High performers: Recognize good employees when they apply

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B-Player: You’ve all probably worked for one, employed one – or were one yourself. These are the people who come to work and do their job, but never leave their usual path if they don’t have to. B-players are not agents of change or innovation.

Some companies, such as startups in the early stages, prefer to only hire A-people. Larger companies often want a mix of A-players to help build the company and B-players to help them build it. Others have suggested that B-players who make fewer waves are overall better choices for work culture.

The clear difference in the work performance of A and B players is due to their attitude. But regardless of whether you want to filter out B-players when building your team, or are looking for them: It is important to know how you can recognize B-players – and therefore also A-players – in the application process. Here are five signs that could indicate that an applicant is a B-player.

1. A-players show intellectual curiosity

“Intellectual curiosity opens the door to discovery, which leads to learning, which in turn leads to problem solving,” observed Kelsey Ocasio-Christian, former head of the health practice at Kearney, an international management consultancy.

“Some projects are more glamorous than others. Not every job is as exciting as launching a life-saving new treatment with a pharmaceutical company, “Ocasio-Christian told in October 2019.

The strongest junior staff will always find something to learn – even with boring tasks. For example, when optimizing a supply chain. “The commitment of B employees will decrease because it is not their dream project,” said Ocasio-Christian. “They’ll try less and that prevents them from developing the problem-solving skills they need to work on an equal footing with more committed colleagues.”

Anyone can cultivate intellectual curiosity if they just want to. For example, A-Player candidates will ask questions about how things work in an interview. The B-player may have superficial questions about the job but are not looking for a deeper understanding of it.

2. A players appreciate the achievements of others

Seeing and recognizing exceptional achievements in others is a matter of course for A-players. B players, on the other hand, cannot or do not want to recognize this. Sometimes their defense mechanisms kick in and they try to minimize the extraordinary achievements of others.

They tend to attribute the performance of a colleague to circumstances, luck, or external factors. Admitting that someone has been more efficient in secret, coming up with a better idea, or being more creative than they are, requires them to face their own shortcomings – which many B-players don’t.

In the job interview, bosses can use direct questions about their own successes and those of colleagues to sense how someone thinks in this regard.

3. A-players take on challenges and take risks

A B player is a comfort zone player. B players have no intrinsic drive to overcome obstacles in order to grow. Instead, they perceive the opportunity to face a challenge as annoying, stressful, risky or threatening.

For example, a B-player at an advertising agency is unlikely to volunteer to lead a new project with a difficult client; that would feel dangerous to him. In the same difficult situation, an A-player would immediately take this chance to test himself, improve his skills and prove he can handle it.

So while A-players welcome changes, B-players do not – whether due to a lack of commitment, insecurity or indolence. If a candidate shows no signs of taking risks, you may be dealing with a B-player who prefers the most comfortable and safest route.

4. A-players apply their knowledge to new situations

The ability to apply knowledge also means understanding what has been learned – and not just being able to memorize it. In order to gain a deep understanding, however, you have to get involved, and only a few people, the top performers, are willing to invest a lot here.

For example, Erica Tingley, former head of investment banking at Merrill Lynch, asks, during interviews with bank candidates, “If a company increases depreciation, how will it affect its financial statements?”

She then tests problem-solving skills by asking: “What conditions could lead to an increase in depreciation? Why could that happen? “

In an interview with, Tingley explained the background to these questions: A candidate who struggles to think through scenarios and come up with ideas may not be able to synthesize information, see what is important, and then clear the results communicate.

5. A players don’t rely on big names alone

B-players are more likely to rely on labels and brand names, such as Google or Harvard, to rate a person or company when searching in a professional context. But even if these brands have a certain meaning: They don’t always say a lot about the specific job or performance. A players, on the other hand, prefer to go into depth and actually research, instead of using labels or brand names as a guarantee for something.

For example, let’s say a local restaurant manager hires Deloitte, a world-class consultancy firm, to advise on a financial matter. He chooses Deloitte because they’re a well-known brand – but doesn’t consider whether his company might benefit more from a smaller, more specialized, local company without a big name. Ultimately, he overpays because he hired Deloitte for the brand name and not for its suitability for his specific needs.

Using labels and marks as a substitute for actual information is an abbreviation that B players like to use. A question about why the applicant wants to work in this company can provide an answer to their attitude towards it.

If you are a B player yourself, it can be helpful to challenge yourself

Since the characteristics of B-players relate more to attitude than skill, they are easy to spot. If you are looking for A-players, look out for these signs.

What if you are the B player yourself at the moment? A change of scenery could be exactly what you need to arouse curiosity, build self-confidence and get your inner A-game going. Challenge yourself to think honestly about what negative habits you have – and how you can exchange them for positive traits.

This text has been translated from English. You can find the original here.


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