The boss of a software company revealed his number one hiring tactic to ensure new employees fit in with the company's culture, and it has everything to do with a single cup of coffee.
There's something very informal and universal about a cup of coffee. If you're asking someone out for coffee, it's kind of a low-stakes situation. It's not like taking someone out to dinner or even lunch, which is probably why so many people decide it's the best first date idea.
I've had some of the best dates and meet-ups with friends at coffee shops and I think that air of informality helps people to relax and be themselves without the need to "perform" or put on airs, so to speak. This can go one of two ways. For some, they show how naturally awesome their personality is. For others, it shows how naturally awful they are.
One might think that's a heck of a lot to read into a single cup of coffee, but as far as Trent Innes is concerned, it tells him all he needs to know about an applicant to his tech company, Xero Australia. While applying for a job is kind of different from pursuing someone romantically, the general idea is the same: it helps to give a general idea about an individual's personality.
Trent takes it very seriously; those who fail his "coffee test" are blacklisted from ever being hired from his business. He revealed the trick while speaking on the business podcast The Ventures, and said it goes down the same every time.
In every interview, Trent takes hopeful employees around the corporate office for a walk-and-talk. During their conversation, he casually brings them down to one of the kitchens. He ensures that, no matter what, they leave that kitchen with a drink in hand: "I will always take you for a walk down to one of our kitchens and somehow you always end up walking away with a drink."
While he does have an interest in the applicant's responses to his questions and what they bring to the table in the interview, all of that is for naught if they don't pass Trent's test. And it concerns what they do with their coffee cup at the end of the interview. For him, this one behavior speaks volumes.
"Then we take [the drink] back, have our interview, and one of the things I'm always looking for at the end of the interview is, does the person doing the interview want to take that empty cup back to the kitchen?"
Do they just leave the cup on the table? Or do they walk that cup right back to the kitchen to wash it?
For Trent, it's everything. "You can develop skills, you can gain knowledge and experience, but it really does come down to attitude, and the attitude that we talk a lot about is the concept of 'wash your coffee cup.'"
Innes says this value not only ensures the office kitchens are always "sparkling" and tidy, but also extends to the overall workplace culture.
"If you come into the office one day inside Xero, you'll see the kitchens are almost always clean and sparkling and it's very much off that concept of wash your coffee cup," he said on the podcast.
"It's really just making sure that they're actually going to fit into the culture inside Xero, and really take on everything that they should be doing."
In terms of other seemingly bizarre employment tests, comedian Marc Maron once attributed Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels' decision not to cast him on the fact that he took a piece of candy from his bowl during their interview. It's a decision Marc regretted for much of his career (even though he went on to do great things for himself.)
At the end of the day, however, Lorne said it had nothing to do with the candy or the comedian's talent, clarifying that the decision not to cast Marc was due to outside factors.
If I was Lorne, that's the exact thing I would say. Can't let the secrets of the candy test get out to the public. Best to play that one close to the chest. I see what you're doing Lorne, you're not fooling me.