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'Wear people down'

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  • | 11:00 a.m. May 8, 2015
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John West is a LinkedIn junkie. After meeting someone new, West sends him an invitation to connect on the networking site as soon as he gets to his computer.

“LinkedIn is the greatest tool of my lifetime” for business development and recruiting, he says.

That means a lot coming from West, an expert in the recruitment industry in Tampa who has run both startups and a $500 million business. He led Tampa-based System One, a recruitment firm acquired by's parent company, TMP Worldwide Inc., in 2000. West is currently chairman of Hire Velocity, a candidate-screening firm with offices nationwide, including one in Lutz.

At a recent Tech Talk sponsored by the Tampa Bay Innovation Center, West shared his top 10 tips on how to build a good team. Here are some highlights:

10. Know thyself: West believes the first thing an executive needs to do is assess his or her own strengths and weaknesses. “Think about why you are the way you are,” he advises. West realized he didn't like being CEO because he wasn't good at holding people accountable. He preferred working the strategy side of things. “I don't think the only way you can grow wealthy is by being the CEO.”

9. Plan for people: West recommends creating a timeline for when you'll need core competencies on your team. Ask questions like, “Who are the people I'm going to need in the next six to 24 months?”

8. Go outside: Outsourcing is a great way to “pay for things by the drink,” when starting a company, says West. That especially includes partnering with experts in fields outside your core competencies. To be successful in outsourcing, talk to a good attorney to protect your intellectual property and create thorough nondisclosure agreements, West warns.

7. Know the pitch: It's important to “be honest about who you are, and know how to communicate that,” to prospective employees, West says. He advises executives to find a non-threatening way to let people know what the company is about and its needs.

6. Get the word out: West insists executives can't just “post and pray,” hoping someone will come across an ad on a job board. When the unemployment rate is low, executives have to search for a passive candidate who may be interested when presented with the right opportunity.
Around 80% of jobs in the U.S. are found through networking, according to West. “If I find my job through (networking), why wouldn't I find talent through (networking)?” Before he calls an executive search firm to assist him in filling a key position, West reaches out to his network with personal notes.

5. Assess candidates: The two most important pieces in evaluating a candidate are reference checks and interviews. Never delegate this, West cautions executives.
For interviews, West likes to “wear people down. The longer you go,” he says, “the more you see the real person.” Asking candidates to complete a personality assessment prior to the interview can provide insight into the person's behavior, so you can ask more probing questions during the interview, he says.
But it ultimately comes down to the beer test: Would you enjoy spending happy hour with this candidate?

4. Keep the winners: Tampa Bay has historically been a lower compensation market. But now that the talent pool is shrinking, local companies need to reassess employee salary and benefits packages to retain top-level talent, West says.
3. Get rid of the losers: The more politically correct term for this is “liberate those who don't fit.” Usually a person who is a bad fit knows that it's not right, West says. Liberating these people shouldn't be brutal, he insists. Ease the transition by helping the person find his or her next job.

2. Build the team: “If you build the team, the team will build the business,” West says. No matter the size of the company, one of the most difficult things to face as an executive is determining the people who can't grow with you. These people must be “liberated” or they'll hinder the company's growth, he says.

1. Create value, grow wealthy, repeat: Completing the above steps just once won't cut it, West says. To continue to grow, this must constantly be repeated.


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