Hiring for humility

TRC 004: Hiring for Humility - Why and How

Mar 02, 2023

Back in 2010, after running my own business for 7 years, I read a book that made me think differently about hiring.

That book was Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose by Tony Hsieh - the story of Zappos.

It helped me understand that humility is a crucial trait to look for when hiring because:

  • It allows individuals to learn from their mistakes
  • Seek feedback
  • Work collaboratively with others.

When hiring for humility, Zappos looked for candidates who were not only competent but also willing to admit their limitations and seek help when needed.

The company also sought to hire individuals who demonstrated a willingness to put the needs of the team and the company ahead of their own.

To identify these qualities, Zappos developed a unique hiring process that included multiple interviews, as well as cultural fit assessments.

The company also looked for evidence of humility in candidates' past experiences and asked questions that encouraged them to talk about their mistakes and what they learned from them.

I subsequently put humility as a key character trait to test for into my own companies and those I have advised. It helped improve hiring success rates and in building a culture of collaboration.

It hasn’t cut out all hiring mistakes - there are so many variables - but I have found it incredibly useful.

So, how do you identify humble people?

Here are some questions you can ask during your interview process:

  1. "Tell me about a time when you received constructive feedback. How did you respond to it, and what did you learn from the experience?"
  2. "Describe a time when you had to work with a difficult team member. How did you approach the situation, and what did you learn from the experience?"
  3. "What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses? How have you worked to address your weaknesses in the past?"
  4. "Tell me about a time when you made a mistake. How did you handle the situation, and what did you learn from the experience?"
  5. "Describe a time when you had to admit that you were wrong. How did you handle the situation, and what did you learn from the experience?"

These questions can help you assess a candidate's level of humility by evaluating their ability to listen to feedback, learn from their mistakes, and work effectively with others.

Humble people will happily talk to you about their mistakes or weaknesses, knowing that they are still learning.

When asked about their successes, they will typically try to push credit some of the credit on to the rest of their team or organisation.

They enjoy the success of others.

Some red flags to look out for would be:

  1. Inability to admit mistakes
  2. Lack of empathy
  3. Dominating the conversation
  4. Arrogance

If you put humility as a key hiring criteria, you are in good company.

Apart from Zappos, these companies also see it as key in select candidates:

  1. HubSpot
  2. Adobe
  3. Patagonia
  4. Goldman Sachs
  5. Boston Consulting Group
  6. PwC
  7. Google
  8. Airbnb
  9. Salesforce
  10. Netflix



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