Don’t Hire Without the “Wrapper Test”

Your next hire should be able to pass this interview technique.

Hiring the right person for your business or team is one of the most critical decisions you’ll make. The effects on resources and morale can be significant: According to a recent survey by Robert Half,  the high costs of even one bad hire include time lost to training, increased team stress, and diminished faith in the leader. It may even cause illicit activity to spread. And while due diligence helps, interviews that rely on heavily scripted and surface-level questions often fail to predict how someone will actually behave on the job.

There’s a simple but effective way to change that. I call it the “wrapper test.”

Before a candidate walks into the interviewing room, place a crumbled candy wrapper by the door. Then step back and watch: Does the candidate stop to pick up the wrapper or simply glide past it?

You might still hire the person who walks by the wrapper. But you should definitely hire the person who drops it into the trash.

Why? Because that one small gesture gives you three big insights into the kind of person you’ll be bringing on board:

Carries a “team first” attitude.

As Ryan Holiday showed in Ego is the Enemy, our biggest problems at work aren’t caused by external factors, but internal stressors: Getting into conflicts with co-workers is often a product of our own attitude, selfishness and self-absorption. That simply won’t fly in today’s hyperconnected business environment, as changes in the workforce, the workplace, and the technologies used in the world of work require teams to communicate and collaborate without fear or hesitation. Failing to pick up the wrapper may be an early warning sign of ego-driven behavior that puts individual honor (“I’m too good for this” or “That’s not my job”) before the needs of the team or company as a whole.  But when a candidate feels compelled to pick up office trash even before getting an offer, you can be sure that person is ready to put the team first.

Looks out for potential hazards.

Staying a beat ahead of the competition isn’t just about innovation, but observation – developing a keen awareness of potential hazards that may cause your business to stumble. Having people on your team who are naturally attuned to their surroundings will protect the group from organizational blind spots that lead to missed chances and potential threats.

That’s because these individuals serve as your “first-class noticers.” They’re the ones on the frontline whose careful and detail-oriented thinking can move the business forward or identify the things holding it back.  A person who notices the oddly placed candy wrapper could very well be the one who detects other irregularities, synergies, and disruptions that are hiding in plain sight. And that’s definitely someone you want on your side.

Cares for the business and its people.

When people deeply care about the work they do, it infuses every aspect of their job experience. They form a strong personal identification with the organization they serve – and will bring the fullest version of themselves to that relationship. When Zappos screens new hires, it puts applicants through a two-stage interview process: First, hiring managers interview candidates to learn about their past work experience and relevant skills – a typical hiring practice. But that’s followed by a separate round of interviews to determine whether candidates are a “cultural fit” for the company’s core values – the messages that define Zappos’s very essence, like  “delivering wow” and “be humble.”  As a sign of that authenticity, CEO Tony Hsieh allows reporters to approach any member of his team with on-the-record questions without getting preapproval. That might seem like a PR nightmare waiting to happen, but not if you believe, as Hsieh does, that the people he hires aren’t just filling jobs, but fulfilling a mission – one that is zealously built around shared beliefs and goals.

A disorganized workplace leaves the impression that people have no real attachment to the company they serve. Those who care about their organization and its success are caretakers for their organization.  As a summer intern for a major New York public relations firm, I remember seeing the company president straighten desk chairs in the cubes at the end of the day. Catching my surprise, he looked back and said, “When people take care of the business, the business takes care of itself.” We need to remember that we’re not just hiring another employee, but an ambassador for our business that embodies the mission, values and beliefs of the organization and brand – for better or worse.

No process is fail-safe, and making the wrong hire is an unfortunate but unavoidable reality of running a business. But as team dynamics, agile thinking, and company culture play bigger roles in day-to-day operations, it’s important that the people we hire not only possess required credentials and skills, but the right mindsets and attitudes as well.

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