Hire for “Bench Strength,” Not Just for the Job at Hand

Hire Like You Just Beat Cancer Group TeamWhen you’re hiring for a salesperson, don’t hire a salesperson. When you’re hiring an entry-level manager, don’t hire an entry-level manager. When you’re hiring a receptionist, don’t hire a receptionist. Kinda contradictory, eh?

Instead, hire someone who will start as a salesperson and could grow into a sales manager, sales trainer, or more. Hire someone who will be a fine entry-level manager, then grow into a division leader, vice president, or more. And hire a receptionist with the potential to maybe someday fill the role of company president. It’s happened before.

Too often, we hire people whose full potential and ambition are invested in performing the jobs they’re hired for. Then, when we need more from them, they’re not able or willing to go the extra mile.

Your goal should be to have at all times (or be working toward) at least one employee with the skills, personality, character, mapping, ambition, and technical competence to take over your position right away. Without this:

  1. If an opportunity for you to be promoted arises, you could be overlooked because no one else in your company is capable of doing your current job.
  2. Your company will be unable to attain its growth goals quickly, reducing future profits and opportunities for your co-workers to achieve their career goals.
  3. If you are incapacitated for a couple months or longer, the business could be damaged.

I learned that third lesson the hard way when I was diagnosed with cancer. But I was fortunate that we had hired several high-potential people who filled in for me when I was sidelined by my surgery and chemo treatments.

To illustrate the importance of hiring for bench strength, I’ll offer several examples of successful hires who blossomed at our company:

Jon — from Recruiter to Senior Director of Sales

Résumé: Jon had just retired from the Air Force after 20 years of service. As commandant of an Air Force Leadership School, he’d basically been the leader of a school of leaders that taught future leaders.

Why We Hired Jon: Jon became available to us when he was moving his family back to his hometown of Erie, Pennsylvania to be closer to his aging parents. There’s no doubt he was overqualified to be a recruiter. That job includes running employment ads, screening résumés, and conducting pre-employment tests and a brief first interview. Asking why candidate after candidate had left a previous job wasn’t a challenge for this former police investigator. We hired Jon because we had an immediate need for a recruiter and believed he was the kind of leader who could play a key role in our long-term growth plans.

Jon Developed Into: The senior director of sales of our $10 million IT publishing division, helping to grow each team’s sales by developing the people skills of the sales managers who reported to him. At first, salespeople were skeptical of their recruiter-turned-sales-boss, but Jon won them over with his low-key demeanor and servant leadership approach. Don’t believe me? Here are a handful of sales employees’ comments from one of Jon’s recent annual reviews:

  • “If I need someone to talk to, I feel like I can talk to Jon. I like when he’s in our meetings and walks through our cubicles. I truly believe he cares about us and how we’re doing personally as much as professionally.”
  • “He listens. And when he talks, it’s about what is right, not who is right. He is also understanding and realizes not everyone is cut from the same cloth.” 
  • “I never feel like he tries to use his title to get his way. He’s very good at being unbiased — looking at the facts and helping you make a decision on what’s right.”
  • “He treats everyone fairly and with humility. He’s good at speaking with intense candor to get his point across but does it in a way that inspires you to fix the problem.”
  • “Jon provides me the ideal balance of someone that I really enjoy working for, someone I really respect, someone I learn a lot from, and someone that isn’t afraid to point out the areas that people need to work on. Jon is always willing to give me time when I need it, especially when it is an issue he can tell is frustrating me.”
  • “Jon is an exceptional employee and man. Wow, that guy has a strong heart and works his butt off to do what is right and never complains. I always try to look around the office and recognize a trait or two that people have I would like to learn from. With Jon, there are numerous traits.” 

Boy, Am I Glad We: Hired a person with temperance (emotional control), kindness, and fortitude. Sales creates hurricanes of emotions, but Jon’s outstanding character traits helped him achieve business outcomes while taking care of his people. He also saves me time as company president. With Jon on the job, our sales team requires less of my personal personnel intervention.

Ed — from Editor to Publishing Director

Résumé: Ed worked as sports information director at a small private local college and, to make ends meet, tended bar on the weekends. Lots of hours, little pay.

Why We Hired Ed: Ed joined the Jameson team prior to my coming on board, so I take zero credit for hiring him. The company owners hired Ed because of his writing experience and Puritan work ethic. His strong ties to our city and engaging personality were a plus.

Ed Developed Into: A model chief editor and key member of our company’s Steering Committee. At first, Ed didn’t know much about business or the technologies he was tasked to write about. But because of his insatiable intellectual curiosity and roll-up-your-sleeves work ethic, he soon became regarded as an authority in the IT world. Ed didn’t just bang out copy for us; he changed the markets we worked in. Despite a heavy writing workload, he willingly shouldered the burden of launching a second magazine for our company. It was natural to promote him to chief editor of that new publication. And it was natural for Ed to not rest for a moment. Within a couple years of launching the new magazine, he helped lead the charge to spin off another profitable publication. To maximize Ed’s abilities, we moved him into the position of publishing director. In plain language, he’s the supervisor of all our chief editors, providing a seasoned sounding board for their ideas. In his role as a Steering Committee member, we like that Ed’s not just a good thinker, but that his brain is connected to his mouth. He regularly challenges the owners of our company and other senior managers about our business practices and our plans for the future.

Boy, Am I Glad We: Had a mission to grow our company so we could make room for a capable person like Ed. I’m equally glad we found someone with Ed’s rare combination of ambition and humility. Though Ed has been lauded for his accomplishments and invited to speak at numerous national conferences, he’s remained down to earth. It’s pretty cool to see someone of his stature bring to work a plastic food container filled with brisket for an employee who couldn’t pack his own lunch that day.


Disclaimer: The information in this book and on this website is provided with the knowledge that the publisher and author do not offer any legal or other professional advice. In the case of a need for any such expertise, consult with the appropriate professional.

This book and website do not contain all information available on the subject of hiring. This book and website have not been created to be specific to any individual’s or organization’s situation or needs. Every effort has been made to make this book and website as accurate as possible. However, there may be typographical and/or content errors. Therefore, this book and website should serve only as a general guide and not as the ultimate source of subject information.

This book and website contain information that might be dated and is intended only to educate and entertain. The author and publisher shall have no liability or responsibility to any person or entity regarding any loss or damage incurred, or alleged to have been incurred, directly or indirectly, by the information contained in this book or website. You hereby agree to be bound by this disclaimer.

This website uses cookies. We use cookies in order to improve your browsing experience. By continuing to use our site, you consent to the use of cookies.
By proceeding to this website, you also accept our Terms and Conditions of Use and Privacy Policy.