Golf Analogies Teach You How to Hire Good Employees

By JUSTIN WILKINS on JULY 29, 2015

What does hitting a little white ball into a tiny hole in the ground hundreds of yards away tell you about human resource issues? If you’re struggling with whether to hire the go-getter graduate or the downsized adult, you want solid advice, which is why you’ll be surprised by how much golf can tell you about overcoming the fear of hiring new employees.

Golf… is the infallible test. The man who can go into a patch of rough alone,
with the knowledge that only God is watching him, and play his ball where it lies,
is the man who will serve you faithfully and well.” — P.G. Wodehouse

While it may be a cliché to say that golf has taught me everything I know about hiring the best employees, it’s not completely inaccurate. In fact, I can learn valuable business lessons from everything I do. That’s because I’m always thinking about business.

However, if all I did was play golf all day every day, I might be happy and healthy, but I could never learn anything about why hiring employees is hard. Even if I played 18 holes with a CEO, an executive manager and an HR department head, I wouldn’t know how to end the struggle of hiring new employees.

13 Golf Tips to Help You Hire and Retain the BEST New Employees Possible

Qualifying Round

Golf friends

So let me qualify what I mean when I say that golf has taught me everything I know about how to hire new employees. Golf acts as a metaphor for business, but that knowledge is only valuable to an executive who is well grounded in business sense. If you are an experienced manager, you will find this metaphor useful. Otherwise, take a mulligan and go back to business school.

Sport is a wonderful metaphor. Of all the sports that I played… there is no greater example than golf, because you’re playing against yourself and nature.” — Robert Redford

It’s my experience as a recruiter that makes this advice valuable, not the slice in my drives — which, by the way, I’ve learned to compensate for. So sit back, relax and learn how this apparently harmless diversion of a sport can teach you how to hire new employees.

Swing Votes

Your golf swing can teach you important lessons about overcoming the fear of hiring new employees. For example, if you try to remember the technical aspects of your swing — all those pesky little details you are supposed to do when you swing the club — you will become immobilized.

The golf swing is a violent swing. You twist… your neck, your spine, your hands, your knees, everything.” — Tom Watson

You can’t possibly concentrate on your hands, wrists, head and follow-through while golfing. If you try, you’ll likely hurt yourself, emotionally if not physically. You need to know the basics to play the game successfully — either with the help of a coach or through hours at the driving range. You need to get to the point where your swing is automatic.

The same is true regarding how to hire new employees. If you think about everything you need to know when you attempt to hire the right employee, you’ll end up getting lost in the details. If you’ve got the experience of hiring new employees, rely on your instincts. Trust that you know what you need to do. But don’t hesitate to rely on your coach, i.e. your boss or human resource contact. They’re there to help your game.

Eye the Flag

Golf is played mainly on a five-and-a-half-inch course… the space between your ears.” — Bobby Jones

The goal in golf is to hit the ball into the hole with the fewest strokes possible. Your goal as a hiring manager is the same: how to hire the best employees and keep a low turnover. There are accepted ways of achieving this goal in golf, such as:

  • Perfect your swing and the results will follow

  • Keep the ball in the middle of the fairway

  • Choose the right club for the shot

In reality, you can do anything legal and moral to help you achieve your goal:

  • Use your hook or slice to advantage around doglegs

  • Set the ball down wherever it will give you a clear shot

  • Choose a shorter club to get over an obstacle

End the struggle of hiring new employees by doing whatever is legal and moral to get the job done. This doesn’t mean you should cheat (since cheating is definitely not moral), but if you find that perfect candidate, do whatever it takes to land him, short of bribery. Use your strengths to appeal to the candidate’s weaknesses. Anything less is a duff.

Take a Mulligan When Necessary

The greatest fear of hiring new employees is making a mistake. This is why hiring good employees is hard. But sometimes the bigger mistake is not making a timely decision. You’re not going to shoot par every time out. Take your best shot and live with the lie of the ball. Unless you’re up a tree, you’ll be able to take another shot. You made your decision for good reasons; find the promise in your new hire to try to make it work.

Meanwhile, examine your hiring strategy to help make better decisions in the future. I’m not recommending that you revamp your entire hiring strategy, but maybe change your search approach for one position to see if it helps. Little alterations can help your overall game.

Improve Your Handicap

Golfer girl

The goal in golf is to have a low handicap. The goal in business is to hire new employees to have a low turnover. In golf, every shot is important, but you take up to 40 percent of your shots with your putter. If you want to shave points off your handicap, concentrate on your short game.

I learned one thing from jumping motorcycles that was of great value on the golf course, the putting green especially: Whatever you do, don’t come up short.” — Evel Knievel

The same is true with your hiring process. To improve your short game in the hiring process, perfect your close. Once you have the best candidate lined up, make sure you get a positive agreement. Nothing is less efficient than losing your first choice for an opening and having to regroup. Learn to make those putts.

Choose the Right Club

You use your driver on about 75 percent of the holes. You use your putter on every hole, unless you get lucky. Every other shot requires a choice: 5 wood or 3 iron? Over the bunker or around it?

Golf is a game in which one endeavors to control a ball with implements ill adapted for the purpose.” — Woodrow Wilson

The trick with knowing how to hire good employees is choosing the right club, too. Using the right tactic or empowering the right team member for a given task can make all the difference. Just as each hole of a golf course might require a different approach, so too might each candidate. Make the right decision at the right time to improve your odds of success.

Choose Your Target

In golf, before you swing, you pick the target you want to hit. Sometimes, it’s the green. Sometimes, it’s the middle of the fairway. Sometimes, it’s a point away from a bunker or water hazard. You have to know what you’re aiming for before you swing your club.

I know I am getting better at golf because I am hitting fewer spectators.” — Gerald R. Ford

It’s the same in business. Select the goal you want before you begin the hiring process. Knowing how to hire good employees to have a low turnover, means you have to know the qualities, characteristics and skills you’re looking for. You need more than a job description; you likely want to find an agreeable personality, a strong work ethic or even a good sense of humor. Write it down; aim for it.

Develop Soft Hands

The idea of “soft hands” in golf is to relax the grip on your club. Too much tension produces inconsistent results. A soft grip ironically gives you the control you need to succeed shot after shot.

If a lot of people gripped a knife and fork the way they do a golf club they’d starve to death.” — Sam Snead

A grip that’s too firm is also why hiring employees is hard. Manage your team and the interview process with soft hands to ease an already tense situation and increase cooperation in the workplace. Soft hands may do more to encourage a candidate to join your team, as well.

Amateurs vs. Pros

Golf ball putting

Everyone can make a mistake, either on the green or in the interview room, but pros minimize the chance of mistakes by preparing in advance. Pros know the golf course backward and forward before the tournament begins. If you want to end the struggle of hiring new employees, you should be well prepared before the interview even starts.

Placing the ball in the right position for the next shot is 80 percent of winning golf.” — Ben Hogan

While there’s nothing wrong with playing the ball where it lies, as amateurs often do, a better strategy is to learn to put the ball where you want it. That’s what separates amateurs and professionals. Amateurs react; pros plan. Planning also eliminates the fear of hiring new employees.

“Captain’s Choice” Brings Out the Best Employees

Captain’s Choice in golf refers to a team game in which the captain of a team of two or a team of four chooses which player (as in the Ryder Cup) or which shot (as in Best Ball) will play. In business, this means using your whole team. It means finding the strengths of each member of your team and letting each excel.

Show me a man who is a good loser, and I’ll show you a man who is playing golf with his boss.” — James Patrick Murray

You will lose your fear of hiring new employees and make better hiring decisions when you let your whole team participate. Playing with a full squad — whether it’s a foursome or a project team — is always playing Best Ball. You may not always win, but you always increase your chances.

Cart Paths Only Rule

Golf has some strange and often complicated rules. For example, you can’t place anything beneath your feet when taking a shot, not even a towel. The cart path’s only rule requires golfers to keep their carts on the asphalt path regardless where their ball lies. It makes sense to protect the grass, but it often slows down the game.

If your company has restrictive rules governing your hiring process, it might explain why hiring good employees is hard. I’m not suggesting you break the rules, but take your case to upper management. Like the cart paths only rules, they might have valid reasons for a rule, but explain that it’s making the hiring process longer than it needs to be.

Practice Makes Perfect

When I play golf, I have access to a putting green and a driving range. I can lengthen my drive, improve my chip shot and master my putts. When I get out on the golf course, those hours of practice pay off.

There is no such thing as natural touch. Touch is something you create by hitting millions of golf balls.” — Lee Trevino

In business, there’s no putting green or driving range, but you can still improve your team’s results by practicing. Set aside an hour out of your day for your team to interview you. Create the persona of an interviewee and then play it up: be difficult, elusive or unresponsive. If possible, videotape the mock interview so everyone has the opportunity to learn from it. Practice will help you hire new employees to have a low turnover.

How to Hire the Best Employees

Golfing hole-in-one

Success in golf depends less on strength of body than upon strength of mind and character.” — Arnold Palmer

Your hiring process shouldn’t be written in stone. Do your research; develop a strategy, and implement it. See if it works. As you try different approaches, find the one that works best for you and your organization. If you find something that doesn’t work, take a mulligan and try something else. When it comes to hiring good employees, preparation is the best way to get a hole-in-one. And that’s how we hire employees around here.

By the way, where’s your favorite place to play golf? Leave us a comment and let us know!

The Author

Straight from the desk of

Justin Wilkins

Justin Wilkins

Market Leader

Justin Wilkins began his career as an associate with Kimmel & Associates in 2008 and is currently a market leader in the Industrial & Power and Mechanical Divisions, with a focus in the South-Central United States.