3 Steps to Hiring Top Performing Employees

3 Steps to Hiring Top Performing Employees

Did you know that the top 5% of your of your employees produce more than a quarter of your company’s total output?1

If you do the math, top performers produce 400% more than the average employee. So what does this mean for your company? Every time you hire an average employee over a top performer, you’re losing hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost output. Follow these three easy steps to hire more top performers and avoid output loss.

  1.   Know a “Top Performer” When You See One

Clearly define what a top performer is to your business so that you’ll be able to differentiate what top performers look like as opposed to average performers.

Ask yourself:

  • What are the major differences between a top performer and an average employee?  
  • How does a top performer behave?  
  • How does a top performer think?
  • What habits are typically observed in a top performer?

Disclaimer: Your best-performing employee may not necessarily be a top performer. A top performer delivers a level of performance that would rank as “best in the industry”. Consider this when determining if your best-performing employees are, in fact, top performers. You may find you have one or more top performers, or you may find that you have none.

  1.   Use Criteria Predictive of On The Job Performance

The criteria most companies use to evaluate candidates are not typically very predictive of a candidate’s on the job performance. The average job posting will likely read, “ten years of experience and a degree in…”  An interview process will follow in which the interviewer will ask the candidate a variety of questions surrounding their experience and degree.

Asking these kinds of questions might give some insight into the extent of a candidate’s knowledge or skill sets they may possess, but they’re not representative of actual performance ability – and they’re certainly not indicative of whether or not the candidate is a top performer.

Behavioral science tells us that while knowledge and skills are important,  they’ll only go so far. As it turns out, our brains are either wired for top performance, or they’re not.

Our Brain Wiring is Expressed as Talent Themes.  

Simply put, a talent theme is a naturally occurring pattern of thought, feeling, or behavior – and the presence of a specific talent theme in top performers is more predictive of field-specific on the job success than any other factors.

If the job you’re hiring for requires a candidate who has the ability to persuade people, find a candidate who has a natural ability to persuade. You’ll notice that this type of candidate will seemingly be persuading people all day long – even when it isn’t necessary.

Curious to find out what talent theme your brain is wired for? A complete list of the 34 talent themes is available here(2). 

  1.   Pay Attention to Body Language

Behavioral science teaches us something that can be extremely valuable in vetting candidates during the interview process. When you ask someone a question, they will display the genuine emotion they’re feeling for a fraction of a second before they cover their genuine expression with an artificially crafted one to display the emotion they believe you want to see.

A genuine expression will be present for only a fraction of a second – but that’s all it takes.

You use this skill every day.  

In fact, this is the exact same skill that helps you to determine whether or not your children are lying to you. It’s this very skill that clues you into the possibility that people may have been talking about you when you walk into a room as it suddenly falls silent and everyone diverts eye contact. You’ve likely heard of this phenomenon referred to as intuition or gut instinct – and with a little bit of practice, you can become very good at reading people and knowing their true emotions surrounding whatever question you may be asking them.

If you ask a candidate, “Have you ever been fired from a job?”, you might see a brief expression of fear followed by a response like, “No, I’ve never been fired.”

It’s important to note that this sequence of behavior doesn’t directly translate to a confirmation that the candidate is lying. What it does mean is that there is more to the story. In this case, you might present a follow-up question like, “Have you ever nearly been fired?”

Keep asking questions.  You’ll get progressively closer to the real story.

If you suspect that a candidate is telling you what they think you want to hear, this skill will prove helpful in deciphering whether or not they’re showing genuine honesty. If a candidate claims to do well at a certain task, ask them, “Why?” Ask them how the task in question makes them feel. Ask them to provide examples.

If you notice that their eyes widen, they become animated and they readily or excitedly provide several examples of situations in which they felt fulfilled from holding a position in which they were able to successfully complete related tasks, you can feel confident that you’re seeing evidence of a true talent theme.


If you want to hire a top performing employee, learn to define what you’re looking for and what a top performer in that position might look like. Use criteria that are predictive of on the job performance. And finally, practice reading body language during the interview process to confidently differentiate between top performers and lower quality employees.


  1.     O’Boyle, E., Jr., & Aguinis, H. (2012). Top Performers Produce 4x More Output and Higher Quality Referrals. Personnel Psychology. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1744-6570.2011.01239.x.
  2.     Gallup, Inc. (2012, September 22). The Clifton StrengthsFinder 2.0 Technical Report: Development and Validation. Retrieved from http://www.gallup.com/services/176321/clifton-strengthsfinder-technical-report-development-validation.aspx

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Jim Connolly is Founder & CEO of Industry Leading Results. ILR helps companies systematically apply principles of human behavior to improve operational performance and financial results.  

Jim is a sought-after speaker who uses humor to challenge the thinking of his audiences.  Jim understands how people think and uses that knowledge to equip, cajole and inspire audiences.  He has spoken to audiences as large as 1,100 people.

In his consulting practice, Jim helps clients with their most pressing people challenges, including:

  • Eliminating hiring mistakes
  • Reducing employee turnover
  • Underperforming teams – sales teams, project teams, leadership teams
  • Leader performance challenges
  • Resistance to organizational change efforts that are necessary to move the company forward
  • Systematically building toward record-setting and industry-leading performance

Whether it’s a company-wide issue or working with a specific department or team, we know how human behavior works so we know how to improve organizational performance and financial results.  Find out more at www.industryleadingresults.com.