A friend of mine was looking to make a new hire. His business is industrial products, and he needed someone to fill a mid-level sales support/customer care position. So, like he always does when he’s about to add a new team member, my colleague scheduled a breakfast meeting with this prospective new hire – a gentleman who had worked in a similar business for years, and appeared to be a great candidate to hit the ground running.
My friend arrived early to this popular “mom ‘n’ pop” pancake house and called over the waitress. With a $20 bill that he guided into the waitress’s hand, he asked her for a favor.
“I need you to get my breakfast companion’s order wrong. And not just wrong,” he said. “Not even close.”
The middle-aged waitress who’d seen everything that could possibly happen inside the confines of a greasy spoon, smiled back at him and said, “I’m here to serve.” She filled his coffee cup and went back to work.
Twenty minutes later when the candidate arrived, the waitress cheerily asked for their orders. My friend ordered a short stack of blueberry pancakes and a couple of sausage links. The “victim” requested two scrambled eggs, whole-wheat toast, and a fruit cup.
When the waitress returned with their orders, she placed my friend’s breakfast in front of him with a cheerful “blueberry pancakes,” and then slid the candidate’s breakfast in front of him and smiled, “and biscuits and gravy.” She also put down a small plate with two of those round sausage patties. She said, “Enjoy your breakfast,” as she turned around to take the order of a booth across the aisle.
“HOLD ON,” the candidate said. “I asked for scrambled eggs, toast and a fruit cup.”
Playing her part, the waitress said, “Oh, I’m sorry sir. I’ll be right back with your order.”
After the waitress left, the candidate laughed, “How do I end up with biscuits and gravy?” His voice easily carried to the surrounding tables, and his tone was a blend of disbelief and derision. Then he used the incident to begin describing his approach to customer service and order fulfillment, and indicated that he should request that his meal be free due to the server’s incompetence.
The waitress returned immediately with the correct breakfast items that had clearly been prepared ahead of time. She placed the food in front of the candidate, who acknowledged it with a still-unsatisfied nod of his head, and she said, “Again, I apologize for the mistake, sir.”
The candidate picked up the dialogue where he’d left it. He offered no appreciation – not even a response when the waitress had spoken. For my friend, the interview was over.
He told me that this breakfast interview exercise was one that he had read about in a New York Times article, and that he would use it for the rest of his career. The objective, of course, was to discern how the candidate reacted to other people’s mistakes. Was he patient?…gracious?…supportive? Or was he wired to pounce and deliver negative feedback? What kind of heart did he have, and was he likely to throw his team members (or worse, customer/partners) “under the bus” when things went wrong?
This candidate had plenty of experience, industry knowledge and smarts. But inside of 15 minutes, he’d shown his true colors. And it made my friend question what kind of employee he would be once the honeymoon period was over.
My friend shared with me that he’d learned long ago to “hire for attitude and train for skill.” He said that the problem with hiring people away from a competitor is that his organization has to “un-train” the newbie because he/she is comfortable with the way they’ve done things in the past, and are often more reluctant to embrace new methods and techniques.
He’s right. If you want to create an organization that is remarkable, hire character over credentials. Attitude really is everything, and to find a new hire with the right attitude, I would happily create a small inconvenience (like additional training) for my staff and me if the trade-off is a more confident, more satisfied customer and a more cohesive workplace. So, when you interview that candidate with tons of experience, and you’re swayed by the amount of time you’ll save in training him, consider that same position a year from now. And determine how you should invest.
Skill? Or attitude?
It’s not even close.