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Want Great Employees? Hire for Humility!

Posted by Eric Friedman


'>hire for humility

Here’s a question for you: when you’re recruiting and interviewing, what do you look for in a candidate? What I mean by this is do you hire for fit, experience, or skill? And what about education, personality, and character? Or maybe it’s a combination of some of these? Most of us in human resources hire for the perfect combination of all of these aspects, which is why making a hiring decision can be so complicated. It seems that every company and hiring executive is looking for something different in its next top employee.

Recruiting strategies change as often as the seasons, due in large part to all of the competition to land top talent. Companies have to analyze their hires and continually evaluate their recruiting processes to ensure that they are capturing the right qualities in candidates. Some employers are focused on education and experience, and that’s how they develop their recruiting strategies. Others are convinced it’s all about skills and talent, while others value personality. But, what about hiring for humility?

It may sound strange, but some companies take a very different approach to recruiting and retaining talent. Media darlings like Zappos, Apple, and YAHOO! are infamous for trying new approaches when it comes to recruiting and evaluating talent. For instance, Zappos offer unhappy employees $2,000 to quit; an idea so popular that Amazon followed suit. Currently, Zappos has done away with “manager” titles, and has told employees to get behind the idea of managing themselves.

It’s a pretty radical concept. However, these companies aren’t the only ones challenging tradition and adjusting their styles in order to gain and keep the best workers. Top managers everywhere want to have a deeper understanding and connection to candidates, especially during the interview process. This  is why they ask unorthodox interview questions, like “How many golf balls can you fit into an airplane?” or “Who would you most like to have dinner with, dead or alive?” They are trying to get to know more about candidates and their thought process. But does it really work?

In 2013, Adam Bryant of The New York Times interviewed Laszlo Bock, Senior Vice President of People Operations at Google. During the interview, Bock said that brainteasers like the ones listed above, “…predict nothing” and “have zero impact” on evaluating potential talent. At Google, they like to use behavioral based questions and big data gathered from their employees and managers to develop factors they use to evaluate various qualities, including leadership and intellect.

Richard Branson, Founder and Chairman of The Virgin Group, has said, “If you’re good with people and you really, genuinely care about people, then I’m sure we could find a job for you at Virgin.” Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, has said, “I look for a positive attitude and are they easy to work with, are people going to like working with them?” These statements are consistent with the emerging recruiting trend of hiring for humility, according to a Business Insider article.

Hiring for humility means looking for “emotional intelligence,” which includes certain personality and character traits, like the ability to sympathize, a sense of humor, and communication skills. Google and other companies have realized through data collection that humility is one of the best qualities to have in an employee. Humble people tend to be honest people who can be taught, so they can grow and develop. They are more respectful, curious, and inquisitive – which are also top leadership qualities. The best way to determine if a candidate is humble is by asking behavioral-based questions, such as “How would you handle this situation…?” and “Tell me about a time you had to…” or “What would you do if…?”

Here’s a great example of why hiring for humility is so important, particularly for major companies. In April of 2015, ESPN suspended one of its reporters, Britt McHenry, for a week because she verbally abused and berated a tow company operator (see related article here). The incident was recorded and the video quickly went viral. In it, the ESPN reporter insulted the operator because her car was towed. McHenry referenced the tow company operator’s weight, teeth, and education level, while gloating about being on television.

McHenry is well educated but you couldn’t tell that from her the actions. She showed no humility, no restraint, no respect, no compassion, and no emotional intelligence. As an employer, you want to avoid embarrassing situations like that, which is why you want to hire for humility.

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About Eric Friedman


Eric Friedman is the founder and CEO of eSkill Corporation, a leading provider of Web-based skills testing for pre-employment and training. With academic degrees in Psychology and Business, and experience with both mature and expansion-stage company growth, Eric has focused on how best to hire and motivate team members to be the best they can be for their companies.

3 COMMENTS Join the discussion
  • Helen A. May, 04, 2015

    It is popular to hire for talent, but can you provide your talented employees with a job that fits their skills? If your objective is to grow and win over your competitors, you definitely have to look for talent. But if your workers cannot cope with a flow of clients and you are simply looking for some help, take someone who is simply ready to do what is required from day to day.

  • Lori Phillips May, 06, 2015

    The questions “How many golf balls can you fit into an airplane?” and “Who would you most like to have dinner with, dead or alive?” are worn out already. Once published as interesting conversation starters, they have been taken over by others as a call to action. They have been repeated so many times that now we read about them on any “How to Prepare a Great Job Interview” site.

  • Victoria K. May, 07, 2015

    You can hire either a talented person or someone who is going to become talented under your supervision. In the latter case, you’ll have to work hard, but you’ll get a perfect fit, coined especially for your company.


Guest May, 07, 2015