While I was home for Thanksgiving, I went to the gym with my father and played a couple of games of pickup basketball. I had the same experience I always have when I show up at a new gym and it caused me to realize the real reason why B players hire C players.
I’m a short white guy. Every time I show up at a new gym, I get picked last, end up on a terrible team, or have to wait a few games. To be fair, when I see short white guys show up at my gym, we usually treat them the same way. In some cases, it works in my favor. I’ll end up on what appears to be even teams and I’m matched up against the worst player on the other team. That’s fun - to turn the tables on them. Other times it means I have to play a game or two on bad teams before a few of the other players realize I can play. Then I’ll get picked up on good teams.
In basketball we have a saying for this – game recognizes game. Good players like to play with good players. So, within the confines of how teams are set up, we’ll do whatever we can to get on the right teams. Sometimes that means that players will sit an extra game longer than they need to sit to avoid bad players. Other times they’ll stretch the rules to stack their teams with good players or pick a player they have good chemistry with first. The regulars judge a new player as someone to avoid or someone to pick up immediately.
On my way home after the game I thought about the old saying “A players hire A players and B players hire C players.” I used to think that B players hired C players because they were insecure. They were afraid that they couldn’t control A players or wanted to feel like they were better. But that’s not the case.
The reason that B players hire C players is because those are the only people they can attract and hire. A players seek out other A players.
Think about it from a hiring perspective. Most A players are never on the formal job market. Recruiters reach out to them constantly. They have a lot of connections in their industry. And, when they’re getting ready to leave a position they start putting out feelers. If they’re A players, they’ll have job offers waiting.
A players know who the other A players are in their industry. They know which companies are good and which are failing. They know where the talent is and know when the best talent is looking for a new opportunity. They find ways to stack the teams in their favor. A players rarely hire a candidate who filled out an application unsolicited. They have a deep bench of A players or B players who just need the right role to be amazing.
B players don’t get that option. They have to set up job listings and hope someone good replies. They work with recruiters hoping they can uncover the perfect candidate. And then, once they’ve found a couple of candidates, they have to try to convince good ones to work for them. It’s not easy.
Awhile back, I was chatting with a friend of mine who is a fantastic developer in NYC. Recruiters call him constantly. In a recent interview he could tell, within about 10 minutes, that he would never work at the company. It wasn’t about him passing their tests. It wasn’t about him being good enough for them. He knew immediately he wasn’t in the right place. They were the wrong people.
The reason B players hire C players is because that’s the best they can do. A players aren’t even available for them. And when they do stumble across an A player, the A players select themselves out. The only time they do get A players, it’s for a very short time while the A player builds the reputation they need to move on.
Game recognizes game.