Now Hiring: Prior Waiters and Waitresses

We can learn something from everyone – of this I am certain. Many of you know how diligently I follow the New York Times column, “The Corner Office”. This column is published each Sunday and features a condensed interview conducted by Adam Bryan, with varied and diverse leaders from a wide array of companies and industries. Recently, Amy Astley, editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue, was his executive interview.

Her philosophy is interesting, current, and representative of a younger generation’s perspective. One point I thought particularly relevant was her focus on hiring for work ethic as her primary criteria. When asked how she knows if the person she is interviewing truly has a strong work ethic, there was one observation which I think is quite telling:

“You can get some of it off the resume. You can call the people where they interned and find out what they were like. I also find that if you ask someone in an interview, “Are you a morning person?” the truth always flickers across their face, no matter what they say. But, as I said, it also comes out in the resume. I’ll see someone who was a waitress for many summers and I’ll say, “Well, tell me about that.” In today’s upwardly mobile resume, you don’t always see that. You often see kids who’ve never had a job. But I love seeing someone who scooped ice cream or was a waitress. To me, it means they had to make some money and they had a job dealing with the public. And what was that all about? Tell me about it.”

I greatly respect, and agree, with this perspective. When I was hiring people in my prior positions, I always sought diversity in experience and loved to see representation of scrappy, entrepreneurial initiative early in life. Our world has changed so much; many are born into privilege where boarding schools and Ivy League colleges are prevalent among recent generations. I appreciate her realization that having and embracing the value of hard work and true “sweat equity” often is formed when we are young. We need to be proud of our backgrounds; these life experiences are what has formed us as leaders. It is gratifying to see such a young leader also appreciating this truism.