What Derrick Locke Can Teach You About Hiring Good People


What do you do when you hire someone? If you are like most managers, you probably look for a resume of someone who has already done whatever it is you need done. You don't hire auditors that haven't audited, managers that haven't managed, salespeople that haven't sold, or designers that haven't designed. You probably don't even hire people that have done what you need if they haven't already done it at a "high enough" level. For many positions, I think this can be a mistake.

Derrick Locke is a running back for the University of Kentucky. He was a high school track star who wanted to play Division 1 football as a running back. No one would take him. He was told he couldn't play Division 1 football. So he settled for a track scholarship and begged the coaches at KY to let him play football. Saturday afternoon, he led the UK running attack against the top ranked defense in college football. A guy who was told he couldn't play D1 football helped lead a victory over the best D1 defense in the country. If you hire the way I mentioned above, you may be missing out on a Derrick Locke.

Most people spend their lives just going through the motions. They don't want to push themselves, they don't want to learn or improve… sure, they say they want more out of their lives but they never take any actions to back up those words. Then there are the Derrick Locke's of the world. They know what they want, and they are willing to do what it takes to achieve their goals. How do you hire a Derrick Locke? You look for desire.

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Resumes are great. Psychological, personality, and intelligence tests are all great too. References are great. Past experience is great. But when I hire somebody, I look for desire. Not the frenzied "I need a job, any job, badly" kind of desire, but the desire to do exactly what it is I need somebody to do. I'll admit, those people are hard to find because they are rare, but when I see desire in a candidate, it trumps everything else. I'm a big fan of people who feel like they have something to prove. They work harder than everyone else. They are more interested in learning and improving. And eventually, they outperform their peers.

So when you look to fill an open position, keep in mind that hiring criteria that are too stringent may be shutting out someone who could lead your team to a business victory.

  • Matt

    As someone who has been(still frequently is) on the other side of the job hunting problem, how exactly do I get someone like you to realize that I’m “highly motivated by desire”? I mean, the resume is the first thing you see, and between the padders, outright liars, and people whose credentials are much better than their ability, how do you sort out that one person who will code their way to greatness?

  • Rob,

    Hopefully this type of thinking will accelerate in adoption!


  • Lord

    While passion is desirable, it can be a mistake to expect it in a candidate. What do they really know of your company, your product, your work, or yourself? Few work in such public arenas as football. Rather than passion itself, it is really the ability to become passionate about it and that is much harder to determine in advance. Passion is subject of feigning and a false read and potentially more misleading than instilling. Adaptability and intelligence are probably superior indications of passion than mere desire.

  • Lord, I respectfully disagree with your assessment of the assessability of passion. For years I interviewed college grads for entry level positions, and you could DEFINITELY tell the ones who had the passion Rob was talking about. And they went on to become stars in each case. And they weren’t academic stars in most cases.


  • Lord

    The problem is this caters to the entrepreneurs worst instinct – to hire themselves, when what they most need is to hire those that complement themselves. They don’t need cheerleaders, they need truthtellers, they don’t need visionaries, they need detail workers, they don’t need ego strokers, they need diligent workers.

  • john

    nobody knows the real derreck locke if they knew what he was like in high school and how he treated people nobody would like him and thats a fact!

  • Brad

    John: It’s painfully honest YOU don’t know what you’re talking about. A snippet from an article:

    In late September, Hugo football coach Tommy Bare received a photo of Locke decked out in Wildcat blue. With it, came a letter.

    Dear Coach Bare,

    We are very happy with Derrick. He is a solid young man and I am proud that he is in a Kentucky uniform. I want to thank you for your part in developing this boy into a young man.


    Rich Brooks, Head Football Coach


    He endured adversity with his mom’s incarceration and other things–and EARNED his spot on the roster—the hard way. Takes humility. Perhaps you could use a dose.