Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss?

In the digital world, prophets don’t come much bigger than Mark Zuckerberg. The founder of Facebook, and the man who’s arguably done more than any other to change the way the human race communicates, is a genuine seer of the internet world, so anything that he says is regarded as tablets delivered from the mount.

He is only 30 years old (and could almost pass for half that age) but his creation of one of the world’s biggest tech companies means that when he speaks, people sit up and take notice.

Except they don’t always. There are some amusing pictures on Twitter of the audience at a conference in Barcelona during an address by Zuckerberg, and, as well as a sprinkling of empty seats, there’s the sight of people not exactly rapt with attention. In fact, they’re fast asleep. No matter. Mr Zee has nevertheless received wide coverage for divulging his personal hiring policy for Facebook.

“I would only hire someone to work directly for me,” he said, “if I would work for that person.” He added: “It’s a pretty good test.” As someone who has hired a good number of people over my career, this piqued my interest. I flipped through my mental Rolodex of some of my more successful hirings (including, I’m proud to say, the editor of this fine organ, hired after a chance meeting at a television studio), and tried to apply the Zuckerberg test in retrospect.

I’m not sure I agree with him. Surely the candidates you should look to hire are those you wouldn’t want to work for, people whose rigorous application of demanding standards would make you feel uncomfortable and challenged. It’s a version of the Groucho Marx creed: I wouldn’t hire someone who would want to hire me. I’m not being entirely serious, but I would still question Zuckerberg’s somewhat simplistic advice.

 

I asked a friend of mine, who runs a huge, ¬successful financial company, whether he thought there was anything in the ¬Zuckerberg principle. He said that, when it comes to a potential employee, there’s only one thing that matters: chemistry. “I can tell within two minutes whether someone is going to right for the job,” he says. “I look at nothing else other than their EQ [emotional intelligence].”

I tend to agree, although this is not always foolproof. The path of my career is littered with the corpses of people I’d hired on no other basis that I’d taken a shine to them, only to discover very quickly afterwards that they were spectacularly unsuited to the job. -Nevertheless, I do think that, in this high-stakes version of speed-dating, the first impression is the most trustworthy piece of evidence.  As Oscar Wilde put it: “Only shallow people do not judge by appearances”.

Also, you can’t fake character, or emotional make-up. In a competitive market, when there are around 40 applicants for every graduate job, it’s fair to assume that most of them are well-prepared for the interview process. A few minutes with Google, and they are able to talk with apparent authority on any number of -relevant subjects. Instead, I like to throw some curve balls. What’s your favourite television programme? Did you vote at the last election? Do you have any pets? Which famous person, dead or alive, do you most admire? The answer to one or all of these questions – which they can neither fake nor prepare for – will reveal much more about a person, and whether they’d fit in, than asking what they are like under pressure, or what their strengths and weaknesses are.

Mark Zuckerberg, it has to be said, doesn’t have a bad track record. He presides over a massively successful company with 10,000 employees, so he’s entitled to do things his way. I wonder whether I’d pass his test. Probably not. He wouldn’t want to work for me, particularly as my first instruction to him would be to ditch the T-shirt.

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