The Dottie Experience – watch out for the CEO that takes you out for a breakfast or lunch interview

I read this article yesterday about a CEO who takes applicants out for breakfast and lunch. He would arrive early at the appointed restaurant and promise a huge tip to the waiter to mess up his interviewee’s order (i.e. overcooked, undercooked, or just plain wrong item delivered).

The CEO in question is Walt Bettinger of Charles Schwab. He wanted to get an idea of how the person would react to an unexpected, negative experience and how he or she would interact with and treat those who work in the service industry. The latter is an issue close to his heart due to a humbling experience he had in college whilst in business school. He had failed an exam which had just one question – “What’s the name of the lady who cleans this building?”. The answer was “Dottie” and he has tried to get to know every “Dottie” he has worked with ever since.

Reading this article, two things came to mind.

The first was that when I was working in Shell as an operations executive years ago, I had done something similar with a “Dottie” assessment. We were looking to hire a few trainers to develop and deliver on the job training programs to the station managers, shift supervisors, cashiers and pump attendants who ran our retail (petrol) stations. The interviews for prospective trainers took place at the training office which was located above one of the retail stations.

We had applicants fill in forms and submit their CVs to one of our trainers who was dressed to look like a shift supervisor. Unknown to all our interviewees , he was our “Dottie”. After the interviews, we would ask our “Dottie” how did the interviewee interact with and treat him? Not surprisingly, some who were attracted to the brand name  of the company but had little passion for people or for operations pretty much ignored him after giving him their forms and CVs. A few did speak with him to find out more about him and what it was like to work at a petrol station. It’s not a surprise to which group the people we eventually made offers to belonged.

The second was a story that a senior woman in Microsoft shared with me. She makes it a point to meet her interviewees personally at the reception every time as she thought it would be a great way to get to know her interviewees informally as she chats with them down the long corridor to her big corner office. There was one occasion where an interviewee gave her scant notice and responded monosyllabically to her questions as they walked down that corridor. It only dawned on him that she was not the receptionist when she took her seat behind her desk and began the interview proper.

So the moral of the story – be mindful of everyone who interacts with you before (and probably after) the interview. You never know who might actually be the one who is assessing or testing you!

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