When my business partner and I founded our company more than 20 years ago, our goal was to grow as a global company. One reason we have been able to achieve international success is because of the people we hired. This success has shaped how we seek out candidates. Here’s how we do it.
1. Attitude counts
Non-professional experience matters to me. If a person started washing dishes in a restaurant to pay for college textbooks, that tells me a lot about who she really is. Did the candidate play sports in school? I want to know that, too, because competitive spirit is important. Also, while I certainly look for specific skills on a resume, attitude matters just as much, if not more.
Experience is useless in people who can’t share it with others. You can’t train for enthusiasm, work ethic or interpersonal skills. So if in doubt, I always hire for attitude. My motto is, “If it’s to be, it’s up to me.”
As every CEO understands, we can’t intricately involve ourselves in every aspect of the company at every moment, so we need to build a team with similar values and business knowledge. The most successful people in our company not only handle the tasks outlined in their job description, they perform as if they’re in the job above them. People who anticipate their managers’ needs and execute according to those needs are the ones who get promoted. Smart people don’t say “no” when asked to go above and beyond. Smart people realize their most important job is to help grow the company.
2. Trust your gut reactions
I want executives who have integrity and thrive on accountability. There are several things I do to find these people. For example, I want to select employees who will have the company’s best interests at heart at all times. One of the questions I ask applicants is, “Suppose you see a co-worker or someone you manage stealing money. What would your response be as a colleague and what would your response be as a manager?”
More than 80 percent of applicants respond to this set of questions with answers such as, “As a co-worker, I would encourage them to put the money back” and “As a manager, I would discuss it with them and give them a second chance.” Fewer than 20 percent give the answers I want to hear. I look for people whose instinctive reaction is to either report the person to their manager or, as a manager, terminate that person’s employment immediately. There is no gray area.
Integrity is a key value for my company that other employers do not usually focus on in the interview: I want every employee to treat the company as if they own it themselves. I want people who think for themselves and are motivated to be part of our company’s growth.
3. Don’t overlook key skills
I recently received an outstanding cover letter from an Ivy League graduate who focused not on her top-tier education but on her waitressing background. She started working young, fought for her first job despite a lack of experience and sustained that perseverance as she completed her education. I place less focus on what experience candidates have in our industry and more on them as individuals.
For an applicant interested in an entry-level position, I take note if she started a French club at her college because one didn’t exist there or if someone was the president of his fraternity or involved in competitive sports (maybe as a team captain).
For someone applying for a management position, I look not only at how long she was employed by another company and why she left, but also whether she rose within the company over those years. If a candidate’s career shows a steady and lasting period of growth and management experience, this tells me the person has what we are looking for. I look beyond the industry, which is not relevant to me, to the rate of success this person achieved, which is indeed relevant.
Hiring the right employee takes time, so I make it a top priority to find trusting candidates that want to grow along with the company. Like many other organizations, we promote from within; most of our top leaders start as entry-level employees. I believe this process works. That’s why I focus so much attention on hiring for integrity, leadership and attitude.
Liz Elting is the co-founder and co-CEO of TransPerfect, the world’s largest privately held provider of language and business services with over $300 million in revenues, TransPerfect operates in more than 70 cities on five continents. Elting oversees the day-to-day operations of the company, headquartered in New York City.