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

The following is an excerpt from Hire Like You Just Beat Cancer, a book written by this week's podcast guest, Jim Roddy.

“If each of us hires people who are smaller than we are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. But if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, we shall become a company of giants.” – famed advertising executive David Ogilvy

When 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 of 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, conducting pre-employment tests, and a brief first interview. Asking why the candidate, after the 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 create 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.

For more hiring best practices, purchase Hire Like You Just Beat Cancer on Amazon, visit, or email Also, be sure to check out Jim’s latest book The Walk-On Method To Career & Business Success.


Jim Roddy, CBA works with high-initiative, growth-oriented companies throughout North America to help uncover their blindspots, utilizing the best business practices to do so. Jim works by applying his 25+ years of business management experience, executive leadership, and industry expertise to help improve customer and employee relations, as well as business function. His core purpose is to help companies improve their profitability and achieve all desired employee-development outcomes at a fraction of the cost of a typical full-time employee. Currently, Jim offers these services through his role at the Retail Solutions Providers Association as one of the association’s business coaches. We highly recommend checking out Jim Roddy’s book, Hire Like You Just Beat Cancer, on Amazon!

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