How Steve Jobs Hired his team of a+ players

Steve Jobs on hiring the Best Employees Jpeg

The raison d'etre of management is to increase employee performance.

So what role does hiring staff take in the manager’s responsibilities? Can hiring be outsourced to HR or recruitment agencies? Former co-founder of Apple Inc. Steve Jobs considered hiring the best employees, your most important job. That's why hiring is one of the foundational managerial skills. And this is how he hired.

But he's not the only one who goes to great measures to hire the best:

  • This is how Richard Branson looks at the person behind the resume,
  • This is why Google has opted for behavioral interview questions over brainteasers and,
  • These are some of the bizarre interview techniques that Zappos uses to ensure that candidates are a good culture fit.

Steve Jobs Perfection - For His Team

Steve Jobs was an amazing and unconventional leader in many respects. How did he become one of the best entrepreneurs and respected leaders of our time? Steve Jobs is known to be a product  design perfectionist. But what isn’t so well known is that he applied as much perfectionism in designing his team.

Steve Jobs never compromised with the talents and qualifications required of his employees. Steve Jobs believed that hiring employees was the most important thing he did. He managed all the employee hiring for his team; never delegating it. He personally interviewed over 5,000 applicants during his career. This extensive employee hiring experience has led him to conclude that, “Recruiting is hard.” If recruiting is hard for Steve Jobs then I think it’s pretty safe to say it’s not going to be easy for every day managers like you and me. But we can also learn from what he did

The Difference Between Average and The Best

In his quest for the best, Steve Jobs has left us bits of wisdom about how to hire employees and retain the best talent. In his book, Leading Apple with Steve Jobs, author and former Apple senior vice president Jay Elliot details his former boss's strategies for hiring what Jobs called “A-list players.” It's no co-incidence that he hired current Apple superstars - CEO Tim Cook or design Icon Jonny Ives. And this is how he hired.

Steve Jobs Quote jpeg

Steve Jobs’ Top Hiring Tip - Hire the Best

What does this mean for everyday managers?

Getting the best person for the job means:

  • Knowing what skills are important for the job,
  • Rigorous testing of those skills and;
  • Comparing candidates against each other to choose the best.

Hiring The Best Makes Managing Easy

To say that Steve Jobs achieved his goal of hiring the best people would be a gross understatement. Walter Isaacson quotes Jobs as saying, "I've learned over the years that, when you have really good people, you don't have to baby them. By expecting them to do great things, you can get them to do great things. The original Mac team taught me that A-plus players like to work together, and they don't like it if you tolerate B work."

Take a minute and look at the people around you. Are they A-players? Or are they B and C-players? A-players are motivated, engaged and creative. They are performance-driven and have high expectations for themselves and for others. B and C-players, on the other hand, often do just enough to get by and to be paid for it. 

The wisdom for every day managers is: If you are working hard to cover up employee performance shortfalls. Often the root cause is because the wrong people were hired to your team.  Managing people is frustrating and few bosses get training on hiring. That's why I've made the program. It shows you how to improve employee performance in just an hour a week, including how to hire the best employees for the job.

Hiring The Best Employee for the Job is a Manager Skill

As a manager you might be thinking that hiring isn’t an important manager skill. For most managers it’s not something that you do often. So why invest time refining a manager skill that’s seldom utilized? 

Steve Jobs has a simple answer, “I disagree totally. I think it's the most important job.” And we support this 100%. People are an organizations most valuable asset. Hiring the best is crucial for improving employee performance and productivity, employee engagement and employee retention. That makes hiring is the most important manager skill. Hiring is a big commitment. But interviewing provides very limited information for managers to make such an important decision. The problem is most managers use generic interview questions like "where do you see yourself in five years" That's why it's important to use The Best Interview Questions to Ask Job Candidates.

The lesson I take away from this is hiring is an important manager skill but managers don’t get much practice at refining this skill. This is one reason why hiring is difficult and often results in disappointments. 

Steve Jobs on the Importance of the Recruitment Process

The hiring process is difficult and time-consuming. As a manager with a busy schedule you may also be thinking that you just don’t have the time to invest in recruitment processes

Once again Steve Jobs puts things into perspective. “Assume you're by yourself in a start-up and you want a partner. You'd take a lot of time finding the partner, right? He would be half of your company. Why should you take any less time finding a third of your company or a fourth of your company or a fifth of your company? When you're in a start-up, the first ten people will determine whether the company succeeds or not. Each is 10% of the company. So why wouldn't you take as much time as necessary to find all the A-players? If three were not so great, why would you want a company where 30% of your people are not so great? A small company depends on great people much more than a big company does.” 

How the everyday manager can put this into practice is by avoiding the temptation to hire the first warm body that comes along and stick to the recruitment process. For example – don’t skip the reference check!

Conclusion - What Can We Learn About Hiring From Steve Jobs

Like Steve Jobs, I consider hiring the single most important manager activity to get right. You could argue that the ability to hire good employees to be the most important manager skill. But I also know how difficult it is to get a great hire. And it’s all too easy for a bad hire to slip through the hiring process. Managers don’t get much chance to practice their hiring skills. Steve Jobs got so good at hiring because he interviewed over 5000 applicants. Although even he made some hiring mistakes in the beginning. 

I think Steve Jobs makes a good case that hiring the right employees is the best investment of your manager time. But hiring the right employees can be time consuming and error prone. What every manager can apply is:

  1. Don't shortcut the recruitment process and thoroughly test candidates to pick the best,
  2. Know how to spot bad hires and,
  3. Once you hire someone make sure they don't turn into a bad hire.

When you do this you will end up with a team of A-team employees who will make managing easy. 

Because hiring is a vital skill but so few managers ever get taught how to hire, I've created Hiring for Performance (HIRE101) system that you can get here.

The Forgotten Steps - Employee Onboarding for Performance

The hiring process doesn’t end when the ink is dry on the employment contract. If you don’t want your new hire to turn into a bad hire then don’t forget to onboard them for performance. This is a manager process to set performance expectations and integrate the new hire into the organization. Read more here. 



Here's some food for thought. Hiring is a costly process. There are obvious costs like recruitment fees. But add in manager time, training and waiting for the employee to get up to speed and it’s not far off an annual salary. Ditto when things go wrong. The total cost of a bad hire is a minimum of 25% of their salary but could be over one and a half times their annual cost.  So is it worth the time, pain and cost of hiring someone new to replace your bad employee? What if I told you that there is an easy and time-efficient management technique that you can use to engage your employees, improve productivity and make managing easy.


Do you know that regular, high quality one-on-ones with your employees are the single easiest management practice. Do one-on-ones right and not only can you can take care of almost all your management responsibilities in one go but you will also:

  • Improve employee engagement,
  • Boost productivity,
  • Build better relationships with your staff.

That's why I made a mini-course on one-on-ones (including a one-on-one template with a one-on-one meeting agenda) which will show you 3 Easy Steps 2 1 on 1's. What I expect you'll find is that you already know some of the content on some type of level but maybe you're not putting it into practice. This will help. As I say this is essential for new managers and helpful for experienced managers.

The Hiring and Interviewing Series

This is part of the Interviewing and Hiring Series. This series covers how managers can increase employee performance through hiring better employees. And how managers can avoid common hiring mistakes.

Topics in the Series Include:

Boss Camp

Boss Camp will show you how to improve employee performance in just an hour a week, by showing you what they never taught you in school. The program includes topics such as:

  • How to motivate employees,
  • What are bad employee motivators,
  • What you must do as a manager but isn't on your job description,
  • How leaders get power,


How do you hire staff - what are your best tips to get the best employees? Help the rest of us out by sharing in the comments below.