Hiring is like dating or trying to locate the perfect slice of pizza in New York — we all want to find the ideal candidate, and we all secretly know that the ideal candidate doesn’t exist.
The first step in whittling down from the enormous pool is to define your selection criteria. As far as the New York pizza analogy, this would mean excluding chain restaurants and any place serving pizza with a crust wider than two centimeters at its thickest point. As far as hiring — in my case, at Warby Parker — it means working with our Talent team and with collaborators like Adam Grant to define which qualities will most likely lead to success at our specific workplace.
The “specificity” aspect is key. Every workplace is different. What works for one organization won’t work for another. And what works for one organization now might not necessarily work for that same organization in five years.
One of the top qualities we screen for is is being proactive. Is this candidate someone whose “work metabolism” burns at a high rate or a sluggish rate? Do they move forward and make decisions or hesitate and delay? Companies are changing more rapidly than ever, and the company best able to keep pace is the one filled with entrepreneurs — people who think creatively and act decisively.
This quality has applications with every job at Warby Parker. For a project manager, it might mean being ultra-reflective about processes and taking steps to mend inefficient ones. For a member of the creative team, it might mean absorbing a huge amount of culture (art, books, design, literature) and spreading that imaginative inspiration throughout the company. For a Customer Experience associate, it might mean observing a common frustration among customers and finding a way to solve it permanently.
On the negative end, we try to screen out candidates who exude a sense of entitlement. Entitlement is the root of all evil within an organization. Entitlement can include a whole slew of destructive behaviors: adopting a “that’s not my job” stance, or alienating coworkers with arrogance, or inflexibly defending ideas that don’t necessarily contribute to the company’s wellbeing. Ultimately, entitlement degrades collaboration.
While these two qualities — proactivity and entitlement — are high on our list to seek (and avoid, respectively), there are many others that we’ve found especially crucial to success at Warby Parker, including empathy, feedback-seeking, and relationship-building. Undoubtedly these priorities will evolve over the next decade, as we work to maintain a productive and harmonious space. A workplace is always a work-in-progress.
Neil Blumenthal is Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Warby Parker, an American maker and seller of prescription eyeglasses and sunglasses.