Hiring For Passion - A Real Life Example

I was recently in New York walking through the Meatpacking District on a Sunday morning and encountered a perfect example of how important it is to hire people who are passionate about their craft.

The previous night, I was (allegedly) having some cocktails with friends and stumbled upon one of the best Gin & Tonics I’d ever had. The drink was so good, in fact, that I asked the bartender what kind of gin he had used because it had a flavor profile that I wasn’t used to.

The bartender told me that the gin came from a local distillery called Greenhook Ginsmiths in Brooklyn. It was a busy bar night so I wasn’t able to get more details but I made up my mind that I was going to find a liquor store the next day and pick up a bottle.

So the next morning on my way to breakfast, I happened to stroll by a liquor store in Tribeca called Chambers Street Wines. I decided to pop in and ask if they knew where I could find some of this magical gin. Of course I had completely forgotten the brand name, but I knew that I could recognize the bottle if I needed to.

What happened next is what prompted me to write this article…

Passionate Employees Over-Deliver

There must have been a couple thousand bottles of wine and liquor in this store. It was everywhere. So when I asked the young lady behind the counter if they had any local gin, I was expecting her to point toward the back of the store and mumble some directions without even looking up at me. It’s sad, but that’s what I’ve become accustomed to.

To my surprise; however, she dropped her inventory clipboard and walked me right over to a narrow wooden shelf stocked to the ceiling with brands of gin I had never seen before. She started telling me about each one. Not just the name of the gin, but where they were made, what they tasted like and how they were different from each other.

Most shocking of all, she was even able to tell me where some of the ingredients were sourced, what time of year they were harvested and how the distiller mashed them up in a certain way to create a distinct flavor.

I was floored. And intrigued. And began to fill up my little basket with new and interesting brands of gin that I had no intention of buying when I originally walked into the store.

Hiring For Passion Has a Measurable R.O.I.

I went into the store that day on a quest to track down 1 bottle of gin and I walked out 5. That’s 2 bottles of Greenhook and 3 other local brands — including a story about each one that I could use the next time I’m cornered at an awkward family function.

Bottom line result for the store owner = $165 for 5 bottles versus $33 for 1 bottle — all because this employee was passionate enough about her craft to impress a sucker like me. That’s a 5X increase in sales!

Now, think about this in terms of the ROI of a waiter or bartender. How many more appetizers, bottles of wine or desserts could they sell if they knew their menu inside-and-out and had a passion for food and wine?

And what about a car salesman who restores classic cars on the weekends and can give potential customers an emotional connection to the history of a brand.

There are endless examples I could use in almost every industry. I even have a friend who owns a Roto-Rooter franchise who will talk passionately about his work if you let him!

When I think about other companies who hire people whose passions align with their brands I think of The Home Depot, The Apple Store, Zappos and Starbucks. I’m sure there are others, but these stand out for me.

How To Assess Candidates For Passion

So how do you screen for passion and genuine connectivity to your company’s products or services? Well, here’s a hint…

You look for people who index high on the “Curiosity” competency.

They should be really curious about the industry, your products or a brand, etc. So much so, that they learn about it, teach it and maybe even obsess about it in their spare time (within reason).

Below are a few interview questions you can use to help you identify someone who will represent your business like it was their own:

1. What formal or informal training have you initiated for yourself in the last 6 months to make you better at what you do?

You want to look for people who are educating themselves…not being forced to learn by their employer. Naturally, you want to see a connection between what they’re learning and what you’re hiring them for.

2. What do you read to ensure that you stay on the cutting edge of your profession? (How often? Tell me about the last 3 articles you read in the last two weeks.)

Using some follow-up questions, you can find out if they’re just reciting a couple well-known industry blogs and publications or if they’re actively reading them on a regular basis.

3. Tell me how you would describe [Product X] to someone who was considering it against its competitors. Who are the competitors?

Pick 3 products that they should know something about if they’re keeping up with their profession (or your company) and ask them to differentiate them. Probe on the depth of their knowledge. Also, take special note of whether or not they “light up” when they talk about your product. You should be able to “see” their passion.

4. Who are some of the top people in your industry that you follow? Why do you follow them, how do you interact with them and what have they taught you?

If someone is truly into their profession, they’ll know who the influencers are and what knowledge they can glean from each one.

5. Tell me about the last time you educated a group about something you’re passionate about. What was it, why did you do it and what impact did it have?

This is a little advanced, but if someone is a true student of their craft, they might be on a speaking circuit or they’re known for doing internal training at their company.

And of course you can always ask a candidate if they’ve used your products or services before and, if so, what do they like/not like?

Quick Disclaimer

Being a student of a particular craft is just one dimension of a successful employee, but it’s incredibly important — especially in the services and hospitality sector. A well-rounded assessment program will uncover other competencies, motivations and experiences that will determine if you’re selecting the right candidate.