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How I Hire: 5 Tips for Landing a Job at IDEO


by Tim Brown

When we’re doing job interviews, the phrase “good cultural fit” gets bandied about a lot—and for good reason. IDEO’s stock in trade is creativity, collaboration, and human-centered innovation.

We don’t have discrete departments, rigid job titles, or corner offices. In fact, most corporate trappings simply don’t work for the kind of work we do, and honestly, neither do the types of people who crave them. The success of our company depends upon hiring people who are not only smart and talented, but who also have great emotional intelligence. We look for insatiable curiosity, irrepressible optimism, deep empathy, and those who play well with others. (Lone geniuses need not apply!)

Here at the Top 5 qualities I look for:

1. They say “we” more than “I” when recounting accomplishments. If they’re generous with giving others credit, I know they’re team players and will accept feedback.

2. They talk about failures, not just wins. If you’re trying to bring new ideas into the world, you’re going to fail…a lot. How you recover and learn from pratfalls is the true test. Or as we say: “Fail often to succeed sooner.”

3. They’ve spent time teaching as well as learning. Having an advanced degree shows diligence and mastery. Teaching shows you’re committed to making others successful, too.

4. They’re nice to the receptionist. When the interview is over, I check with whoever’s manning the front desk to see how the candidate acted upon arrival. Were they polite and friendly or did they treat the receptionist poorly? If it’s the latter, I know they only relate well to those in their perceived social group. Not very empathic or human-centered.

5. One final note about how we hire. We believe in asking for forgiveness, not permission.This goes for the job application process, too. Turning in a standard-issue résumé and cover letter won’t turn heads. Candidates who have wowed us have taken creative license and gone the extra mile to demonstrate their capabilities and passion. They’ve made video portraits, designed custom apps or, in one case, brought turntables connected to a dancing robot for an impromptu DJ set.

Hiring’s not an exact science—finding truly outsize talent never is—but these five qualities help us hone in on that most elusive quality: someone who feels like an IDEOer.

What other qualities suggest high emotional intelligence?

Stashed in: Hiring, Emotion, Business Advice, Empathy, Jobs, Kaizen, Intelligence, Self-Actualization, IDEO

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These five skills -- collectively, Empathy -- seem like good skills for anyone to work on.

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