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5 Ways to Recognize the Best Person for the Job

Learn how to make spotting greatness your superpower

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A woman using a magnifying glass

It’s easy to find great people if you know what to look for — created in Dalle 3

When I was 35, well before I could afford it, I bought a high-performance BMW M3 convertible. The prized high-performance M badge was fake, as I failed to discover during my tire-kicking evaluation. And during the test drive, I also failed to discover a loud humming noise at highway speed, because I had the radio cranked up for the entire ride.

A day after buying the car, during a break between songs, I finally noticed this annoying noise. I took my new car back to the mechanic who had certified it for the seller, and asked, “How could you certify this car when it has this humming?”

“The car drives fine,” he said. “What do I know from humming noises?”

“What am I supposed to do now?” I asked.

His response? “Crank up the radio when you drive the car.”

I proceeded to take the car to three different repair shops where I got estimates from $1500 to $4500 to fix the noise. And three different guesses as to what was causing the problem. It was my axle. It was my engine. It was a warped chassis.

Over a beer I complained to a friend, “I don’t think any of them know what’s wrong with the car. Now I have to drive below the speed limit or play the radio at full volume all the time. I’m getting a headache.”

My friend said, “You’re in luck — I know a mechanic that specializes in BMWs. He’s in my hometown, a couple of hours from here.”

The next day, I pulled off a country road into a gravel driveway fronting a dilapidated-looking garage. An older gentleman, wearing overalls, emerged from the garage wiping his hands on a dirty towel. I rolled down my window and described the problem.

He stopped, looked at me for a moment, then said, “Get out.”

I got out. He got into the convertible and went peeling away onto the road, accelerating fast. I stood there wondering whether my car had just been stolen. Was he even a mechanic? But he soon reappeared, skidded back onto the driveway, and stepped out of the car.

He said, “Your left rear wheel has a broken ball bearing.”

“And how much is it going to cost to fix this ball bearing?”

He crossed his arms and looked away, like he was doing math in his head. I steeled myself for his response.

He said, “I already have the part. It’ll be $25.”

Twenty minutes and $25 later, I was driving back home in blessed silence. So. I cranked up the radio to celebrate.

Author's daughter in a BMW convertible

My daughter, loving that not-so-great BMW convertible - photo by author

The Difference Between Okay and Great

That’s the difference between people who can just do a job and people who are great. When somebody is great, they’re a million times better than someone who is just okay. That was a great mechanic.

I’ve started six companies, including Audiobooks.com, which I sold for mid-eight figures a few years ago. In my 40 years of being a successful entrepreneur, it have found five key traits that differentiate the best from the merely okay. And these traits are easy to spot.

The Best People Are Fast

The best people are fast, like my BMW mechanic. They don’t do unnecessary things. They don’t want to waste time.

When I hired my first software developer at Audiobooks.com, he sent me a sample of his work. He was into cars and had created a website that let you search and compare the performance statistics for any given make or model. What astounded me about the site was how fast it was. No delay between pressing Enter and the screen refreshing with the results.

I asked him about the speed and he gave me an explanation about pre-loading results, predictive logic, and a string of acronyms. The explanation went right over my head. I hired him anyway. He single-handedly built the first version of our website in two months, a minor miracle.

The Best People Are Right More Often Than They’re Wrong

The very best people will sometimes disappoint you. But far more often, they’ll surprise and please you. Nobody is 100% awesome all the time. It’s the ratio that’s important. It should be 100 parts “wow” for every 1 part “oops.”

My wife loves to offer her navigation expertise from the passenger seat — it’s like having a GPS that questions my life choices. But for each, “Why are we going this way?”, there are 100 things she says and does when we’re not in the car that make me adore her. Packing a suitcase? Helping the kids with school projects? Being my better half at social engagements? I bow to her greatness.

In my first marriage, there were lots of positive moments, but just as many negative ones. It’s easy to get taken in by the good times, and hope you’ll get more of them. But if the ratio isn’t 100 to 1 greats to berates, you don’t have a relationship, you have a therapist’s retirement plan.

The Best People Have Experience That Can’t Be Taught

Formal training is great, but the best people have life and professional experience that goes beyond what you can learn in school.

My Cornell MBA taught me jack-squat about actually starting and running a business. After receiving my degree I ran two companies into the ground before I learned enough to pilot the third one to a nice payout.

My accountant advises me when reviewing my annual tax submission, “For every line on this return, there’s what the government wants you to say, there’s what most people say, and there’s what you can get away with.” They didn’t teach him that in school, I guarantee you. I get away with a lot.

Great people are engaged and curious. When I ask my chiropractor about the value of a calcium supplement, he doesn’t say, “I don’t know.” He says, “I don’t know, but I’ll find out.”

Great people never stop learning. My business partner at Audiobooks.com went from film school to writing email campaigns to developing a movie search engine to audiobook publishing to crypto investing. Now he’s working on a secret AI project. Yeah, you wish you could invest in him.

The Best People Can Be Trusted

The best people are honest and can be trusted to tell you the unvarnished truth, like my BMW mechanic who didn’t inflate the price of a part.

When I was looking into selling my downtown condo, I called my real estate agent and he said, “I know I’m arguing against my own interests, but I think you should lease the condo until the market picks up.” He was already a good agent, but by saying that, he became great.

The retail salesperson who tells me that the most expensive sound system isn’t worth the premium — I’ll seek them out the next time I’m in the store. The server who tells me to order the salmon, but the branzino isn’t as fresh — I’ll trust them when they recommend a wine.

The truth you want includes the bad and the good.

The Best People Won’t Come to You

When I was still running Audiobooks.com, I was cold-called several times by self-proclaimed merger & aquisition (M&A) specialists offering to sell my company for me. One of them even said, “I already have a buyer, just pay me the consulting fee and a commission once it’s sold.”

I fell for it and $75,000 in consulting fees went down the drain. He didn’t have a buyer. He didn’t have a network. Instead, he spent six months cold-calling potential acquirers who all said no.

A few years later, I was ready to sell. This time I asked a mentor for advice. “The best M&A firms will never cold call you,” he told me. “They’re too busy doing deals. You have to find someone with the experience you need, and then convince them to work for you.”

I was eventually referred to Patrick Manion, a Canadian operating in Silicon Valley, ideal for my Canadian company operating in the US. I had to talk him into taking on my business as it was at the low end of his deal range.

Within six months, he’d managed to sell the company for double what I was hoping to get, and the terms of the deal he negotiated gave me a 50% bonus when the company got sold again a few years later.

My son plays hockey. He wants to become a better goalie. A coach told me about a trainer named Freddie, so I called Freddie and left a message. No answer. I sent him texts and an email. No answer. Eventually, I managed to set up a conversation with him through a mutual contact. He said he didn’t have any openings, so I said I’d take cancellations.

Two weeks later, my son was finally invited to a session. Freddie charged 50% more than my son’s previous trainer and drilled him as if he’d never been on skates before. When he came off the ice an hour later, my son said to me, “Do whatever you have to do. I love this guy.”

How to Get Great at Spotting Greatness

You can learn to spot greatness by looking for these five traits when you need to get a job done. You can even become great by internalizing and demonstrating these traits yourself.

  1. They’re Fast — If someone takes too long negotiating a contract, if they dither over a response to a question, they’re not great. Find someone who knows what they’re doing and doesn’t waste your time.

  2. They’re Consistently Good — If someone upsets you as often as they please you, that’s not greatness, no matter how good the good days are. Pay attention to the ratio. 100 to 1, 10 to 1… but not 1 to 1.

  3. They’re Curious — If someone gives you unoriginal responses and textbook answers to your problems, they’re not great. The best people can’t be replaced by chatGPT. Not yet. Maybe not ever.

  4. They’re Trustworthy— If someone won’t tell you the pros as well as the cons about themselves and about what they’re selling, then you can’t trust them. They’re not great.

  5. They’re Scarce — If someone cold calls you? They’re not great. The best people will reach you through a referral, or you’ll have to hunt them down.

Go find your great people. And once you find them, make sure you’re great at holding on to them. Pay them well, and tell them they’re doing a great job. Give them autonomy in their area of expertise. Let them be great.

Do you have your own method for spotting greatness or for recognizing the best person for the job? Be great and let me know so I can add examples to this article in the future.

I write so I can connect with my readers. You can reach me by responding to this email, by commenting on my website, or by responding to the poll below.

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