Recruitment: How we have (RADICALLY) changed the workplace by recruiting only “A-Players” (… and what we’ve learned along the way)

The people who find a way to cure the worst diseases are not tired and jaded researchers… they are passionate men and women. Take, for example, those working to send people to Mars right now (Hello! Elon Musk… ✌ ) or those who are obsessed with inventing new ways to produce energy that respects our planet… Do you think that they are motivated by a big check at the end of the month or by the opportunity to have a few more days off more than their neighbors ? NO, obviously. The common point between all these people is that they are the best at what they do and that they have the opportunity to put these unique talents to work for a cause that matters more than anything else to them.

Think about it for just 30 seconds… imagine for a moment that each of the 7 billion people on this planet were allowed to discover what their natural talents are; what they do better than anyone else. Imagine that each of them could find a job (or carry out an activity) that allows them to have a positive impact on the world… an unprecedented impact. Can you imagine what this world could look like ?

It is with this in mind 3 years ago, AssessFirst chose to reinvent the work-space. We turned our business “upside-down” (while the business turned pretty well for us…). Then we returned everything “rightside-up” so we could establish our true differences.

Today – only 3 years later – the company has enjoyed unprecedented success. By positioning AssessFirst in the predictive recruitment segment, our turnover has increased by more than 54% in 2016 (+200 new customers including VISA in the USA, Toyota in Morocco, Leroy Merlin in Russia and BHV Marais in France, just to name a few). And we expect to beat our growth records again this year!

What I would like to share with you today is how we went about setting up a comfortable business and organizing ourselves in order to build a business with – what we hope works now more than ever- a truly global reach.

Rule #1 – Identify what you really want.

Not everyone is ready to make a unique contribution to the world. Listen: Yes, we all want to feel special and have an extraordinary impact. But how many of us are really able to put forth everything we need (in terms of effort, personal sacrifice and extended work hours…) to achieve this goal?

First thing you need to do is create a specific goal and think about all the work required to achieve said goal. Are you ready to turn your business “Upside-Down” to move on to the next step? Are you ready to sacrifice the secure feeling you get from your profitable business that you’ve built for 3, 5, 10 or 15 years? To put yourself “on the spot” in a less comfortable situation for a unique perspective to arrive? Or only if all goes to plan – get a workplace projected to multiply by 10, 100, or 1,000… in only a few years (without a 100% guarantee)?


Rule #2 – Only recruit A-Players! (#NoCompromise)

An exceptional mission, an exceptional team! If you decide to develop and advance your company, there’s no way to work with people out of the loop. You will certainly have a good time together (at least in the beginning), but we all know: you don’t get to the top by just having a good time.

The bigger the challenge, the more you will have to focus on recruiting so-called “A-Players”, those first class players who can solve complex problems, demonstrate commitment without fault and stick to the course when the going gets tough. You don’t want a guy who will stumble at the first hurdle.

As far as we are concerned, here is the “A-Players” profile that we’ve targeted:

  • Higher intellectual capacities (we systematically aim for the 2% who are better and faster than the rest of the planet).
  • Dynamic motivations (we only integrate people who are able to plough through and get out of their comfort zone.) We recruit people who play to win… Not those who play to avoid losing.
  • At the top is personal leadership and the ability to deal with chaos (we know that the path will have twists and turns; we need men and women who are #Stable).

To recruit them, we proceeded in a very methodical way:

  • We gave their resumes 0 credibility (besides we didn’t read the majority sent to us).
  • Instead, we systematically evaluated each person’s personal talents thanks to our predictive analytics solution.
  • We considered those who did not complete the entire process wouldn’t get on board… (It was a bit radical, but it was our decision).
  • We applied a drastic filter to the selection of different profiles that we collected (beyond 60%, they passed. Below that, they failed).

Note that the threshold value was set at 60% and not at 100%. We are ultra demanding and consequently a little crazy… but not unrealistic. We KNOW that the human being is capable of adapting and that the environment we created (a workplace with an unusual demand and impact) can have a catalytic effect on everyone… we value diversity more than anything.

For some info, here are the results obtained by (a few) members of the workplace:

Screen Shot 2017-03-06 at 15.22.10

Note: The number from 0 to 100 represents the alignment between someone’s personal talents and the ideal “A-Player ✨” profile that we defined.

Rule #3 – Remove those who do not want / can’t follow.

If you have created an ambitious mission for yourself, you can’t imagine getting there with a block of cement at your feet. You can’t run a great marathon time with 15kg on your back…

Take stock of your teams. Be extremely clear about the new mission and goals. There’s no question of letting someone believe that everything will happen as it always has. You KNOW this is not true. Everyone needs to know EXACTLY what this implies for him or her. Whether in terms of commitment, skill or attitude.

If everyone is not ready right away… that’s normal! Let it be your responsibility to help everyone in the transition. At the start, give your team some slack, that’s also normal! If you don’t, you are not being fair to those who instilled their trust in you throughout this process.

But in the end, if your help does nothing (or not much) to change their progress, you need to let them go. If you do not, you’ll send them like a lamb to the slaughter. And that’s not cool…

We made that choice as well.

Rule #4 – Don’t hesitate to re-organize the workplace in harmony with present talents of team members

We can’t move from an “as-usual” business to an exceptional business by not changing anything in the current organization (if you do a little more of what you’ve always done, you’ll have a little more of what you’ve always gotten). To prepare for your new mission and your new collective challenges, you probably need to review many things in your organization. For example, as far as we were concerned, we needed to pay more attention to our customers. It’s with them that we build solutions for the future. We value their returns enormously. The downside is that by focusing on generating new business (to increase our sales to invest more), we may have lost some connections with already existing customers.

So we decided to set up a “Customer Success” team. We wanted this team to focus solely on the needs of our clients, their concerns, their expectations and their remarks. Our goal was to allow this team to focus solely on what our clients have EXPERIENCED from AssessFirst. Their role is to ensure that the voice of the customer is carried throughout the entire workplace – whether that it is in the IT team or even through the ears of the Data Scientists from the Science & Innovation team.

Customer Success

The two people who were chosen to take on this role at AssessFirst were not chosen by chance… far from it. Clément and Emmanuelle were initially commercial consultants for us. They certainly had exceptional skills in their positions at the time, but we felt (given their predispositions… and also customer feedback) that they were the perfect candidates to take on this new job.

BONUS: They also have an excellent professional affinity as can be predicted thanks to our algorithms…

Screen Shot 2017-03-06 at 15.23.26Was the decision easy to make? No, certainly not. When you change positions of two people who had extraordinary results in their previous positions (and therefore actively participated in the economic success of your workplace) to a new position… for which everything still remains to be performed, make sure you have the utmost confidence in their abilities to transform at the same time as the whole organization… (and in our algorithms!!)

Rule #5 – Do not enforce a new way of working. Create it with your teams!

One of the greatest pitfalls of managers when reconstructing the workplace, is believing it’s their responsibility to find the solution and make the team accept it.

I don’t know anything more difficult and dangerous than this way of thinking… In fact, this way of doing things is, above all, guided by fear. Managers who do this often think that their legitimacy is directly related to their ability to find the right solution (after all, that’s why they are managers, right?)

The trick is that more often than not, the manager has only a global view of the situation… It is not that a global vision is not important, it is, but it is only half the equation. Who is in direct contact with the customer? Who knows better than anyone what their job involves than the person implicated? Who can provide the most “valid” insights about the best way to facilitate the growth of the workplace both internally and externally? Those who do the job, end of story. To deny this, is heavy-handed and limited in your capacity of reality.

At AssessFirst, we also fell into this trap. We imagined – a few months ago – a great organization after reading books, talking to people and blah blah and blah… the truth of the matter is what works for some, will not work for others (and sometimes even less for you). I can assure you that when you find resistance amongst your teams because they don’t understand the direction you want to go (even though the act of resisting may not be in their DNA), then you have something to worry about…

But – again – if you know how to listen to the feedback/suggestions/ideas of your teams (they don’t do what they do just to make you f***ing crazy), then you start gathering the information you need to create the next “best possible version” of your workplace.

Rule #6 – Be an execution fanatic

Ideas, plans, organization… all that is indispensable, are nothing without perfect execution. Here is why it’s important to give quantifiable results – at all stages – of the achievement of objectives set up beforehand.

You must be smart. If you set a bonus system on targets, for example, make sure that it rewards well the expected behaviors and that it doesn’t induce negative ones. If the system can be tricked or manipulated, then you have everything wrong. Make it simple. The more readable and easy-to-understand the proposed system, the more likely you’ll be able to reinforce each person’s commitment to you and most importantly in the right direction for the workplace.

Be focused, but open to changes at the margin. Having a plan to succeed is very important. Having the ability to move the bar to adapt to unexpected events that will inevitably happen, is even more crucial.

Pay attention – at each step – not to fall into the trap of “bias of commitment”. It’s not because you’ve started doing something and it works (for now) that this won’t change along the way one time or another. In a nutshell, make sure you always stay #focused, #alert & #agile at the same time.

What this changed for me, personally…

In hindsight, I can assure you that even if we didn’t let it show in the market, it was a damn mess within AssessFirst the last 18 months. Not a mess in the sense of anything in particular, but rather a turbulent journey… In 1.5 years, the product has been completely transformed, the business model is on the ground and running, the teams worked to reinvent themselves more than once, and even the management was questionable at times…

There have been periods of doubt, twists and turns like never before, periods of unprecedented excitement… But I think beyond all of this, the most exceptional thing that we discovered… was how much people liked the workplace! Our clients, all of whom remained faithful (almost all), followed us in our transformation of recruitment and talent management practices.

But especially each person working here! In general (most of the time), when someone is tired of their job or it’s the most difficult it’s ever been, they look for a different job at lunch time and soon after resign. Instead, EACH OF THESE PEOPLE are challenging us and coming to share their ideas, feedback and annoyance with certain subjects. After the face, they find an extraordinary renewal of energy and appreciation for their workplace… (It’s in these moments that you see how truly important company culture is).

It is WITH THEM that we created the new AssessFirst. It is WITH THEM that we went from a 1.6 million euros of turnover in 2015 to more than 2.7 in just one year. It is WITH THEM that we created the best possible organization in order to grow even more radically over the coming year… to always perform better – together – for our customers.

Before, I thought that a successful company was the unique combination of 3 things : Ideas, Money & People.


Today, after our major successful transformation (and I know there are many more to come…) I AM CONVINCED that the 3 crucial factors are: people, people and people.

Success = People + People +People

That is why I can only encourage you, only if you want it, to develop and transform your business to focus – BEFORE ALL OTHER THINGS – on recruiting your teams, ON ALL LEVELS.

My advice: Only recruit “A-Players ✨”. Be inflexible about it. Do NOT compromise. Never.

As Steve Jobs said, once you have the right people on board, you do not need to tell them what to do. The right people KNOW what to do.


Always remember that it is your teams and not just your ideas or funding that will enable you to transform the world and make sure that all of you – collectively – will succeed in achieving this vision which is the very reason why your workplace exists.

#PeopleMatterMoreThanAnything ❤️


David Bernard
CEO & Co-founder @AssessFirst
Business psychologist

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