate heavily in the vetting and interviewing of candidates, and oversee the onboarding process to ensure a smooth transition for everyone involved.

So what’s your policy? Let me know at!

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