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Jack Mitchell: Hire Nice

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A job candidate has to fit the store’s culture, says Jack Mitchell.

IF YOU WANT TO build a Niceness Hugging Culture, it helps a lot — indeed, it’s essential — to start with nice associates. Believe me, it’s a lot more fun 
working with nice people. It’s also easier to be nice to nice people. 
 
That’s why we always make a point of hiring for culture first, not for skills or passion for product.  
 
We would absolutely never hire anyone who had fabulous skills who we didn’t think fit our culture. If someone is a great person, he can usually acquire great skills through education. But in our experience, it’s very rare that someone with great skills can transform himself from a nasty to a nice person.  
 
Now sometimes, because of your economic constraints or the availability of talent in your market, you have to hire “good” rather than “great” people. After all, you have to pay more for great people, and especially if they also have great skills. During tough times, then, you should consider people with a good cultural fit and with good skills who are willing to grow to become great.  
 
So how do you identify who to hire? 
 
We use five criteria (I mentioned the first four in Hug Your Customers and have added a new one): 
 
1. Integrity: This is the heart of our family business. Integrity is deeper than whether someone will steal clothes or money, or expense something personal, it’s will they have the courage and confidence to speak up and candidly share their comments and criticisms (as well as praise and acknowledgments)? 
 
2. Positive attitude: You pick up on this by whether they see the world as the glass being half empty or half full, and we like it better if they see it five-eighths or even seven-eighths full. Is the candidate constantly blaming his ex-boss or company for why he failed in a particular position, or is he smiling and recounting how he got here because of what he learned from Angela or Jean?  
 
3. Passion to listen, learn, and grow, to be the best you can be, every day! Passionate people are those who have that proverbial “fire in the belly.” We often ask, what are your three to five favorite books? Obviously this tells you about their commitment to learning. If they say they don’t like to read, we might say, “Really?” And then move to their favorite TV or movie list, or try to determine how they absorb information to better their lives.  
 
4. Competent and confident: You can check competence by their resume and references, but self-confidence is equally vital, and one way you can tell if they’ve got it is if they have excelled at past experiences, whether it’s selling Acuras or doing crossword puzzles. Are their non-verbal actions in sync with their words and past achievements? Do they look you in the eye? Are they nervous? Of course everyone is somewhat nervous during an interview, and we understand this, but a self-confident person will become comfortable once they begin talking about themselves.  
 
5. Nice: An absolutely essential trait that underlies all of these and that we think of as a fifth ingredient is that the people are very, very nice. Now, no one is going to tell you that they’re mean — that they used to torment their sister and love to kick the dog — so how do you tell?  
 
Well, you talk to them and listen to them and watch them. When they enter the room, do they embrace you with a smile, a firm handshake, and a warm demeanor? Do they open with a “How are you?” and does it sound like they really mean it and care about you?  
Nice is simply something that you recognize when you see it. Some essential traits of nice that everybody ought to consider (and I’m sure you can think of your own): 
 
Nice people are thoughtful  
Nice people are friendly  
Nice people smile  
Nice people offer to help 
Nice people are genuine  
Nice people take responsibility (they don’t blame others) 
 
You know nice when you see it. You know it when you feel it. If you don’t see it or feel it, it’s a good reason to pass.

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