As most experienced business people will tell you, hiring the right employees is critical to your success. After all, employees are the engine of the company and in many cases, the face of the brand for customers, potential customers, vendors and business associates. But how do you select the right candidates for the job?
Admittedly, there are many different approaches and strategies when it comes to hiring, and plenty of advice on the subject. But the approach we take at my company Saxbys has proven very successful as we’ve grown from a single café in Atlanta to 29 locations across 10 states and more than 400 employees (First tip: we actually call them team members).
The Secret to Hiring Great People
Our strategy — and our competitive advantage — is to be in the people business, not the product business. By doing so, we can focus on finding team members who allow us to compete and excel.
That is, we don’t care if our new hires know anything about coffee (which is our business). I realize this might sound counterintuitive, but to explain: I’ve found that the key to finding great people is having a clear understanding of the characteristics you’re seeking in your next hire. I’m not talking about technical skills or résumé experience, but the specific personality traits of a candidate. Instead of looking for people based on expertise, we focus first on finding candidates who are outgoing, disciplined and detail-oriented (O.D.D.) — meaning they are unique and comfortable in their own skin.
It’s pretty obvious why we look for outgoing individuals. People persons excel in the hospitality sector. As for disciplined and detail oriented, we’ve found this combination adds up to natural leaders. Not every barista can manage the café, but every barista should take ownership of their location. If all of our team members are comfortable taking initiative, it ultimately makes the café, and Saxbys overall, better.
I learned early on that many of the specific skills our team members need could be taught or cultivated, but it’s much more challenging to train people to be O.D.D. And these specific traits — being outgoing, disciplined and detail oriented — are essential to our business and to maintaining a successful brand and culture.
Identifying Your Company’s Needs
To apply this lesson to your business or industry, start by identifying the personality traits that you’re looking for in a new hire. While education level and technical skill set of an ideal candidate might be obvious, it is not as easy to pinpoint the characteristics a successful candidate should possess. Take the time to consider both the daily functions of the job and what kind of person will fit with your unique company culture.
While we know O.D.D. people work best for Saxbys, you might find that you need adventurous personalities who will enjoy the frequent travel associated with a role. If the job is in sales, perhaps you’ll be seeking a candidate who is tenacious and self-motivated, whereas a customer service role might require patience, empathy and a thick skin. No matter the traits, by acknowledging the role that your team can play in your success, you are transforming your company into a people business.
Next, compare the list of personality traits to the other job requirements you’re seeking. This is where things like education level, experience and skill set come into play. Decide ahead of time how the list of requirements should be prioritized, keeping in mind that anything that can be taught should be a lower priority.
Finding the Right Candidate
Once you’ve identified the type of person you want, it’s time to start searching. Since it can be difficult to get a sense for a candidate’s personality via résumé, we use a simple trick: ask on the application why they want to work for your company. Yes, a lot of people write this question off. But candidates who take the time to answer — and have a compelling answer — get a phone call from us.
Another standard application question we value: How did you find out about us? Plenty of people are quick to just check a box, but O.D.D. candidates tend to choose “Other” and explain their reasoning. Some are regular guests who want to get behind the coffee bar. Others have a buddy who is a barista. There are also candidates who stumble upon the job opening online, but who did a little research and like our core values. We value people who find a way to relate to us right off the bat. They’re more likely to relate to our guests, too.
Finally, during in-person interviews, we look for a two-way connection — do they lock into our story? Do they relate to me and my company experience? Do they seem genuinely excited about something: a previous job, a hobby, a drink on the menu? Seeing passion in an interviewee’s eyes is much more valuable to us than work experience.
By prioritizing personality over most other job criteria, we wind up hiring people who fit in really well with our company culture, are happy to be working for us and who stay with us longer — making any on-the-job training needed well worth the investment. After all, O.D.D. people tend to be innovative, forward thinkers who are genuinely passionate about what they do and who want to make the business better. And perhaps your own company could benefit from implementing a similar hiring strategy.