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May 17, 2016    From the CEO

Hiring Like Seinfeld: The Observation Test


You don’t realize what you stand for until you’re interviewing people.

Nothing is quite so illuminating as sitting in a room for a few hours talking to someone you don’t really know about why you should entrust them with your business and your clients’ business. It’s one of the best ways to discover what you truly value in people and employees.

When I hire someone to work at the agency I founded (and bootstrapped) in my pool house in 2009,  the two traits I always look for are humility and curiosity. I want employees who a) don’t think they know everything and b) aren’t afraid to ask stupid questions. Humble people are valuable because they don’t waste time with bad ideas simply because it’s their ideas. If a humble person really believes in something, you know that you can trust it to be the right call. Curious people are valuable because they’ll usually come up with a brilliant new solution to a problem after everyone has been banging their head against the wall for hours. I tell new hires all the time that I brought them on to change my mind – and RCM’s senior team got to where they are because they’ve all challenged me or our clients at some point.

In the latest round of interviews for a content strategist to replace our senior strategist, Kyle, who left Austin to head up the LA advertising office, I found myself with three super-talented interviewees that had passed our initial writing test.

Our creative director and I found ourselves in a situation we hadn’t before: we liked all three equally (Tom, don’t take offense). We couldn’t hire all three, so how were we going to determine our next content strategist? We needed something that would demonstrate the humility and curiosity that leads to the creativity we need.

There’s a great quote from Leo Burnett, “Curiosity about life in all of its aspects, I think, is still the secret of great creative people.”

Like thousands of comedians before us, we realized that the best judge of someone’s creativity is the observations they’re able to make about people and the world around them.

Thus, the Observation Test was born.

When our final three candidates came in for the final round of interviews, I put their observational skills to the test.

“When’s the last time you made a blind observation about someone that turned out to be true?”

This isn’t exactly a science. The example I gave recently was noticing that the smaller someone is, the more likely they are to be able to give a good deep tissue massage. The smaller they were in body mass, the more firm pressure they could give.

This test is a little bit silly, but it helped us discover Tom, our newest content strategist. He heard the question and told us about how, in his bartending days, he knew as soon as someone walked in if they were going to shut down the bar alone based on how eager they were to make friends. The lonelier someone is, the harder they try – and the harder they try, the less they succeed. 

*Bonus* Annie’s Observations

Here are some unproven theories I have based on my own observational skills:

  1. Men that grew up with sisters are better at understanding women than men that were brought up with all brothers or as an only child.
  2. Men are so confused right now as gender roles are changing from what they probably learned from their parents. It’s still a “new” thing to a lot of guys – new enough to where I noticed all the guys in my office used Siri, and not just Siri, but they chose the same subservient sounding accent, the Australian one. Then I realized I’d never seen any of my female friends use Siri. Was this because using Siri gave them a sense of power they don’t feel they have? I think I’m onto something.
  3. People that like cafeteria-style restaurants are followers, not leaders.
  4. The smarter someone is in general, the less likely they are to be smart in regular-life areas like paying bills on time. Sometimes there is such a thing as being too smart for your own good.
  5. Oldest children (birth order) are more likely to be entrepreneurs. I suspect the fear of the unknown is a feeling they’re comfortable with.
  6. People with lots of tattoos had lots of bumper stickers on their first car.
  7. Women that get way into roller derby hate their coworkers to the point that they need a violent outlet. 
  8. People that love Halloween with a passion are repressing some deep shit and/or went to an all-girls or all-male Catholic school.
  9. Frugal people have expensive hobbies that they don’t tell anyone about.
  10. Men who don’t like food are bad in bed – they lack sensuality.

What are some unproven theories you have? Do you see how having this intrinsic curiosity about people, about life, about why people do the things they do matter when you’re trying to figure out what will make someone buy something whether it’s b2b or b2c? At the end of the day we’re all people that were born to consume. It’s as American as cherry pie.

Let Your Curiosity Take Control