Book review: Who by Geoff Smart, Randy Street

Artem A. Semenov
4 min readSep 15, 2023

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Geoff Smart and Randy Street’s “Who,” published on September 30, 2008, is a vital tool for anyone tasked with the daunting prospect of talent acquisition in any business setting. Before delving into the book, it’s clear that the authors hold high regard for hiring efficiency, making them an ideal duo to tackle this subject matter.

The book unfolds around a central proposition: the importance of the hiring process and the people within it. Smart and Street meticulously dissect the hiring process, transforming an often-convoluted procedure into a manageable task. While the method they propose is sound, it’s not without its shortcomings.

From an analytical standpoint, “Who” triumphs in its simplicity. The authors unveil a four-step method, allowing the reader to follow along seamlessly. Their language is clear, their arguments well-supported, and their presentation compelling. They argue that the hiring process, often left to gut feelings or convenience, should instead be a science. However, the simplicity of their approach risks oversimplifying the complexity and diversity of human nature.

Smart and Street offer numerous practical examples that ground their theories. They delve into the fine details of hiring, exploring everything from where to find talent to how to conduct a meaningful interview. Their advice is always targeted, relevant, and immediately actionable. However, their approach leans heavily on the corporate perspective, sometimes overlooking the human element that inevitably accompanies hiring.

When compared to other books in the same sphere, “Who” holds its own in terms of its practical, hands-on approach to hiring. While other titles offer theory-heavy insights, Smart and Street stand out with their focus on action. Yet, this results in less emphasis on the psychological intricacies of human resource management that other authors explore.

For its target audience — business professionals tasked with hiring — “Who” is an invaluable guide. Its content is accessible, its instructions clear, and its value proposition clear. Yet, those looking for a more humanistic or psychologically-oriented approach might find it lacking.

Conclusively, “Who” is a highly effective manual for the hiring process. Its practical, action-oriented approach simplifies the complexity of talent acquisition. It stands out in its genre with its focus on implementation, rather than mere theory. Yet, it could benefit from acknowledging the human complexity of hiring beyond the corporate realm.

In reflection, “Who” stirred a mix of appreciation for its actionable guidance, and a wish for a deeper understanding of the human intricacies in hiring. While it empowers you with tools for efficient hiring, it subtly nudges you to further explore the nuanced art of understanding people beyond their resumes.

Taking everything into account, “Who” is a recommended read for professionals in the hiring field. But for a more comprehensive understanding, it would be wise to supplement this with resources that delve deeper into the human psychology of the hiring process. As Smart and Street rightly assert, talent acquisition is indeed a science. But it’s also an art, which they could delve further into.

In a world where hiring efficiency can make or break an organization, “Who” is a must-read. Its actionable insights are invaluable, although it could use a dash more humanity.

Practical advice for anyone involved in the hiring process. Here are some of the most impactful takeaways:

  1. The A Method for Hiring: The authors present a four-step process for hiring the right people: Scorecard, Source, Select, and Sell. These steps are designed to help identify what the job requires, where to find suitable candidates, how to assess them effectively, and finally, how to convince them to join your team.
  2. Scorecard: This is a tool that describes the exact purpose of the job, the desired outcomes, and the competencies that a candidate needs to be successful in the role. Using a scorecard instead of a vague job description helps in attracting the right kind of talent.
  3. Source: Finding the right talent is often the most challenging part of the process. The book suggests tapping into your network and creating a consistent pipeline of talent. It encourages proactive sourcing, meaning you should be always on the lookout for potential candidates, even when you’re not actively hiring.
  4. Select: The authors propose a thorough interviewing process, which involves screening, conducting competency interviews, holding focused interviews, and performing reference checks. The goal is to evaluate the candidate’s capability and fit within the organization, and not merely relying on gut instinct.
  5. Sell: Once you find the right candidate, you need to convince them to join your team. The book encourages understanding what’s important to the candidate, such as career growth, work-life balance, or financial incentives, and then selling your organization based on those factors.
  6. Topgrading Interview: This involves a chronological walk-through of a candidate’s career history. It allows the interviewer to spot patterns, understand the candidate’s decisions and career progression, and assess the likelihood of success in the new role.
  7. The Importance of Reference Checks: The authors emphasize not to overlook this step. Conducting thorough reference checks can reveal essential insights into a candidate’s abilities and work style.
  8. Tandem Interviews: Having two interviewers in every interview can be beneficial. It allows for different perspectives and interpretations of the candidate’s responses.
  9. Hiring is a Science: The book encourages shifting the perspective on hiring from a mystical art based on intuition to a predictable, reliable science based on structured processes.
  10. Focusing on ‘A Players’: Smart and Street argue that organizations should focus on hiring and retaining ‘A players’, who are the top 10% performers in any field. They believe that having the right people in the right roles is a key determinant of an organization’s success.

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