business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

I was interested to read a piece in Fortune about what, in the opinion of certain prominent CEOs, is the most important thing to look for in a job candidate. "While it’s safe to assume most businesses want talented, competent, engaged workers," the story said, these CEOs said that "in addition to the technical skills required to do a specific job ... they often were looking for the softer, less tangible abilities, such as 'culture fit,' 'enthusiasm,' and 'curiosity'."

For example, Danny Wegman, CEO of Wegmans, said: “We look for people who genuinely care about others and are happy to serve in whatever ways are necessary. We can teach just about any other skills they need. We also look for high standards. If we’re to sell the best products in the world and have the best service in the world, we need a team committed to high standards. If we can find these two traits, we’re off to a pretty good start."

Jerry Stritzke, CEO of REI, said: “We’re looking for people who love the outdoors and want to align their skills and experience with this purpose. We look for people who connect with customers because, as a co-op, our members play a big role in everything that we do. And we also want people who come to the co-op already living by our core values and beliefs.”

Todd Jones, CEO of Publix: “We can teach people the technical skills, but what makes an ideal candidate is someone who is committed to serve others. We look for people who are passionate about connecting with the hearts and minds of their customers and their co-workers.”

Now, to be perfectly honest here, I have almost no experience hiring people. I've had jobs in which people reported to me, but they almost always were people who were with the company beforehand and just ended up working for me. For the most part, though, I've always been something of a free agent even when working in traditional companies; Mrs. Content Guy says it probably is a good thing, since I don't play well with others.

But the other three people who write regularly for MNB - Michael Sansolo, Kate McMahon, and Tom Furphy - all have lots of experience hiring people. So I reached out to them to see what they looked for in job candidates.

Michael Sansolo, who hired people when he was editor of Progressive Grocer as well as a senior executive at the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), told me, "Since most candidates who came to me were already vetted for basic skills, I was always looking for great attitude (you can't teach attitude) and I asked them to give specific examples of how they dealt with specific difficult circumstances."

Kate McMahon, who during a long journalism career was the arts editor for the New York Daily News, said that for her, the key quality to identify was "integrity. It is a core quality that is obviously mandatory for a responsible journalist, and should be for any position - from the front lines to the executive office."

And Tom Furphy, who has run a bunch of businesses - including Amazon's CPG business and Amazon Fresh, as well as, at the moment, Consumer Equity Partners, Ideoclick, and Replenium - said, "I’ve tended to hire 'disruptors,' which is a horrible descriptor actually. They need to be aligned with the goals and culture of the organization, for sure. But a disruptor is driven to do things better, and often completely differently, than they’re being done today in order to provide a step change in the value of the service that the organization provides.

"They have to be curious; they have to want to ask 'why.' They also have to have the courage to propose “why not” and to articulate a compelling argument.

"They have to be smart - they must exhibit the mental capacity to figure things out. They need to be able to identify the root of a problem or opportunity and then to support the design and implementation of the solution.

"And, they have to be able to knock down walls when required, but also know when to respectfully disagree and commit to the determined solution."

Like I said, I have very little in my experience that allows me to add to this discussion. But I know it is important, and I'm lucky enough to work with people who have vastly more experience than I do.

It is an Eye-Opener.
KC's View: